Life is easier for the clergy.

John Holland workers replace track bonds after they were removed for mechanised track work.

John Holland workers replace track bonds after they were removed for mechanised track work.

I guess I’m writing today for the clergy to read this.

My basic argument today is:
Clergy life is easier than lay life.

Fair dinkum.

Now, let’s be clear today: By using the term “clergy” I’m generically referring to paid ministry, whether ordained or not, unless specified otherwise.

You know, I hear it all the time from clergy: “Life is so hard for me. My congregation don’t understand.”

I heard it when I was in paid ministry from my parishioners: “You have it so hard.” or “I couldn’t do what you do”. The ‘intentional interim’ minister explicitly wrote in his draft report to the church about my departure that it was because I could not handle the pressure of ministry life. When I corrected him and made it clear that my resignation was nothing to do with the pressure of ministry life and everything to do with the pressure from cowardly church authorities, he altered his final text to imply the pressures drove me out of the game.

True, life in paid ministry has more obvious challenges: the more obvious eternal consequences being one.

Now remember, I know what life is like in both. And before you clergy start saying you were in the workforce once so you remember what it was like, you don’t.

Most of you were young, with few commitments, and likely in low-level jobs and so clerical life seems harder.

Going from workforce to clergy life to workforce again has hit me like a wet fish over the face just how hard life on the outside of the cloistered environment of hatch, match and dispatch is. Sorry, I mean the sacrificial life of proclaiming the Risen Jesus.

Now, I was forced out of ministry under duress and in very difficult circumstances. I know I’ve promised not to “go there” in this blog, but for our purposes I need to make you aware that: the enemies of my ministry (a wealthy minority) tried to destabilise my marriage by whispering doubts about my honesty in my wife’s ear. They tried to allege misconduct but my diaries demonstrated they were lying. They tried to trawl the Internet looking for incriminating evidence in the hope of delicensing me but found nothing. They rang wardens and rectors of previous churches seeking “dirt” and got none. They tried to declare me medically unfit and delicense me that way, but failed to get the requisite signatures on the form (and besides, the tax-payer-funded psychologist I was seeing flatly contradicted their non-professional “opinion”). They eventually “won” by convincing the authorities above me they would bankrupt the church unless I was compelled to resign. And my wife and I were steadfast: we were not going to allow these enemies of the gospel to prevail; that decision was made for us from above (an history has shown what a foolish decision it was).

And yet for all that stress, opposition and heartache, ministry life including those last few horrendous months was a hundred times easier than being a working man.

Ironically between writing the last paragraph and this one a workplace incident has happened that bears this very fact out! There was a conflict between two people that, because of the nature of the industry I am in, saw me unwillingly caught as the ‘messenger’, being asked to convey threats of violence and other revenge between two more senior people who were having a tiff. It was very unpleasant. Especially because I was completely powerless.

Now, here are some of the arguments I hear for why being “in ministry” is perceived as sacrificial and difficult by those who do it. Sacrificial and difficult to the extent that it’s “harder” than the “workforce”:

  • Longer hours.
  • Emotionally rather than physically draining.
  • Takes a toll on the family.
  • Opportunity cost of high incomes sacrificed for the gospel.
  • Less time off.
  • Dealing with the best and worst sides of people.
  • Being persecuted for the gospel.
  • Job security if the offertory drops.

Let’s look at these now:

Longer Hours

I always kept a timesheet when in ministry. It was to keep me accountable to myself, before God, that I didn’t work too much or too little.

The archbishop who ordained me, Peter Jensen, has long expressed concern that the temptation to clerical laziness is great because there is no accountability. He is particularly concerned about the mind-numbing hours wasted clicking hyperlinks on the internet.

Certainly the ability of some clergy to stay atop newspapers, the blogosphere, ABC702, twitter, Facebook and now Pinterest–not to mention the fora on makes me wonder indeed if the archbishop isn’t on to something there.

But I worked hard. And long. And I was never not at work in one sense. Always at the mercy of the telephone… except when the secretary could intercept my calls and on my day off or during designated “family time” from 5:00pm until 7:30.

