How Many Hours Does a Pastor Work Each Week?

July 6, 2013

UPDATE: Listen to the podcast on this topic.

It is one of the most unpredictable jobs one could have. There will be weeks when there won’t be much taking place out of the ordinary, and the pastor will work a “mere” 40 to 45 hours. There will be other weeks filled with meetings, emergency hospital calls, a wedding, two funerals, and line of members waiting to see the pastor. That workweek could total 80 hours.

So we surveyed pastors on Twitter and asked them a simple question: How many average hours do you work a week, including sermon preparation? Though we asked for an average, most responded with a range. We thus took the midpoint of the range they submitted. We also asked this question only of fulltime vocational pastors.

Five years ago, LifeWay Research asked a similar question. The primary difference in the question was that their survey included pastors who were not paid fulltime as well. Of course, the LifeWay Research study was a scientific poll, while my Twitter poll was informal.

Here are the results of the two polls:

 2013 Twitter Poll
(Full-time Pastors)
 2008 LifeWay Research Poll
(Part-Time & Full-Time Pastors)
Less than 40 hours 3% 16%
40-49 hours 47% 19%
50-59 hours 40% 30%
60-69 hours 7% 27%
70 hours or more 3% 8%

Here are some of my observations:

  • The two polls cannot be compared directly. One includes fulltime pastors only. The other includes both fulltime and part-time pastors. Also, the LifeWay Research poll of 2008 is scientifically validated, and is thus much more likely to be accurate.
  • Surprisingly, the median workweek for pastors is the same in both surveys: 50 hours. That means the average workweek is greater than 50 hours for half of the pastors, and less than 50 hours for half of the pastors.
  • Some pastors indicated their workweek hours but excluded sermon preparation time. They were not included in the survey.
  • I strongly suspect that the 16% of pastors who worked less than 40 hours a week in the 2008 survey were part-time pastors. There aren’t many fulltime vocational pastors working less than 40 hours.
  • Most pastors have trouble estimating their average workweek because each week is so unpredictable. The nature of a pastor’s job is on-call 24/7.
  • One respondent had an interesting take on a pastor’s workweek. He said that pastors should be expected to work 40 hours plus the amount of time a committed member gives to the church. He estimates a committed member will give at least 8 hours a week, so the typical workweek should be 48 hours (40+8). That number is very close to the median workweek of all pastors.

Are there any surprises to you in these studies? What do you think a pastor’s typical workweek should be?

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  • When I start to say to myself “I’m working too much” I start to think about what the Bible says about work. 12-hours a day, 6-days a week is the norm. Culturally, we are very lazy and think we need more time off than we do. Graciously, my church has normal hours, and is flexible where I do sermon prep, and they give me Fri & Sat off (though we do outreach events 1-2 Saturdays a month). When I start to “boo hoo” about the rare 60-hr work week, or hear brothers complain, I point to the proverbs and other admonitions to work as unto The Lord, and that’s talking about (mostly) a 72-hour manual labor work week. Get over it pastors and get it done. (In love)

  • This is a constant question that I talk with my friends in ministry about. to me, it comes down to a question of what is and isn’t “billable” (to use my lawyer-friends’ terms). If I meet with people from the church before “office hours” and we are discussing life, praying together, reading together, etc., do I count that as work? What if I grab lunch and talk about ministry strategy with a member? Is that part of my hours? What if I choose to go out with my family and my wife and I invite another family from the church along to spend time with them, too? Yesterday I worked out at a gym one of our members attends. I probably wouldn’t have gone there had I not known him. Is all of that “work”? It seems that some in ministry count all of that as work.

    I understand that “industries” (so to speak) are different, but I try to view what I do through the lens of discipleship. I want how I serve the church (and, thus, how I live my life) to be reproducible in the lives of the congregation. I want everyone to be involved in disciple-making so I try to model that in the same way.

