How Pastors Spend Their Time

07 Jan

Some new research LifeWay reveals some interesting things about how Protestant pastors spend their time.  You can read the report here.

I am a big fan of pastors.  Local church pastors are among my everyday heroes.  I think generally they are under-appreciated in so many ways.  I was lucky.  When I was a church pastor, I was well cared for and appreciated.  I think that was a value and priority for the church.

Many pastors live very unhealthy and unbalanced lives.  Even with the care I got from my church, my life became very unhealthy and unbalanced.  There are a lot of reasons for that.  Here are three that I think were most prevalent:

1. Singleness. I think a lot of folks in the church have a hard time caring for and supporting single pastors (and single people generally).  Churches tend to be pretty good about making sure a pastor’s marriage is healthy, they spend time with their family, take vacation, etc.  It is not always as clear what that looks like with single people.  

2. Hiddenness. I think my hiddenness about being gay was certainly a problem in my situation.  It meant that I didn’t have support in the areas I most needed it, people weren’t able to ask the right questions, the right accountability structures weren’t in place, and there was a sense of profound loneliness in the struggle.  I am not sure what the answer to that one was.  The reality is that if I had been open about it, I probably would have lost my job/ministry.  Nonetheless, it was a serious contributing factor — and perhaps part of an inevitability of failure.

3. Assumptions & Expectations. Even while being well cared for, there are a lot of assumptions and expectations put on pastors/leaders.  One of the strange things is how leaders can be elevated onto pedestals — not by the leaders themselves (most leaders I know in the church are all too aware of their own struggles, brokenness and failures) by by the congregation.  This can become rather dehumanizing.  The things that people will say about or to leaders is sometimes shocking.  The assumptions and expectations we have for leaders and pastors is equally shocking and unrealistic.  All of this is  set-up for failure, disappointment and burn-out… imho.

That said, work schedules and how pastors spend their time is also an interesting issue.  The study says that most pastors are working over 50 hours a week with many pushing 70 hours.  This is just personal opinion, but I think a 50 hour work week is pretty reasonable for a pastor. Ideally, 5 ten hour days… but a lot of this is based on the person.  I was able to work closer to 60 and still be fully engaged (though perhaps, in retrospect, not very balanced); others I worked with had a lower capacity for long hours and each additional hour led to diminishing returns.  In other words, for many a 45 hour work week was actually more productive than a 55 hour work week, measured across the course of several months.

For the record, I think the number of hours is less important than whether you are getting the job done… and here is where congregations need to really think through this.  What is the job that they are asking of their pastors?

Setzer, for example, bemoans that pastors are spending less time in visitation, at hospitals, etc.  This is only bad if the assumption is that the pastor is the chaplain and the only one who can do those things.  In the model I came out of, the primary responsibility for those things was not the staff, but the congregation — through small groups, ministry teams, etc.  I think this is a better model.

But this got me thinking… what did I spend my work week doing?  Here is a rough breakdown of an average week:

– At Weekend Services (we had 5 over 3 days when I left) – 14 hrs

– Weekend Service Prep (not sermon) – 3 hrs

– Sermon Prep – 10 hrs/wk (avg 15-20 per sermon, but I didn’t preach every week)

– Weekend Follow-Up – 2 hrs

– Meetings (staff, volunteers, Board, etc) – 4 hrs

– Counseling/Coaching/Spiritual Direction – 3 hrs

– Contact Work (relationally hanging out with people) – 4 hrs

– Admin/Office – 8 hrs

– Communications (email, web, blog, phone, cards, etc) – 4 hrs

– Strategic (marketing, strategic planning, etc) – 4 hrs

– Prayer/Devotional – 4 hrs

– Professional Development (coaching, reading, studying, spiritual direction) – 2 hrs 

TOTAL: 62 hrs/week

That was pretty average.  One notable is that the prayer/devotional time was not even close to adequate.  Generally that week would include one day off, but rarely more than that.  Also, that was a normal week… anything else just added.  So when we were dealing with a potential building project and meetings with engineers/architects/zoning boards — that was all on top of the regular.  Two other notes… I was part of a preaching team, which was a life-saver.  Prepping sermons as a team made me much more efficient.  It also meant that I was only preaching about 30-35 times a year.  If I was preaching every week, you would need to increase the sermon prep time to about 20 hrs/week.  Also, in my situation, I was the primary administrator for the church.  If a church hired an admin person, the balance of my week would have shifted significantly.

Anyway… go check out the article and let me know your thoughts.  I would love to hear from lay people and pastors about what they think about all of this… here is the link.

1 Comment

Posted by on January 7, 2010 in Uncategorized


One response to “How Pastors Spend Their Time

  1. Bruce

    January 7, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    <p>I appreciate so much those who labor amongst us and must give an account before God for us. It is a noble thing to desire to be a servant is that way….<br>But there is a vital problem with the profession of being a pastor, and it has many tentacles… I won’t bother going in to all of it, but to surmise, </p><p>1- Many people make a "career" decision to become a pastor. This is due to many other out-of-order things but chief being either:<br> a. They want to serve God with their whole lives and there is promoted within the church the idea that the only real way to do it is to become either a missionary or a pastor, and hence to go to a seminary to learn that profession.<br> b. They make the decision based on other things [any other things] beside becoming a living sacrifice and a poured out drink offering on the sacrifice and service of the faith of the flock of God.</p><p>2- It is a calling…. from God…. and essentially a calling TO God. One so called is to "Come to Me"….. and "take MY yoke upon them"…. [Not the yoke of the people or needs] and learn of Him and become like Him. If He truly is the object of our service and we truly put Him first, we will "feed His flock" and "tend His sheep" and "feed His lambs" in the proper order and we will find rest for our souls… instead of burn out. Seek first the kingdom and His righteousness…. not to meet the expectations of the people…. they may not like that, but if we are to do things His way and please Him, it is not an option to do this backwards.</p><p>3- The church has a mixed up and shallow understanding of the purpose for the ministries (Eph 4:11, "Doma" ministries); that they are to equip the people to do the work of the ministry, not be "hired" to take care of everything for them. If every part would provide their own "supply" in the body for the building up of itself in love, then the ministers would be able to be freed to do what God wants them to do in supplying their part.</p><p><br>I in no way want to sound trite, dogmatic or idealistic, but the church and the way it is structured is so out of whack and polluted by the motives, means and ways of the world… not directed by Him as Head of the body. I feel so much for those laboring in His vineyard and I pray for grace to strengthen and instruct them and that God will set in order the Church that He is building, of which the gates of Hell shall not prevail.</p>



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