Pastoral Cases of the Mondays

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“Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays.”

That line has obtained legendary movie quote status. And rightfully so. And while I have no doubt that Peter Gibbons (and many men like him) gets cases of the Mondays, almost all pastors get them.

Generally speaking, pastors take a day off sometime during the week to compensate for their obligations on Sundays. And for a long time the accepted wisdom has been that Monday is the best day to take off, though many pastors take Friday instead. In my doctoral class today, Leith Anderson (recently retired longtime pastor of Wooddale Church in Edina, Minnesota) made this comment, which I then posted on Facebook:

“Taking Monday as your day off is crazy if you feel like most pastors feel on Monday. On Monday you feel depressed. You feel like a failure. You want to quit. You feel semi-suicidal. So… You should get paid for that day. Why would you want to feel like that on your day off?”

A person in our church who I know loves her pastors very much responded to the post with heartbreak, wondering why this is the case. I thought I’d explain a bit more what was behind Leith’s comment.

First of all, Leith was definitely using a bit of hyperbole to make his point. But there are a number of factors that make Mondays a significant drag on pastors. A few of them are as follows: First, preaching inevitably comes with an adrenaline surge in pastors. It’s completely natural. I think it’s one of the physiological processes God desires to use for the good of his church on Sunday mornings. It focuses your mind. It gives you energy and vigor. It makes you precise. It helps you articulate. It gives you visual acuity that allows you to see facial expressions from 100 feet away that you couldn’t normally see, so that you know how the guy in the back is responding to what you’re saying. It’s a great thing God does for us on Sunday morning.

But coming down off an adrenaline surge, as most people know, has a certain effect on your body. The adrenaline is gone fairly quickly, but your body feels worn out from the surge for much longer than that. So, for example, in February and March I’m preaching in all four worship gatherings at New Hope Church. I’ll have adrenaline surges for about an hour four times on Sunday. In between each surge, my body will come back down a little bit for 10-15 minutes before it surges again in anticipation of the next sermon. It’s a very relieving and relaxing 10-15 minutes. But then the next surge comes. And so on…

Needless to say, it’s super hard on the body. As far as your body chemistry and the constriction of your blood vessels and heart goes it’s like enduring four intense exercise sessions in one day. Your muscles aren’t tired like they are after a workout, and you’re not out of breath, but everything that controls your body chemistry is worn out just the same as if you had just worked out hard for 45 minutes (four times). It takes me three and a half hours to run a marathon. So, on Monday mornings in February and March my heart and blood vessels will feel like I just about ran a marathon the day before. I’m not complaining. I love preaching. And I love preaching four times more than I love preaching once (If I’m going to spend so much time preparing a message it’s nice to employ all that work more than once!). But that’s just the reality of how the human body works.

Second, pastors tend to be enormously self-critical. Every sermon I’ve ever given SUCKS on Monday morning (at least in my own mind). I might feel good about it early on Sunday morning, and I might feel good about it on Tuesday morning. But on Monday morning it was the worst sermon ever preached. It always feels like it could have–and should have–been better. Pastors always think of something they could have said. Something they should have said. They over-analyze how forcefully they said something. Did they nail the tone at that point? Did they go too hard? Too soft? They focus on jokes that bombed. Illustrations that didn’t connect. Points that accidentally got skipped. They focus on the looks they got from people when they didn’t understand something that was said. They think about the comments people made afterward, and usually don’t focus on the good comment. They focus on the critical. Again–just human nature. Which leads to another “pastoral case-of-the-Mondays” generator…

Third, Monday is when emails from the congregation about the sermon are sent. 99% of emails having to do with what you said on Sunday come on Monday before noon. And because pastors tend to be so self-critical already, they tend to pay more attention to the five people who hated the sermon and emailed you about it, rather than the two hundred people who were really helped by the sermon, but who don’t email about it. Which is normal. Mature pastors get that. It’s the same reason that most of us don’t call for the manager of a restaurant when our server did a good job. We call for them when the server botched it. Which is one of the reasons why, as a matter of fact, I always call for the manager when servers do a really good job. I rarely call for the manager when the server blows it. Unless the server’s work was just absolutely inexcusable. I’d guess that I call for the manager to compliment the server ten times for every time I call for the manager to talk about a problem with the server, because I get how they feel. But human nature is to say something only when we’re upset.

So… The moral of the story: You can’t do much about the first and second factors. They’re inevitable. They’re built into what it means to be a pastor. So, pray for your pastor. That is absolutely the best thing to do for him or her. And God loves to answer prayers for tired, self-critical pastors. As far as the third factor: Don’t email your pastor on Monday. If you really have a serious gripe, Wednesday or Thursday is a good day for that email. You might not even see it as quite as big of a deal on Thursday as you did on Monday, right?

And the moral of the story for pastors: Don’t quit on a Monday.

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