General Ministry

Working in youth ministry is an often dynamic and unpredictable work environment and I often find myself wondering how I get paid to do what I do. The events, conferences, cokes and relationships with leaders and students make being a youth pastor incredibly rewarding. One of the challenges of the unpredictable and relational nature of our job is the strange blending of our personal life and work life and knowing where one starts and the others ends can be blurry.

Most youth pastors who are full time work with a schedule of 40 hours a week + or – with expectations of volunteer hours as well pushing most work weeks to the 45 hours or so mark. Before I worked in the Church a 45 hour work week sounded like heaven compared to my 55+ hour schedule.

With the uniqueness of ministry and the blurriness of personal/work time there comes the need to claw back hours worked outside our your normal schedule. That meeting that is unavoidably on your day off, staying well into the evening for an event or overnight for the dreaded lock in, we sometimes go over our hours. There is any number of compelling and reasonable reasons that one could see those and many other activities that are part of the job and request time off in lieu for those extra hours worked. But just a few weeks back I heard about a youth worker who was taking it way too far.

This youth worker was in a constant battle with his Board of Elders about paid time off for extra time worked. This was not the normal every day type stuff, here is what he was asking for:

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  • 3 days off for every 1 day he was on retreat with his students (his rationale being that he normally works 8 hours a day, not 24 and thus should be given the other 16 hours including sleeping time off with pay. After all he was not sleeping in his bed) for a total of 9 days off for a three day retreat
  • Half a day off for conversations he had with friends about Church in the past few weeks. (rationale being that due to his work at the Church, he ends up working by talking about “Church” while with his friends)
  • He counts his schedule down the minute making sure that he works his requirement exactly.

I have a great friend at a pretty large church that hosts a massive international conference every year, for the weekend that they host the world it’s all hands on deck. Everyone is serving all weekend and come monday morning everyone is back in the office ready to make it happen. I asked if they were given time off for working the weekend and he said yes, but people that work at the Church are bought into the vision and know that this weekend is core to the mission vision and value. He said they have a culture that being a part of the Church means serving the Church and that if his Pastor gets so much as a sniff of legalism around hours would be watching your taillights leaving the parking lot.

I can understand not giving up every waking hour of your life to the Church but this seems somewhat excessive:

So I have three questions for you:

Where is it appropriate to ask for paid time off for extra hours work?

Have you seen this abused?

We ask our volunteers to give up their time over and above their full time work, how much time should we give? 

-Geoff @geoffcstewart

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  • I think there needs to be a balance. In the case of the guy in this story, I think he forgot that ministry is about ministering. It is not a 9-5 job/8 hours a day/only 5 days a week. Its about meeting needs – its about people. That doesn’t lend itself to a nice, neat little package each day. I consider 50-60 hrs a week somewhat normal. That doesn’t mean I don’t have weeks where I only clock 40-45 or so. But if I’m asking my volunteers to work 40-45 hours a week at their jobs and then volunteer another 5-10 with us, I should be doing the same. I do use that extra “comp time” to take some time off usually. After a weekend retreat or a two-week mission trip, I have no problem taking an extra day off when I need it to go on a field trip with one of my kids or something. But its never an hour for hour trade-off. That would be insane. Its funny, about 15 years ago I was challenged by one of my elders to keep track of my time every day, not because they thought I wasn’t putting the required hours in but because they thought I was working too much. I’ve made that a practice ever since. I punch my own time card if you will. A couple of years ago, I went to the senior pastor on September 1st and said, “I’ve added up all of my hours over 40 each week so far this year. I’ve accumulated enough comp time to take the rest of the year off. I’ll see you on January 1st.” He stood and starred speechless until I told him I was only kidding about taking the next four months off. But, seriously, its not about the hours. Its not about working as few hours as we can. Its about serving. We must take care of ourselves and our families, don’t get me wrong. We’re not told to sacrifice our families and our health on the alter of ministry. But when we start this kind of attitude about being compensated for every minute over 40 hours, we’re missing the boat with regards to what ministry really is all about.

  • Brian says:

    Where is it appropriate to ask for paid time off for extra hours work?

    My church and I have an understanding that sometimes its okay not to be in the office. My first day on the job, the senior pastor told me, “Sometimes its okay to go home and mow your lawn.” Meaning its okay to take off to do other important things like keeping up with house chores.

    Have you seen this abused?

    Of course, but I think the abuse comes when the church doesn’t love its pastors or vice versa.

