“Why can’t I get more people to volunteer on Sundays?”
It’s one of the most common frustrations I hear from pastors – especially pastors of Small Churches.
Pastors and congregations see Sundays in opposite ways. And this affects everything.
Here’s the difference.
Sunday is their day OFF!
But Sunday is the pastor’s biggest day ON!
No wonder we’re not seeing eye-to-eye.
Sunday is their Sabbath. Their day of rest and worship. But Sunday isn’t the pastor’s Sabbath. Yes, it’s a day of worship, but it’s not a day of rest. Because it’s our biggest day on, a lot of us think it needs to be our church members’ day on too.
Sunday On / Sunday Off
This literally just occurred to me minutes before writing this, so I’m still processing what it means. But it feels like a game-changer to me.
When Sunday is our day on, church is work.
When Sunday is their day off, church is rest.
…day on? Church is putting out.
…day off? Church is taking in.
…day on? The week leads up to Sunday.
…day off? The week settles down on Sunday.
…day on? You want to dress up.
…day off? You want to dress comfortably.
…day on? You want to motivate your workers.
…day off? You want to hang out with your friends.
These are not small differences.
Faithful to the Church ≠ Faithful to God
When people don’t show up for church as faithfully – nay, obsessively – as we do, most pastors are tempted to interpret that as lack of faith. Like an employee not showing up for work.
But they’re not employees!
We are (but maybe we shouldn’t be), so we want to judge them by the standards by which we’re judging ourselves.
This reminds me of Peter’s words at the Jerusalem Council about the differences between gentiles and Jews, “…why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)
A pastor’s life is very different – often painfully so. We can’t expect our burden to be carried by others. We probably shouldn’t expect to carry it ourselves.
The next time a congregation member forgets to show up for the special church service, maybe it’s not because they’re unfaithful, ungrateful sinners. Maybe it’s because they’re busy living something that 99% of the world calls a normal life. Life outside the church walls. Life with friends and family.
But so many pastors have equated faithfulness to God with faithfulness to church meetings that we have a hard time seeing this. We think that anything less than full dedication to church attendance means they want less of God.
Nowhere is this pastor/congregation chasm more evident than on Saturday nights. While most people are out having fun or enjoying a relaxed evening at home, the typical pastor is sweating over last-minute preparations for Sunday morning.
This may also be one reason why bigger churches keep growing, while so many Small Churches struggle to get out of survival mode. A big church doesn’t have to rely as heavily on volunteers. The pastor can hire people to be “on” with them every Sunday morning.
I’m not saying that’s a better way to do church. It’s just reality.
What To Do About This?
I don’t pretend to have any answers. This reality truly did just occur to me less than an hour before I’m writing this.
But I might have a starting line.
When pastors realize Sunday is most people’s day off, we can adjust our expectations accordingly.
Maybe we can start by realizing that most people don’t live their lives thinking about the next Sunday service like we do.
No, that doesn’t mean settling for church-as-audience. The greatest, most impactful churches are always more interactive than passive. Plus, as I’ve written before, the attitude of “Sit Back, Relax and Enjoy the Service” May Be Killing Your Church.
But maybe there’s a healthy middle ground between driving them to work harder on the one hand and doing everything for them on the other.
And maybe, when they do come, we can give them what they’re looking for – and what they really need, too. A break from the pressures of life while worshiping, serving and yes, hanging out with their friends (you may want to call it fellowship). Instead of adding to life’s pressures, let’s help ease them. And while we’re at it, what if pastors gave ourselves a break from the pressure to perform, too?
I’m convinced that one of the primary reasons for pastoral stress and burnout is that most pastors don’t have a church home. We tell our congregation they need weekly fellowship with other believers, but most of us don’t have that for ourselves.
When we’re always on and we only see our church as the place where we are the pastor, we miss out on the church being our much-needed place of fellowship.
Some of us need to learn to let go, loosen our tie or clerical collar – even if it’s just metaphorically – and receive the blessings of our church people.
Even Jesus wasn’t always on. He took time away from the crowds to be alone with the Father in prayer, of course. But he also took time away to relax with the twelve or the three. Why? Because, while they certainly needed him, he also knew he needed them. The human part of Jesus needed what we all need – time to be a person, not just a pastor.
So what do you think? What ideas do you have to help bridge this gap?
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