Nine Issues Regarding Pastors and Office Hours

I know. I’ve been there.

Almost every week, and sometimes two or more times a week, a lay leader would wait in the church parking lot to see what time I arrived. He would also come back in the afternoon to see what time I left.

I was pastor of the church. This layman’s perspective was that I earned my pay by being in the office over 40 hours a week.

In a more recent scenario, the lead pastor of a church I know required all of the other pastors to have set office hours. But he also expected them to be relational and in the community. He kept track of their hours in a very legalistic way.

So what should a pastor and staff do regarding church office hours? What should be the expectations of the church members about their schedules? Allow me to respond by noting nine key issues.

  1. Pastors must be out of the office on a regular basis to be a relational presence in the community. The most effective pastors I know give relational presence a priority. That presence is to both church members and those who aren’t members of the church.
  2. The office hours of a pastor demand flexibility due to unexpected issues. A pastor must rush to the hospital when he gets word that a teenage girl was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Such emergencies and events can neither be planned nor neglected.
  3. The pastor’s office often is not conducive to sermon preparation. It is not unusual for a pastor to spend 20 hours or more per week working on sermons. But it is not unusual for the pastor’s office to be the source of multiple interruptions. Sometimes a pastor must go elsewhere to get the sermon done.
  4. Most pastors have evening responsibilities. Their only time off, therefore, may be during a weekday. Obviously the pastor can’t keep office hours for those days.
  5. A few pastors are lazy. Thus, the overused joke that the pastor is “visiting the greens” (i.e. the golf course) has been repeated too many times. Yes, some pastors do take advantage of their flexible schedules. But don’t assume that all pastors fit this category. Most pastors have a greater challenge with workaholism. And insisting on rigid office hours is not a solution to a problem of laziness.
  6. Some laypersons have unrealistic expectations about pastors’ office hours. They are certainly the exception, but just a few can make life miserable for a pastor. As I noted above, one layperson made my life pretty uncomfortable.
  7. The best situations I have seen take place when the pastor and the church have an informal understanding about office hours. I strongly prefer informal agreements since pastors have totally unpredictable schedules. I know of one example where the church asks the pastor to be available for 20 hours a week for meetings, counseling, and drop-by visits. But the church members clearly understand that the schedule cannot be rigid.
  8. Some pastors prefer to have clearly designated office hours for a part of the week. When I was a pastor, I designated Monday as an office day for staff meetings and meetings with church members. If an emergency occurred, the church understood. If they needed me at other times, which they did frequently, I understood. But I tried my best to protect Mondays to be in the office for meetings.
  9. The office hours of church staff other than the lead pastor should reflect the nature and needs of that position. A student pastor, for example, should be in the schools and the community more often than in the office. An administrative pastor may spend the bulk of the week in the office.

What is your perspective regarding pastors and office hours? What do you think of my nine issues? Let me hear from you.

Posted on December 1, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Pastor, Blessings. Our Pastor never calls nor texts us on his own. We travel out of state often because of my husbands job therefore, it would be nice to hear from our Pastor but he text to tell me all the things he is committed to & said he has very limited free time. My personal thought was that it would only take a second to reach out to us. We are faithful tithers to GOD.. I don’t want to find another church but it’s clear that our Pastor doesn’t make anytime for us. I respect ur comment on this. Blessings

    • As a pastor who does not know you, the other pastor, or your church when I read this it sounds like, “I can’t be present or available because of my husband’s job, but I expect the pastor to be present and available to me when I want but I am not going to call them.”

      Everyone is different but I hate talking on the phone. Usually the only time I talk with parishioners on the phone is to follow up on something, or if they have been sick to follow up on how they are doing, or pre-post surgery. If I were you’re pastor, and I knew you were gone a lot because of your husbands job I would just assume everything is ok with you unless I heard otherwise. In the past when I have just called people from the church when I haven’t seen them as much some are almost irritated like why are you calling I have just been busy. It is similar to surgeries, some people want three phone calls, a card and two pastor visits for a sprained ankle and then you can have another parishioner who has triple bypass surgery and doesn’t want any calls or visits.

      What I would suggest, If you want to talk to the pastor give them a call, set up a time to visit when you are in town. If you call and they can’t talk right then ask when would be a better time to catch up.

