A pastor's hours

October 26, 2010

When I make a new non-churchy friend, he or she often asks what exactly I do with my time as a pastor outside Sunday morning.

A lot, actually—often more than my three-quarter-time position would suggest. I plan for Sunday, prepare sermons, connect with other pastors, visit the sick and the elderly, plan or attend community events, stay up on scholarship, teach classes, write articles, pray and work with other churches in my denomination. And that's only on Monday! My non-church friends are often surprised by the range of activities, as I expect many members would be as well.

On a recent trip to Scotland, where I once served as an assistant minister in the Church of Scotland, I was reminded of the different expectations of pastors in that country. In the congregation I served, pastors were expected to visit congregation members for huge portions of their workweeks.

This emphasis on pastoral visiting did not seem to be unique to my congregation. As one colleague explained it, in many parishes there's an expectation that the pastor "bring the church" to people's homes on visits rather than people regularly going to church themselves on Sunday.

I write this all because as a part-time solo pastor, I'm hyper-aware of how I spend my time each week. The pastor before me served full time, and our job descriptions are basically identical—though I have less time in which to work. So I'm careful with how I spend my 30 hours.

It seems to me, though, that I would work quite differently than my predecessor even if I were full time. Most pastors have a large amount of personal choice in how they spend their workweek, and because of the range of duties, no two pastors will work in the same way. Serving as a pastor, especially as a solo pastor, involves a lot of self-direction and individual decisions.

In what ways can pastors best balance their own gifts and graces with the needs of their congregations? Is it important for a congregation to know what its pastor is doing at all (or at least most) times?



Great little article. I'm a seminarian, considering becoming a part-time or bi-vocational pastor, primarily because I have a part time position that would support it easily, and there are so many churches looking for a part time person. I look for information on how that is done.

Pastors' schedules

You ask an important question about pastors balancing their gifts and graces. I think many congregants do not even take that into consideration and just expect the pastor to be constantly working and work in their mind is being in the office, always available AND doing visitation AND staying current. Right....... Having recently served on a search committee, I've become aware of some people's expectations of the pastor. The previous pastor was criticized for not being out in the foyer fraternizing with people between and after services, but for one he was an introvert, but a friendly person who was known by people in the church that didn't fall into the religious elite category. I find those were the ones complaining the most about him not being out with the people and being in people's homes or people being invited to his, yet if you ask those who are considered on the fringe, they found him very approachable.

I also don't think it's important the parishioners know what a pastor is doing at all times. He/she has a job description and there can be things put in place for accountability like a sign-in sheet when they leave the building or a work log. Outside of that, the proof will be in the pudding. If things are getting done, people are being ministered to, you can probably assume that the pastor is doing their job. Believe me, when they're not doing their job, it won't be long before the effects become apparent. Again, I find the religious elite to be most concerned about this.

Confidentially speaking

I think more and more pastoral time is spent on "confidential" issues. As I deal with addictions, poverty, marital issues, social diseases, mental illness and such, my congregation cannot know who I was working with. If we are caught in a meeting, I sometimes have to act as if it was a social call, not work at all. Plus, I serve people who don't attend the church, and people attending different services who don't know each other at all. I work 10 and 12 hour days, and people still feel that they and their friends are underserved. I lead forceful people through negotiation, because my denomination historically resists clergy authority.

I love my job, and the confusion only serves to remind me that what matters is God's calling, rather than anyone's opinion. Fortunately, my congregants trust me in general, and they certainly know how hard it is to find clergy that is both competent and affordable.

My time is completely undocumented -- and most people prefer it that way. Some know that they and their families personally benefit from confidential counseling. Others just know that they are getting far more than they pay for!

pastors and accountability

Over the years I've created a variety of ways to be accountable to the congregation for my time, and especially with the elders. Every month I give a report of how I've spent my time sometime in specific detail without breaking confidentiality and other in more general overview - pastoral care, mission, etc. Since I have a couple of side jobs and Presbytery responsibilities I also frequently include that work, as well as what I am reading at the moment that I recommend. The elders appreciate this conversation and report. I was very careful and detailed in the first years. In my tenth year, I've less detailed and more conversational. There is a different level of trust.