    So, like Thom comments at the end of the post, I’ve currently landed on a roughly 45 hour “workweek” (including Sundays). I say roughly because I don’t log it hour for hour. But, along with that, I try to do the normal things I’d hope the congregation does, and try not to view what I do as much different. My family and I attend one of our community groups (small group, connect group, or whatever else you call it), I’ll go to breakfast meetings, we have people over for dinner, and I try and spend as much time with my wife and kids as I can (given all of that). I try and limit how many evenings I am out without the family (I have young kids) to one or two a week max, making it home for dinner, bath time, bed time, etc.

    Are there aberrations? Absolutely. But the above pattern has worked for me. For now.

  • Very helpful article! While being a pastor is in many ways 24/7, I do think that it is helpful for a pastor to log his hours, and how he uses them. This is helpful, not only so that he can give an account to his members as to how he uses his time, but also to make sure that he doesn’t put in too much time – for the sake of his family. I had a member, who complains about about essentially everything, recently challenge one of our deacons on how much time I was putting into ministry. (I take at least one day off a week and the previous pastor didn’t, so this has come up a couple of times from my critics.) My deacon knew about my log and quickly came to my defense and told the member “He logs his time in detail every day. If you want to find out how he uses his time, ask to look at it.” It shut them up pretty quickly. They never asked to see the log.

    I have found that if pastors don’t log, they have a tough time guessing how much time they put in: either too high or too low. Either they get lazy and think they work more than they do, or they don’t realize how much time they are putting in and their families get the short end of the stick. I questioned the reliability of the study in this blog post because of this, but even so, it does seem pretty on target. When a pastor does start logging his hours, there will always be that issue of what you count as ministry hours and what you don’t count. (Does hanging out all day with my Sunday School class, for a church activity, who all happen to be my pears and friends count as ministry for example?) And if you don’t watch it, it can also develop a potentially unhealthy and very limiting “on the clock” / “off the clock” mentality. But for the sake of my family, and for the ability to be able to give an account for my time, to me its worth it.

    I have a hefty schedule, and before I started logging my hours I sincerely thought I put in MORE time than I did. I thought my time would come out to a 70+ a week. But I soon discovered that it was closer to 60. Even though I had estimated high, when I considered what my family needed from me, and how much time I would want a healthy church member to put into ministry, I decided I needed to cut back from 60 if I could find a way to do it. I decided that a normal salaried lay-employee probably puts more than 40hrs into their work; more like 45-50. Then I thought that a healthy church member puts in 5-10 hours a week into church. Sometimes lighter, sometimes heavier depending on the week. So I decided that my work week should be between 55-60 hours a week. That is right where I have it right now. If I work a 60+ week I try to lighten up on the following week if I can. Every once in a while I do break the 70+ barrier. On a really light week, like last week when I got an extra day off for the 4th of July, I put in 49 hours. Anything under 50 would be a very, very light week for me. I have a daughter who is one years old and one on the way, I assume that when my kids get older I may need to pull back even more if I can. Again, the logic there is I would want a member in that stage of life to do the same for their families.

  • I enjoyed the blog as always. My statements here concern the many comments that followed. My commitment as a pastor is to make my family a priority. Early on in ministry I was pulled away from my family. I readily responded to any church members who called and my daughter got the message that family took a back seat to the church. After discovering that, I made some changes. I tried to communicate, by words and actions, to my wife and kids that they were more important to me than any other church members. It isn’t always easy. I agree with several who commented that each situation is different. However, no matter what the situation, I want my family to know that they always come first. I do whatever necessary to make that clear. I believe that my first ministry is my family. If I cannot sacrifice for them, what business do I have challenging the fathers in our congregation to make their family a priority. For the past 25 years, I have lived by this and I know that my adult children would tell you that they were my first priority. They are both active in ministry today. I think it is a cop out to say that our wives and kids should understand that we have a calling that gives us permission to ignore them while helping someone else. I hear the testimonies of PK’s who are deeply hurt because their fathers were not there for them. I would plead with any pastor out there who has put the congregation before their family. Repent and confess it to your wife and kids. Let them know that from now on they will be first. Let your congregation know where you stand. Some will understand. Some will not. That’s okay. They can get over it. If you neglect your family, your wife and kids may never get over it.

  • Drew Dabbs says on

    I am a full-time pastor and am compensated as such. I have no complaints about the number of hours I work, though I often hate the feeling that I’m “always on.”

