Church Leaders--You're Killing Us!

Building on the popular, Worship Leaders, You're Killing Us (it was the most read and most commented on post to date), this post flows from a conversation I had last week with a guy named Bill. I've been thinking about this topic for some time, but it was this conversation that was the catalyst for organizing my thoughts on this topic.

Bill used to be on the tech staff of a really, really large church in suburban Minneapolis. He was one of two tech guys there, actually. Since I knew the other guy who used to be there, I asked about him. Bill said, "Yeah, we just couldn't take it anymore, so we left." As we talked he shared more of what he couldn't take. The long hours, relentless schedule and comments from senior leadership that because it was "for church," these two guys should be willing to give even more time. Huh.

I came across attitudes like this when I was looking for a full-time position. Some of the job descriptions were impossibly big, and others even included lines like "55 hours a week minimum" (emphasis mine). I'm guessing the expectation is more like 65-70 hours? I know of far too many tech guys in churches who are over-worked, underpaid and under-appreciated. My question is, when did we get to the point that this is OK because "it's for church?"

Just so we're clear up front, I'll state my position. It's not OK. If you're a church leader who thinks that you or your staff has to give at least 50, 60 or more hours a week to the church because "it's all for Jesus," you're wrong. There I said it. You're wrong.

Though overworking staff happens in all areas of ministry, it seems to be more prevalent in the technical arts. I think this is due to several factors. For starters, as a church leader, you'd never consider short-staffing your children's ministry. It's just too important. The children's staff needs time to catch their breath and plan and think and refresh. Same goes for the adult ministry staff, the student ministry staff and so on. But technical arts? Well, that's just pushing buttons, so how hard could it be? Why is the technical arts the only department required to make do with too few staff and small budgets?

Never mind the fact that every single person who darkens the door of your church each weekend is touched by the technical arts staff. Don't believe me? Who makes your message sound good? Who make sure lights are on the stage? Who makes sure the right lyrics are on the screen at the right time? Who isn't impacted by this? I would argue that the technical arts ministry touches more people (at least indirectly) than any other ministry in the church.

And yet we routinely expect these highly skilled technicians to work far more hours than even corporate America deems acceptable. Most of our technical arts staff are highly skilled and dedicated individuals who could (and often do after they burnout and leave the church) earn a lot more for working a lot less. So what gives?

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I have workaholic tendencies, and I suspect other tech guys do to; it's part of our personality. Effective church leaders recognize this however, and tell their tech staff to take time of. My boss is really good at this. When I ended up coming in on my day off (one of my days off--I get two each week!), he told me, "Comp it later this week." I'm sitting at Caribou writing this morning because I have to shoot some video tonight at a home group and he told me, "Don't come in until noon."

When I interviewed at this church, during my first large group "get to know you" meeting, I told them that if they were looking for someone to work 50, 60, 70 hours a week, they should keep looking because I wasn't their guy. I've learned the hard way working that much is a recipe for disaster in my personal life. When I owned my own company, I was working 12 hour days, 7 days a week. I almost lost my wife and my kids. It took what I believe to be a divinely inspired collapse of the business to get me to realize the error of my ways.

It is a this point that most pastors would say, "Of course, you should never work that hard. It's bad for your family, and your marriage." Yet some expect their staff to do just that. I'll say it again, "You're wrong." The Bible doesn't call us to give our lives to the our job; even if our job is in the church. We are called to give our lives to God. Out of that flows a commitment to our wives and children. Then our job (and/or the church).

Aside from the very obvious personal and spiritual ramifications of over-working your technical staff (or any staff for that matter), there are very practical problems with it as well. People can only take so much before they burnout and leave. The harder they're worked the shorter time time to exit. This turnover creates chaos and upheaval in the whole department. Volunteers are affected, and often will leave their posts when someone they admire leaves. Without a sufficient tenure, there is no continuity and the ministry to the tech people (yes, they deserve to be ministered to as well) never gets going.

And this doesn't even begin to address the problem of over-working key volunteers (especially if you don't have paid staff in those roles). But I'll save that for another post.

Fellow techies, I invite your comments. Personally I am ever so thankful to be in a work situation where I am able to give my best, and get time to rest (even if I have to be told to do it once in a while). What about you?

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