Friday, April 13, 2007

If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911


When I call my doctor's office and it's not office hours, the message says, "If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911." It seems in life, people need to be directed as to what an emergency is and what to do when they have one.


I have experienced this in pastoral ministry and this is one such day. I understand that during our week, we need to handle all types of things, emergencies and non-emergencies included. No issue there. Pastoral ministry is filled with a wide variety of responsibilities to take care of and this is just a given. I have no complaint about the fact that the pastoral life is one that is busy, with lots of hours to put in a week, and yes, sometimes, that means 24/7 if you are dealing with a true emergency. It just comes with the territory. I am absolutely called and willing to pay that price.


My issue comes with the pastor's day off, and what constitutes a true emergency. You try so hard to protect it and it seems impossible most weeks. First, we take one day versus the customary two that most people out in the world take. Again, I've got no complaint there. Pastoring takes a 6 day work week and even then most times things still aren't done. But again, that's not my issue. My thing is - when emergencies ARE NOT occurring, why can't we simply just have that ONE DAY? It's the same with our staff. Larry and I have told them that it's important that they protect this time as much as possible. We run hard and long all week, and we all need a few hours to come down so we can power up again.

Once again I was hanging on by a thread for this blessed day to come. Just a day to savor and spend with those I love, uninterrupted. Most of the day was so far so good. I got up and got Savanna off to school, savored my coffee, writing for fun (not work purposes), reading, and...snuggling up to Larry. Then I met a friend for lunch. But then when I got home...the phone rang. Usually it starts with, "Sorry to bother you on your day off." When it's not an emergency I always think, "No you're not. Because if you were sorry, we wouldn't be on the phone right now." But we are.

Usually it goes something like this. A teenager has broken his curfew. His parents are all up in arms about it. A toddler in the terrible two's threw a tantrum. Mom is stressed out, crying because she's never dealt with tantrums. How do you handle a child who is throwing themselves on the floor screaming? Or, a couple is fighting. Typical bickering that can happen in a marriage. But today they really blew up at each other. One of them calls us and wants to vent. "How long have you been arguing over this?" They usually answer something like, "well, I think the first time we really began arguing over this was 1995...no, maybe we started having these problems in '96...in any event, we've always fought." So, this is a 12 year problem, but TODAY was the day they decided to pick up the phone and finally get some advice about it. Or the ever popular calls for things like, "so and so needs a church check and another signature is needed..." Are these things emergencies? In my book, NO WAY.

I consider an emergency to be something like a church member getting in an accident and being rushed to the hospital, somebody having a heart attack, a death in the church, a spouse leaving the family, etc. THESE are things I would understandably want to be there for. But 99% of the time, these are not the things you are called about on your day off.

Sometimes I think people just won't "get it" until their pastor is the one who has an emergency - a heart attack or something like that - from having no uninterrupted weekly time of rest and recooperation to go into the next ministry week. Does it take a tragedy for people to see it? I hope not because I love my husband, my family, and our staff way too much. Don't get me wrong, I love our church people too. I love them more than they will ever know. Ministry is my life. People are my life. My heart breaks for them. My heart rejoices with them. But sometimes...I need a break. It's not that I don't love them, believe me. I pray for them constantly, have them on my heart all the time. But I am...human. I need rejuvenation just like they do.

Part of the issue is, we have three kids. They answer the phones on Friday because they forget it's Friday. It's an easy thing to do. They have a ton of friends and they are on the phones all the time. And frankly, they don't understand it. Most of their friends are in the church. The kids don't work 6 days a week (or 7 as we do many times). They are not tired and exhausted like we are (physically/emotionally) and badly in need of a respite. They are...kids. The phone rings, they pick it up. It's that simple.

My solution is to turn all the phones in our house OFF on Friday and let it always go to voicemail, then listen to the voicemail and determine whether it's an emergency and if it is, return it right away, or if not, wait til Saturday. We do that all the time when the kids aren't around. But when they are, we have this issue.