    That said, the “always on” feeling is exacerbated by the fact that my wife, who is a stay-at-home wife and mother, also has a ministry calling (children’s ministry), and she puts in a bunch of volunteer hours for our church. In the last week, she probably put in 20-30 hours doing church stuff. She’s the VBS director, and VBS starts Monday.

    Even now, she’s on a phone call she received regarding VBS.

    When both the pastor and the pastor’s wife feel “called” to ministry, there’s absolutely no way to quantify the hours… because you’re almost always working, even when you’re home watching a recorded episode of Food Network Star on Saturday night at 9:30.

    I hope no one thinks I’m complaining. I simply want to reinforce the point that even when pastors are “off,” they’re usually not, especially when their wives are heavily involved in the ministry of the church.

    • I have noticed something lately in a few churches around the city that I live in. I have been looking to change churches and therefore I have been visiting more than one, just going around seeing how I like the different churches. I have noticed a trend that I consider to be nothing but strange. The pastor’s wives sit behind them, in the row behind them while worship is going on. The pastors and their guests if they have any are sitting in the front row and that seems to be all that is allowed, the pastor, and the pastor’s wife is either in the row directly behind him or somewhere else sitting in the congregation. What is up with that? When did this trend start and why? Perhaps this is something unique to my town, but I somehow doubt that.

  • Dr. Rainer, great post – thank you! I read everything you put out and it’s a blessing in many ways AND I send out links to various posts you write. Keep em coming! I have one question for you. Regarding the concept of “halo-data” do you think pastors report working more hours than they actually do in fear of being described as lazy? As I interact with a lot of pastor friends here in Indiana I wonder how many of them are actually working a 50 hour work week? Thoughts?

    Thanks again Dr. Rainer.


    • Thom Rainer says on

      Nathan –

      Absolutely. In any self-reporting survey, you are likely to have a halo effect. We then have to ask if there are balancing factors that may make the averages more credible. In this case, I think the answer is yes. Here is the little experiment I conducted. I know one of the respondents well, and he reported 45 hours. I called him and asked him if the past week had been typical; he said yes. I then had him take me through each day of ministry activities with estimated times. The result was 51 hours. He was surprised. I was not. These types of surveys could best be called guesstimates, but I do think they tend to average well. Some overstate. Some understate.

  • Thanks for this! As a Worship Pastor, I spend much of my time at home arranging songs, emailing with band/choir members, planning, etc. in fact, I have to make a concious effort to keep off the computer while not “at work”.

  • I think this article is so spot on…it really is hard for people to grasp the hours we work. I am a full time youth minister who also preaches on of our services weekly and I am paid under 25K with no benefits and have had people suggest that I take on a second job because “there isn’t any reason for you to work around here so much” yet will get upset if I’m not there for them at the drop of a hat…I can assure you I love what I do but I wish people realized that we are ALWAYS working.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Bradley –

      Full time at 25k with no benefits? I know it’s not about the money, but I hope the church can help at least on the benefits.

      • Sebastian Barrett says on

        I’m a senior pastor that is bivocational, but my ministry work is that of fulltime… and Bradley has a higher income than I do!

        Count it as a blessing, brother!

  • Thanks for the article. I find it interesting. I think it is the wrong approach to “count hours”. Ministry is not a job worked it is a life lived. It truly is 24/7/365. A true Pastor can never get away from the burden for the people God has put in his care any more than the High Priest could get away from the burden of the precious stones on his shoulders and chest, or Paul could escape the care of the churches. Last night, I was walking into Walmart at 7 and heading home to my wife. I was thrilled for a Friday night at home! My phone rang and I headed to the hospital to help a young man that I’m trying to win to The Lord. I got home around 11. It’s a life you live! But, what better life to live than ministering to people like Jesus did… Every day of His life!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks Tim.

    • My current wife spends more time serving God and her fellow man than her pastor, and her pastor and his wife has matching BMWs in their reserved parking spaces at the church. All these pastors complaining about the time they spend in their “ministries” when the average Christian does the same and more and has to work for a living in the real world too. Personally, if it was up to me, all of you would have to find a job.