Certainly I cannot deny that nowadays my wife is much happier that the work-home interface has much clearer boundaries. But guess what, just like when I was in IT, I must be always contactable, always on call, and my “days off” can disappear in a moment. That rarely happened “in ministry”.

Think also about commuting: I had a 5 second commute in two parishes and a whopping 2 minutes in my last parish. Ok, I’ll grant you that if I walked it took 12 minutes, plus the time taken to apply 4 layers of clothing and remove them again at the other end in winter in the coldest parish in the Diocese of Sydney. But even that “long” commute was self-imposed as I chose to get out of the rectory study and work from the office in the centre of town to be more accessible to my congregation.

Now, because of housing affordability (or lack thereof), I have a two-hour commute. I commute by car, as I have no public transport. 2 hours. Each way. That’s four hours a day of mind-numbing time I shall never get back.

Furthermore, to beat traffic, I leave for work at 4am if my start time is 6am up until 9:30am I’d sooner snooze or read once I get to work than face a 3.5 hour commute, stopping and starting in traffic.

So for an 8 hour shift starting, say at 7am (a typical day shift for me), I am in bed by 8pm, up by 3:30am, away from home at 4:00am and not home until after 5 pm.

And if these shifts run across successive days, I’m little more than a machine: 2 hours awake at home, sleep, commute, work, commute, eat and tub, sleep etc. AND, if those shifts run late… You get the drift. This is much harder than “ministry”.

Furthermore, my job involves travel–which I enjoy–but it’s tiring and I get homesick. How many clergy spend between 4 and 10 nights away from home at least once a month? And for less money, but that’s another blog topic.

OK, to our next objection by the clerg that they have it tougher:

Ministry is very emotionally rather than physically draining.

Yeah it is: I’ll grant you that. I’m of the generation of clergy who were taught not to take our day off on Monday because the emotional drain of Sunday is better recovered from doing menial administration tasks than on a day with your wife where you are not giving of yourself.

Preaching, while done in the full Calvinistic confidence that God by his Spirit does the hard work, is still hard work. Good preachers who value the Word of God will handle it as if it all depends on them and their preparation, but having worked that hard will rest easy in the knowledge that it truly all depends on God. It’s one of those compatibilism mysteries of God using us, his treasures in clay jars.

And so our sermons are our little creations. I like to create. And I cannot bear to destroy anything I’ve created. And I did find it difficult to bear the pain of one of my creations not hitting home–notwithstanding my trust in the sovereignty of God.

Furthermore, preaching is a relationship. That’s a truism I learned 20 years ago from Phillip Jensen. It means that our preaching (under God) is part of a holistic approach that only bears fruit if it’s part of a relational cycle…hearers heed the message on the strength of the relationship with the preacher. In turn this moulds the relationship with the preacher which leads to the way the next sermon is received and so on.

This Calvinistic aspect means that preaching is, as Mark Driscoll humorously said of his Calvinism, “I shout it, Spirit makes it work, and I sleep at night.” True enough. But it’s to be shouted in relationship, and sometimes sleep evades us.

So Sundays left me smashed. And smashed in a way I never believed my lay preachers would feel it, because their relationships with the hearers are different.

There’s a church I am semi-regularly preaching at as a visitor. Because of the relational reasons I outlined above, I am not a big fan of visiting preachers. But as the visiting preacher I find it far less tiring because I’m not the pastor. I don’t have his concerns of a Sunday. I don’t know the people like he does. But you know what? As I visit more and build relationship more, I am more smashed emotionally after preaching. And I am totally reminded how much more the man in charge feels smashed.

So when my friend complains her minister is out of touch for announcing he has “easy days” on Mondays because he’s preached all day on Sunday and is smashed, yet when my friend’s husband–a layman–preaches all day he still has to face he round eternal of the cashbook and the journal on Monday and with no sympathy, I understand her anger at the dissonance she sees. But I also understand the clergyman’s sense that he has it harder.