      Also, if you ask if they could grab a coffee let them know what you want to meet about. Not only am I a pastor but I also have an anxiety disorder and nothing raises my stress levels more than someone who says they want to meet with me but doesn’t tell what about. I can spend time worrying when in reality all the person wants to do is catch up on life.

      You mention that when the pastor responds they usually tell you all that they are committed to, so a thought came my mind maybe the pastor feels like you are wanting to make sure they are getting stuff done, when in reality you are just wanting to talk? It could be others at the church are pressuring them to be productive, get things done, etc… and it could be that having a friendly phone chat seems like it is not as “productive” so it is easier to put off.
      Or if they don’t have time to talk maybe there needs to be deeper look at all the things on the pastors plate that might be keeping them from these more relational moments? Maybe they have too many administrative tasks they are having to cover that someone else could do.

      Once again I would say this, reach out, if you want to talk give them a call, set up a coffee meeting just to catch up, etc… unspoken needs often go unmet.

  • We are just starting a new ministry and our Pastor and First Lady do not work outside the church. We are only a few members. While myself and other members work and have children, pastor doesn’t seem to get that. he will call or text 5, 6 am in the morning during the day and at nights, sometimes just walking through the door, he will be calling. And then he says we place our family and job before the work of God. Without us working the bills will not be paid. if we don’t work how do we take care of our family. How do i balance between work, family and church. I don’t always get to go out at night services,
    which are Sunday 7:30pm, Tuesday 7:30pm and Thursdays- 7:30pm most often going through 10 pm at night and with Sunday services 10:30 am Sunday School and most times we do not get out until 3 to 3;30 pm with night time 7: 30 pm. We also do prayer line Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 pm to 11 pm and most mornings at 5am thru 10 am. . How do i balance especially as a single parent. I am at the point where i am ready to just give up because I’m unable to please everyone. When I can’t be all the time at church or on the prayer line then there is the backlash that we are not doing what God wants us to do. But where is time for family, assisting children with homework or just a moment for me to breathe. Welcome any advise please.

    • Charity begins at home. God tells us that if we can’t care for the needs of our immediate family, that were no better than a heathen. This should give you some peace and direction.

    • I am a pastor and I would say these expectations that are being put on you are highly unrealistic. You should not be expected to be at all of those things.

  • That’s tough for bivocational pastors in terms of office hours. Someday I intend to be a full time teacher and a full time pastor so my office hours will be at nights except on Back to School nights or Parent Teacher conferences or IEP meetings and other things.

    Hopefully the church will understand with having the lack of traditional office hours. And if any funeral or memorial services needs to be done, it has to be on a Saturday. Teaching does make the traditional role and hours of pastor difficult.

  • Wayne Callaghan says on

    Great article. Office hours are something I struggle with, because I know as a Pastor I don’t only pastor the church but the community. I am a rookie pastor in my first church, and I am in a country church with about 30 congregants. I am in the office every day, mainly because previous pastors would never work from the office, I am the first one to do so, and I wanted to send a message to the community and the church that I am here and available.

    Being a small country church ministry isn’t as busy as some other churches. Being the only staff my time is filled with sermon prep, Bible study prep for midweek prayer meeting, currently I am working on my M.Div, and I am also the cleaner, and every other title that comes with a country church pastor. My office time is used for study and devotions and just learning what is going on in the world.

    I take one day a week, and I will work from McDonald’s and this has been a great conversation starter with those in the community who see me working on my sermon. This opens the door for conversation. Mr. Rainer do you have any advice for a rookie pastor in his first church?

  • I am a youth pastor in training and on late nights or long meetings in the afternoon, I try not to go in until near lunchtime. If I have a busy day ahead (Friday Youth Nights) I always come in at like 11.30am and lock my door with a sign that says “Don’t interrupt unless its an emergency” and that works every time. On Monday (meeting day) I get to work at around 9.30am but leaves the office for lunch at 1pm so Im not stuck in Church for the day and I am not that tired if I leave for lunch or coffee

  • my pastor refuses to meet women in his office unless his wife is present. i find this to be insulting. i want to know that my pastor is willing to give me guidance not rejection but it is church and need to respect his rule.

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