  • Interesting data, that seems to be about right with me andante of my pastor friends. Part of the formula to being on call 24/7 and not getting overworked is by utilizing and practicing healthy boundaries. I grew up as a PK, my dad to this day does not practice healthy boundaries. People call and are responded to at any time of any day. As a rule of thumb I do not answer my phone after 6pm. If the call is an emergency they will always leave a message. My promise to them is that I will always check the message and then decide whether to call back that evening or wait for the next work day. Same with text, emails, Facebook, etc…. This one rule has Ben a blessing inane ways and the people are much more respectful of my time. I tell them that my highest ministry priority is to my family, and that is the reason for this boundary. Learning to set the right boundaries will really help make ministry more of joy and less of a burden.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Josh –

      You’re right. In some ways technology is a bane, but it can be a blessing as well.

      • I was born in what we may call holiness family.Im new to becoming a teacher of the ministry but my father was and its true you must find time for family I don’t remember ever missing missing my father and I’m the nineteenth child out of twenty .Now through my theology school I have learned to journal and set time we have been taught to stay focus but don’t burn because you may feel you are the only capable person

  • NC Pastor says on

    Do you think some of this is why pastors seem to be getting burned out faster than ever?

    As a pastor that works 50+ hours a week on average, I am troubled when I see anyone(even another pastor) claim they have the magic number of hours worked for a pastor each week. I’ve heard this conversation and I’ve heard the 40+8 before… and then we have to decide is Sunday a workday for a pastor? What about when I am home and I get a text or message from a church member? How about when I am out in the community and I stop to talk? I am very technologically sound and have most of my commentaries on different devices… so is it working if i look over a commentary while watching my dogs run around the park? How about when I listen to someone else’s sermon on a podcast while I jog to see how someone else treated a passage? I helped a church member move for 6 hours on my day off last week… does that count as work? The next step if we are nitpicking hours the low end of a pastor’s work week…. shouldn’t we just make a pastor an hourly employee and pay them overtime the weeks they work 80 hours? The thought of such (fair) compensation probably just made a number of southern baptist deacons/board of directors/pastoral supervisors squirm around a little bit. I typically hear church members, and to an extent older pastors that are beaten down or from a totally different era, want to quantify the hours in a pastoral work week by some standard that makes themselves look good. “I work full time and i am at church 8 hours, so a pastor much work 48”, or “I work 99 hours a week at my church, thus the pastor must as well”.

    I think that its insulting in a lot of ways to attempt to keep track of and assign hours to a pastor. How about a rule of thumb like this…. You put in the number of hours it takes to Shepherd well without neglecting other important aspects of life.

    Dr. Ranier, I always greatly enjoy your posts… as I have this one. I can’t read into your data, but I bet those guys that reported less than 40 hours a week or either 1: those guys that give all the rest of us bad names 2: as you said, unable to quantify the hours they work because it varies so much or 3: in some capacity of having a large staff and being able to delegate a bunch of responsibilities(those guys work like crazy too… but i bet its hard to assign a number) or 4: In a great ministry situation with no sick people, no death, no problems, and are truly brilliant theologians. If you find someone in option 4… tell them to never leave their church!

    Thanks again for your post…. I always wondered where I fell in terms of hours worked.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      NC Pastor –

      You make some great observations and great points. The reality is that most pastors are on call 24/7 and really don’t have time off in the purest sense of the meaning. I have known countless pastors who have to leave a vacation with the family to conduct the funeral of a church member. That’s the nature of ministry.

      • Mike Towers says on

        Dr. Rainer-

        “That’s the nature of ministry.” Do you think expecting a pastor to leave a vacation because of a death in the church a correct expectation of a church to have of their pastor? I know sensitivity to the situation is important here, but if a pastor can never truly rest, the church will be further impacted.

        I’m guessing this is especially where the Biblical wisdom of a plurality of elders comes into play.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Mike –

        I would hope that a pastor could have an uninterrupted vacation. But I’ve seen many pastors take off despite protestations from the family of the deceased. I know. I did that on more than one occasion as a pastor. In surprised that my family still has a healthy view of the church.