But whatever the case, presenting your little “creation”, prayerfully prepared in the hope it will bring eternal benefits to the congregation, is draining. Remember this fact O clergy as you have a “light Monday” while we all battle the other three million commuters in our sheeplike drift to work and face tough meetings or tough colleagues while we are trying to earn a living to keep you.

Yes, your Sundays are harder. But you get light Mondays plus a day off somewhere. We have to wait until the weekend if we’re not shift workers.

And have you thought that, perhaps, your parishioners face emotionally draining professions, trades or vocations daily as well?

Takes a toll on the family. 

Yeah ministry can take a toll on the family. But often that toll is because of the way you exercise your family headship not because of some sacrifice you make for the gospel.

I grew up with a generation of resentful, messed up, clergy kids. Dating two such turned me off wanting to produce any of my own!

But when I was at college I observed the clergy kids a generation older than me were far more — and so I asked their parents what their “secret” was. Universally I was told that clergy life was presented to their family as a privilege. And as a family affair. Yes! Not only did the ministry wives minister as in the classic (and nowadays despised) caricature, but also the whole family did. Ministry was a lifestyle for the whole family. Rectory life was treated as a privilege, not a burden. Decisions to accept nomination to another parish were family decisions, not simply the head’s decision.

And so having taken that advice and having sought to apply it in our own rectory life, I found my eldest, who is the only one who remembers rectory life, loved living in a rectory. She enjoyed the constant passage of different — or familiar — people through it. And more than any of us, she misses it. She loved the visitors and experiences. She longs to return to that life.

But the pendulum has swung further: the generation of clergy whose kids are a generation after mine “professionalised” the role. No one comes into the rectory, or past the study anyway. Family life and rectory life is divorced. In reality, family life ceased to be rectory life and rectory life became extinct.

So what toll does ministry take on your family? I argue that the toll is less than, or certainly no more than, the toll that a working man’s job exacts from his family.

For us, apart from the toll taken by the shafting (which in my diocese of 268 parishes only happens to three clergy a year so likely won’t happen to you), the long hours of absence from the home to earn less than the cruisy clerical life takes a bigger toll.

Oh, and don’t forget you may be out nights but you can also go to special assemblies at school, catch up with old friends, and generally sneak away during the day to buy your wife that sexy nighty for mothers day or whatever. Your average wage- or salary-earning parishioner does not get that luxury.

And don’t forget that while you’re out at night, and dividing your days into “threes” so you take an afternoon or morning off to compensate, the rest of us are out nights after our working day, after our commute, and not being home at school time or bath time to see the kids.

The toll ministry life takes is overstated.

Opportunity cost of high incomes sacrificed for the Gospel. 

When I worked in IT in the boom of 1999 I was earning well over $130,000. In 1999 dollars. As a rector you’re paid around $53,000 per annum. But factor in tax free benefits  clergy are on and I didn’t give up much (if anything).

Compare that with the approximately $60,000 I’m on now–with no tax-free benefits–and I cannot afford even to pay rent and utilities after taking our groceries and fuel (200km per commute in a Toyota Echo!) into account. We put less away for rego, servicing and maintenance of the car than we should (but all we can afford) and nothing towards white goods etc or school needs.

And why didn’t I return to the aforementioned $130,000 per annum job (which adjusted to 2012 numbers for inflation would be much, much more)? For two reasons: Firstly, IT is a fast moving industry. My skills have diminished and what I have is out of date. Secondly, IT has changed from that boom year and $60,000 would be a good income for someone my age and level of (lost) skill.

The income issue will be tabled in a forthcoming blog entry. But for now, know that you clergy have it easy. I well remember Mike Raiter saying to my chaplaincy group in first year “there is no sacrifice for Sydney Anglican Clergy”. And he is right.

Less time off. 

I think I’ve already exploded this one. Ok, so you usually get one day a week off and take a lighter Saturday. As they climb the responsibility-scale, salaried workers are often taking work home and/or working in the office six or even seven days a week (and feeling guilty if their pastor is a Sabbatarian).

Ok, you work evenings. So do many salaried workers.

Wage earners are often not much better off.