The doctors office says, "if this is an emergency hang up and dial 911". I don't want them to hang up if it's an emergency - I want to be there for them, as long as it's a true emergency.

I've gotten some calls from people who say, "I know it's your day off but I'm not calling you as my pastor, but as my friend. Okay, I need your advice on whether we should ground little Alexander from the computer for a week because he stole his sister's ipod." What I want to say is, "yes, I'm your friend, but as much as I love you, I'm also still your pastor and I need a break."

Many of my pastor friends read this blog. For those of you who are out there who don't mind posting your opinion, please tell me what you do about this issue in your home. If you have kids, how do you handle it? Are there days the phone is "off limits"? And, do you think I'm "off base" about what an emergency is? Should I be including something that is not here? I really want to know and I am asking with an open mind. If you don't want to post a comment, just email me privately. I understand why some of you don't want to put your opinion out there. Any of your people can read it on the web and you might not want to own your words on this issue. If so, email me about this...obviously it's a sensitive issue for a pastor to put out there on the blogosphere, but with me I pretty much say what I think and just take my lumps! :-)

Friends, please keep me in prayer about this. I know it's not as serious a problem as world hunger, AIDS, or people without Christ. But somebody once told me, "if it matters to YOU, it matters to HIM." Well, this matters to me. I work real hard and push myself to the limit 6 days a week to do the very best I can for the Lord, and for the church. All I'm asking for is one day to rest, unless it's a true emergency. Sometimes I feel that people think it's honestly too much to ask.

Somebody once told me, "Jesus died for the church. We don't have to." But there are days I wonder if people in the church really believe that. Am I alone?

4 comments:

Pastor Lisa said...

Oh Pastor Deanna! I am in agreement 100% I know a pastor who screened their calls on Saturdays (they worked a 9 to 5 during the week) so this was their only time to catch up with family and such. We had a true emergency one Saturday at the church and the pastor wouldn't take my call and I was the CA! LOL! Now how's that for adherance? I had to call the pastors mom and ask her to relay the message!

If it's not a good time to talk... I won't answer my phone...PERIOD! You'll go to voicemail and I'll check it later.

Tell the kids to automatically take a message if they answer the phone...or have them again automatically ask the person if its ok if you or Larry call them back later. You are not available even though your home! This should become second nature to them!

What I've found out is that more times than not, these non-emergencies end up working themselves out without my assistance when I call back 24 hours later. Amazing huh?

Keep the Sabbath holy at all cost!!

Maybe this is where a pager comes in handy. Give the number to your leadership staff only. You can be paged for real emergencies on your off day. That way you can unplug every single last phone in peace!

I pray you get your phone-free Friday next week!

Love you bunches!

Pastor Lisa said...

Oh, one more thing...if you do get caught on the phone...don't be afraid to interrupt them...and ask...may I call you back? I have NO problem doing this. NONE.

When you call back is at your discretion...

Leanne said...

I definitely make it a policy to turn my ringer off until AT LEAST noon on my day off (longer if I'm really fried!). I just don't feel like listening to little Johnny's mom call and complain that he lost his Bible in kids' church and how she just KNOWS that one of the other kids took it, yada, yada, yada (true story!). What on earth does she expect me to do about it? I don't have kids yet, so I don't know what to do about that - I think Lisa had a good suggestion. Speaking as a former receptionist, the words "not available" are beautiful - because you are absolutely not lying for someone else, and it could mean anything from, "she's not home" to being a polite way of saying "she's in the bathroom"!! Eventually, people are going to get the message that you don't take calls on your day off unless it's a true emergency.

Kathi Sharpe said...

Pastor - why not alternate days off with another pastor or Very Trusted Staffer, and divert all church calls there. They could screen out the tantrums of all types and handle those accordingly, and then if there is a death or accident or other reason to disturb you on your day off, could get in touch with you (perhaps by beeper or cell phone # that only the church has)

Just a thought :)