Understanding the Pressures of Work on the Congregation

Ministers sometimes find themselves in a double bind: they need to preach a work ethic and request support for the church, and they also want to support family values, including parents spending significant time raising their children.  What do we do when these two sets of values conflict?

Many of us live and minister in a contemporary urban culture. Often, congregations incude single family homes, blended families, parents who hold multiple jobs to make ends meet, and families where all adults work to support the family needs.

According to Lebacqz and Driskil, it’s good to examine the difficult choices – hard work and family time – that congregants face. This is particularly true for women, who are often expected- by themselves and others- to provide in whole or part to the family’s material needs, while also providing nurturing care.   These authors suggest that, rather than ignoring these harsh realities,  ministers might instead participate in uplifting congregants and bridging these demands.  They point out the research of Wuthnow, who found “one local church where the church leaders said they did not support working mothers- so they provided no day-care options. In that particular congregation, 70 percent of the women in the church worked. In another church Wuthnow found that four men had committed suicide after the loss of their jobs.  In these cases the sense of personal failure was not alleviated by their religious communities..”

Of course, many congregations rely on volunteers for critical functions.  But not all members are equally able to donate their time. The addition of guilt, on top of an already heavy load, can just make the situation worse for the more vulnerable members of a congregation.  Authors Driskill and Lebacqz call the situation an “endemic failure.”  Surely, we can do better.

There are many possible ways to address these concerns, and many levels of possible response, from simply offering child care during church services through active involvement in the daily life of the congregation.  Resources will sometimes limit a congregation’s ability to respond. And yet, just by walking along side the members of the congregation, and working to better understand the challenges, we will already be providing some level of support.


Source: Lebacqz, Karen and Driskill, Joseph D. Ethics and Spiritual Care; a Guide for Pastors, Chaplains, and Spiritual Directors. Abingdon Press. Nashville. 2000.  119-121.

Categories Workweek | Tags: | Posted on January 16, 2010

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