And for those of us who are shift workers, I only get three official days off in a fortnight according to our EBA and it’s not unknown to be run at the last minute for a job on the day off. I’m entitled to refuse it, but one needs to be wise about asserting one’s rights in the workplace. You might not understand that sentence, but wage earners and probably salary earners know what I am talking about.

So those of us not in paid, full-time ministry still have to go out to meetings at night–the very same ones you do as part of your job–but we can’t fix our diaries to swing by the school to see little Breanna’s concert assembly.

Dealing with the best and worst sides of people.

I agree. The clergy deal with people showing their very best sides and very worst sides. The expectations many parishioners have of their clergy are unrealistic. You are expected to visit everyone every week for an unlimited amount of time. You must have the omniscience to know when marriages are failing and fix them before they fail. Your crystal ball must keep you informed about who is in hospital or shut-in, even though no one tells you. You must keep loving that “friend” who seeks to curry favour and be your best buddy yet totally trashes you behind your back. And you must keep on loving that crazy lady who yells at you.

All of that.

Guess what my clerical friends? Those people who make your life hard exist in the workforce too. And make life a living hell for your hardworking parishioners.

In fact, in the workforce we are less empowered to deal with these stresses helpfully than you are. You see, unlike you, holding a position of authority mandated by scripture, your working parishioner is often downtrodden and powerless against workplace bullying.

Life is definitely harder on the outside on this subject.

Being persecuted for the gospel. 

Hmmm. Often when I hear clergy complain of this one it’s more persecution for doing stupid things in which we have convinced ourselves that we’re really being persecuted for faithfulness to the gospel rather than faithfulness to a stupid idea. You know, you might close down the liturgical 8am service and tell the oldies that love it that if they love Jesus and the gospel they’ll willingly adjust to the three-ring circus you run at 10:00am. And when they jack up, you reassure yourself (somewhat arrogantly) that they hate you not for being a git but because you are doing the gospel work and they are opposing you and therefore you’re being persecuted.

But yes, clergy do get persecuted for the gospel. I’ve experienced it. I’ve seen others in this country experience it. But in truth, we experience it less than we like to imagine.

You know what? Your parishioner is probably persecuted more in the workforce than you’ll ever be.

Your interactions with non-Christians are baptism or wedding couples who want the kid to be ‘done’ or the wedding to ‘go well’, and will go along with your courses and requirements to get what they want. And yes, I know personally the joy of them accepting Jesus as part of this. But you will seldom encounter a couple who really want to be married in your building who will openly oppose you when you share Simply Christianity or Two Ways to Live with them!

If you want to think about persecution:

Try facing jokes about being a pedophile every day because you are a priest ‘out of the church’ (sorry, presbyter, but no one ‘out there’ knows that that means). Jokes that further victimise the true victims. Jokes that aren’t funny. Bet your workplace as a clergy person doesn’t deal with that. I face it. Every day. Many times a day.

One day I heard someone going off his head. He was cranky. I heard him tell management that it was that “fxxxing Priest” caused the train to run late. He knew I was listening. He said it for my benefit. Do you face that in your safe workplace?

And the other Christian in my workplace, a Pentecostal, is mocked relentlessly behind his back… so I guess the same goes for me behind mine. Hang on, I know it does. I have intel on that.

Mind you, I reckon most Christians are persecuted in the workforce not for the gospel or for their faith, but for being idiots. They are often harder to get on with or they do stupid things that are unrelated to being a Christian. But their stupidity is incorrectly linked with the fact of them being a Christian (but linked just the same). I digress.

There is the persecution your parishioners face–but you probably don’t–of having to account for why Christianity does not support homosexual marriage, abortion, euthanasia and other ‘public issues’. You get to rant it from the pulpit to a captive, and generally agreeable, congregation. We cop the water-cooler arguments.

Job security if the offertory drops. 

Yep that’s a biggie. Especially if you’re not the incumbent. If you’re a Sydney Anglican Clergyman incumbent in a parish (ie the Rector or Curate-in-Charge), there are only a few ways you can lose your job:

  1. Financial impropriety (e.g. personal bankruptcy or fiddling the church books).
  2. Sexual misconduct.
  3. Mental Illness
  4. Heresy.