  • Josh Griffin Josh Griffin says:

    I would say one extra day for a retreat or event – potentially 1.5 or 2 for summer camp. And if your normal day off is a Monday, and a holiday is a Monday you can add another day there, too. GREAT post! JG

  • Kevin says:

    I think it was Brett Farve who said something like “I get paid to practice but I play the games for free”, that is my mind set I sort of take. I get paid for the planning, prepping, meetings and all that stuff. The actual times I spend with the students ministering I love, I would be doing even if I didn’t work at the church.

  • Personally, I love how our church handles this. Time off for extra hours worked is actually spelled out in our employee manual, and it’s very clear so that we never have to feel bad for asking for time off. This sort of thing really needs to be handled up front by the church leadership: expectations for special events and whether overnight events warrant a “comp day,” as we call it. Otherwise, an employee might feel guilty for asking for a day off after spending 3-4 days on a trip away from their family.

    Personally, I am blessed at a church that takes care of my family financially and spiritually, and I’m happy to serve here and put in a few extra hours. If someone’s not at a place where they aren’t willing to serve a few extra hours (I’m not talking 60+ every week here), then they need to examine their heart, where they are serving, or both.

  • Jesse Criss says:

    I would agree with Benjer. When I go away for a weekend retreat or a camping/missions week. I get a “comp day” after the event. I also tend to take the morning off before the retreat. Sometimes that doesn’t always work (my summer camping trip). So in those moments I take off two days after the retreat.

    Personally I try to balance out my time and the natural breaks that come. When I have that extra meeting on a Monday night for Mexico as an example, I try to slip out a few hours early or come in for 10 instead of 8 the next day. My advice is always to make sure you clarify the pattern ahead of time, and that the front desk of your church ALWAYS knows where you are and whats going on.

    We will all have the 60+ weeks. Its part of being a youth pastor but never forget that we are often in charge of our own schedule and we CAN make sure that after a 60+ a 35-45 week follows. As the creators of the schedules we need to learn how to do it better, healthier, and clearer.

  • Joe Gormong says:

    The church I have been a part of for 14 years now doesn’t ask and I don’t tell. Let me explain…I am salary, my pastor nor does the church keep track of my working hours. He has stated you know what it takes to get it done, so you put in the time you need to make that happen.

    When I want to take time off I do, when I don’t show up in the office, no one asks where I’ve been. ( I always call the secretary and tell her when I am not coming in though)

    As far as vacation time, our discipline states so many weeks vacation for so many years of experience. The church and the pastor have given us leeway to take the time we need.

    For example, When I am going to be gone with my family for Christmas, spring break etc, I let the staff know (3 pastors 1 secretary) when I am planning on being gone and we make sure we are all not gone on the same week.

    My joke is the pastor could say the staff needs a 2 week paid vacation to Hawaii all all expenses paid, and the church board would say make it a month. YES I am stretching the truth, but not by far.

    The church LOVES, PRAYS and cares for their pastors. The Senior Pastor will retire in 2 weeks after 13 years, I have been here 14 years as the youth pastor and the Assistant Pastor has been here 6 years and will transition into the Senior Pastor in 2 weeks and we just hired an Assistant Pastor to fill that 3rd staff position.

    Joe Gormong

  • Luke says:

    The moment we begin to compare our work week with corporate weeks/lives we’re going off track. Paul reminds the Thessalonians, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”

    Ideally our churches will respect and honour it’s pastors. But when this isn’t the case (and it will be at times) pastors can’t resort to stealing time, staplers, pens, or setting up rigorous work week hours (it’s all the same). It’s petty, it’s myopic, it’s actually it’s anti-Jesus. Imagine Paul saying to the churches that turned their backs on him, “You bunch of ungrateful jerks. I gave you the gospel and now you’re disrespecting and questioning me. I’m outta here.” or Jesus, “Father, smite them for their nerve in nailing me to the cross. This is ridiculous.” As Tim Keller writes, “Jesus didn’t tithe his blood.”

    Piper’s latest statement, “Brothers, we are not professionals”, reminds us we’re set apart, we’re doing something different, for entirely different motivations. Boundaries, wisdom, family health are all important. But we begin from a different paradigm.

    I serve in a church that respects my time and pays me so I can live in the area I serve in. It has only fanned the flame of my love for her. When I feel undervalued, or overworked (and usually I’m the one overworking myself) I simply think of our very best volunteers, look at their week, and allow them to inspire and refocus my heart.

    • Geoff says:

      Nailed it Luke, the people we ask to serve should be the example of our service. They pour their hearts into the Kingdom work after working 40+ hours at their job. Love it!

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