      • Alan Davis says on

        Dr. Ranier,

        This may be where an associate pastor can really be of help. While on my family vacation with my family out of town I would have an associate pastor do the funeral of those who die that basiclly we havent seen in years and all of a sudden they lay claim to the church after years of inactivity, call the family and pray with them over the phone. This would also include extended family members that are not church members and those occasional attenders that live in the community. Now it is understood that each one must be dealt with on it’s on merit. As to church members who are active (and we do keep an active member role) and their children that live in the area I would probably come back. However I do have a verbal understanding with the deacons and elders that if I am far away I will fly in on the day of visitation, be there for the family, conduct the funeral and then fly back at the expense of the church. The associate pastor would continue to minister to them and would have ministered to them before I flew in and help make arrangements. If it takes 1-2 days to do so then my vacation time will be added to that amount. This way my family can stay on vacation and I will lose minimal time with them while still ministering to the family. It is still a sticky situation at best though between family and church members at that time. I feel I should be there for an active or shut-in church member.
        Alan Davis

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Alan –

        You are blessed to be in a church that permits you to handle vacation issues in such a manner. Unfortunately, I hear from many pastors who don’t have the flexibility you do. Don’t take it for granted.

      • Alan Davis says on

        By the way I don’t seem to be able to get by on less than 50-55 hours a week.

      • I went on a mission trip with our local Baptist Assn. and there was a Director of Missions, a local pastor, and me (also a pastor) with a team of about 10 others from different churches in our association. Anyways, we flew from Texas to Wisconsin and on the first day we are arrived there the pastor gets a phone call from a member of the church who had a relative die. He flew back the next day to conduct the funeral. I was shocked!
        It made me wonder if what I would do in the same situation is wrong. I would NOT have left the mission trip to go do a funeral unless it was my mom. First of all, I would communicate to my congregation “if you die while I am on a mission trip then I am not doing your funeral unless you wait for me to return.” Second, I would hope that I had raised up other leaders in my church or had a minister that I could call to step in for me (By the way, this pastor served in a large church.) Third, I don’t think it is healthy for a congregation to depend on their pastor as a priest–meaning, if he is not there then it is not official. A pastor should be loved by the flock and he should love them but he shouldn’t be indispensable. At what point does a pastor become an enabler to a unhealthy dependence on him by the congregation? Finally, and most importantly, Jesus made it clear that his mission is more urgent than even a funeral. Luke 9:60 “And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

      • A small church that barely has men that quality for the office deacon is no hope of having a plurality of elders.
        A pastor first ministry is to his family. So for a pastor that is bi-vocational, pastors full-time or part-time, and has a family any thing under 50hrs is an insult. And yes Sunday does include as work hours.

      • As a full-time Pastor, all I can say is Amen! to all of the above. Even trying to keep a log for my Staff-Parish board proves extremely daunting when attempting to quanitfy the phone calls, Facebook messages, emails that I respond to “after hours.” Realizing again, there really is no such thing as “after hours” for a Pastor! Now if only our laity could grasp that. … I pray.

      • My Pastor runs a day care for kids and hardly answers his phone (goes to message) and takes his$575.00 pay check out of tithes and offerings and sometimes doesn’t leave enough to pay bills. Our offerings are usually 6 to 800.00. For months the mortgage was behind. It seems he has no problem draining the funds as long as he gets paid. Although a few times he has taken less in that week. What do we do?? I am an elder on the board and realize a worker is worth his wages. But I see him as part time since he spends all day at the daycare. Our 6 month plate is about 18000.00 No more then 15 to 30 people attend.

    • Anthony Cain says on

      I loved your comments. You articulated well how I think it should be addressed. At the end of the day is enough time being put in to correctly shepherd the flock. Great comments!

    • Personally I think that with any on call job, people should consider whether the person gets the job done, that is all that counts. If the person gets it done, it don’t matter if they can pull it off in twenty hours or sixty hours, they earn their money and should be considered worth whatever they are able to contract for themselves as pay and benefits.

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