Guess what? Your workers have far less job security. And jobs “out there” are harder to get, especially when your parishioners are over 40.

You may think that the revoking of the Work Choices legislation has made everyone secure whose offertory pays your stipend and allowances. Don’t bet on it.

Work Choices may be dead and buried. But read the paper (as you ought) and you’ll see that workers are not that secure in their jobs. In fact this week I read an article that quoted research that one quarter of our workforce is casual. The ghost of Work Choices (or of the alleged “bad bits” if you like Work Choices) reigns. And reigned before Work Choices, by the way. All Work Choices did was legalise what happens outside your cloistered, safe, environment.


You know, I’m not writing in jealousy of a life I’ve left.

I don’t begrudge you your position, or if you’re in training for it, I don’t begrudge where you’re heading.

If it were up to me, I’d still be working as a full-time paid Rector of a church in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

Such a life is a very great privilege. You can enjoy all the benefits I’ve outlined above. You can even ‘stray’ into clerical laziness as the archbishop has so often warned. Benefits aside, you have the very great privilege of being released from the drudgery of the Fall to be able to proclaim the words of eternal life to all and sundry. To be able to strive with all your energy to present Christ’s glorious bride, his church, faultless and blameless on the Day. That is a massive privilege.

But just be real: there is less sacrifice than you probably realise. Your life and lifestyle is easy, mate. Safe. Secure. Bloody easy.

Remember that next time you want sympathy from a hardworking parishioner who, harrowed from a commute home after a heavy day at work, has missed dinner and kissing his (or her) kids good-night to be at your extra meeting you’ve thrown on.


About tdrev

Follower of Jesus. Locomotive Driver.
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22 Responses to Life is easier for the clergy.

  1. Joe says:

    I agree 100% with your post. I stopped going to church and would give them 10 cents. I believe it would be more productive if I just tossed money out of the car window while driving on the interstate. And by the way, wearing the clerical garb works great in getting out of speeding tickets.

    • Hi Joe,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I’m sorry that the experiences you’ve had of church have upset you. And the behaviour of those wearing clerical collars/garb in getting out of speeding tickets. I confess I have been tempted to use the office to get out of fines… not that I’ve been pulled over in the first place, but the thought has been there, “would I do it”. I’d like to think I wouldn’t, and instead admit my guilt.

      I don’t think we agree 100%, and I say that with the highest respect. You and I have both obviously been burnt by ‘the church’. I can tell you how much elements of ‘the church’ are evil and will literally have hell to pay on the Final Day. But sadly, ‘the church’ (as in God’s true people) is buried somewhere in the visible church full of the idiots and megalomaniacs we see. Most ministers in my context, the Anglican (Episcopalian/Church of England) Diocese of Sydney, who are shafted like I am walk away from church altogether or find it very, very difficult to re-enter congregational life for many years.

      Thankfully for me God led us to a church that has embraced us, from the minister down, and that has been very healing for us. Yes, the church is full of evil people, idiots or incompetents. But they are the people God has chosen and at various times I probably fell (or fall!) under at least one of those categories.

      I’ll pray that your walk with Jesus is not eternally destroyed by the antics of those who have caused you harm.

      Glenn aka traindriverrev aka revgoesloco.

  2. Beth says:

    Not quite sure exactly how to respond, but as a clergy wife, I found that you’ve lumped together all clergy… Good or bad.
    My husband takes Monday’s off do he can recover. He also doesn’t “divide his day into threes” so he can take off the next morning.
    Sure, he occasionally comes to a school assembly (as did my dad who worked in a sales role), but only if it fits with his work commitments.
    Ministry is more than a job for my husband & we approach ministry as a family. I’m involved in ministry too & this often impacts on activities my kids can do.
    I understand that your particular job isn’t necessarily easy. I would hate for my husband to be away as much as you are, but we do, in fact see paid ministry as a huge privilege and are thankful to God for his bountiful provision. I know many other clergy who feel similarly.
    I continue to pray for you & your family. We thank God that you’re able to continue to trust him through everything.

    • Ta Beth.

      Obviously there are generalisations in what I am writing. Perhaps I ought also to have put a disclaimer about a fairly narrow context I am addressing, being the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. It is out of this context I’m addressing those comments, all of which I have heard reasonably commonly.

      Thanks for your prayers.

      A quotation from a forthcoming blog entry:
      “I have always believed that clergy should take ‘time out’ in the work force after 10 or so years in paid ministry. I just didn’t anticipate my ‘time out’ occurring in quite the way it did. Then again I confess I probably wouldn’t left the safety of the rectory if not forced to.”

  3. Mel B says:

    Train Driver Rev,
    I applaud you for putting this out there. Every job has it’s up and downs and while full paid ministry obviously is by no means an easy job, thank you for putting out there that the guys who attends the bible study you run (and just have an hour or 2 off the next day to catch up on TV shows or talk to your wife) has been at work since 5am this morning and now his wife is putting the kids to bed herself, again… Or the reason we’re not on heaps of rosters at church is that we work 60-70 hours between us a week, and would actually like to spend some together ( same reason we don’t always seem happy when being “told off” for not hanging round church for hours every Sunday arvo)… Or I’ve even had it suggested to me that I should stop working and spend that time doing more ministry work – really cause I work for fun, not to put food on the table for my kids!!
    By no means am I in the whole “ministers only work 1 day a week” group (cause based on that most minsters I know only would work 3 or 4 hours a week), but I think you’re ‘go into the real world ever 10 or so years’ would be a great idea, even just so they can relate to their friends and their families….
    P.S. This rant from me may continue, as it has in the past, for many years to come….

    • coastalrev says:

      Uh thanks “Mel B” for your frank and honest opinion.

      Of course I do expect you’re able to make up for your lack of commitment and the hours *you* work by giving more than a tithe.

      • Mel B says:

        Nope – got me there too… Luckliy for me, Jesus forgave my sins not based on tithing… Or any other good works for that matter – think a minister I once knew taught me that.

  4. Bruce says:

    Thanks mate. A sobering read. Appreciated.

  5. Trace says:

    I too am an ex minister of the gospel and have been back in the work force for 7 years. I was a sub contractor as a courier before ministry , and I worked hard. Now I have returned to normal life, ministry is a cake walk by comparison. Now I work 6 days a week 12-14 hrs per day, I work an hour ¼ from home and I too have 3 kids …. Give me the good life as a minster that I might suffer again under the strain of ministry.

  6. Pingback: Respect your clergy! | Blogging the transition from paid minister of the gospel to train driving minister of the gospel

  7. Beth says:

    I enjoyed reading this, Glenn. I always hate the implication that working full time is somehow “less godly” than full time ministry, even though my work enables my husband to stay in full time ministry. My husband is paid for part of his full-time ministry work but not all. With me stopping work in two weeks and our combined income drying up to about $40,000 pa, we will have to look at different options for hubby’s work next year, as we won’t be able to afford for him to work half his hours for free. This isn’t quite what you’re talking about, I know, but my not being able to work full time in the secular work force any longer will mean a lot less ministry is done at our current church.

    Anyway, just my thoughts. I enjoyed your blog. Praying for you guys often 🙂

  8. TJM says:

    “The archbishop who ordained me, Peter Jensen, has long expressed concern that the temptation to clerical laziness is great because there is no accountability. He is particularly concerned about **the mind-numbing hours wasted clicking hyperlinks on the internet**.”

    Does this count, Glenn?

    • TJM says:


      • Well, Rev TJM, I’m not sure who the referent of your comment is.

      • If you’re referring to me, I wrote this on a worksite that was shut down by workcover (nothing to do with us; we were caught in the crossfire, that’s all). Our company allows use of electronics including laptops, DVD players and the like during such situations, so I was already in a mind-numbing situtation for the second shift running…
      • If, however, you’re referring to the clergy I’ve addressed it to, then arguably yes. But this is Monday, the celebrated ‘lighter day’ and its directed at the clerg, so its usefulness as a user upper of time can be judged by the clerical reader, who is master of his or her own time.
      • 😉