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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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Great article with great insights! I am a dual-role (bi-vocational) pastor and before I was their pastor, I was their interim pastor for 4 months. When I become their interim pastor we agreed on units’ times for my work week. What I mean by units is we divided the day into 3 units; morning, afternoon and evening and that works out to be 21 units a week. We agreed that I would work roughly 8-10 units a week and 6 of those units I would be in the office. I work 4-10’s at my other job so I am able to be in the office on Fridays for 2 units: morning and afternoon, 1 unit on Wednesday evening and 3 units on Sunday due to the fact that I am there from 6am-7:30ish. The rest of the units are spent at home doing sermon prep and being out in the community during the week. Now, if I am unable to be in the office on Fridays, I just let my deacon’s know so they can handle anything that comes up. This gives me flexibility to do what I need to do. I hope that all makes sense!
What is interesting is that I am the first dual-role pastor that the church has had, so it has been a learning curve for them. They have been very flexible with my office/work hours and they have always made sure I have time with my family. We have doing this for almost 2 years now and it seem to be working really well for us!
You are blessed with this relationship. Thank you.
In my work as a congregational consultant, I’ve learned that people become focused on work inputs (such as the number of hours spent in the office) when they’re unhappy with outputs (evident ministry successes and achievements we can celebrate and build on). Pastors, make sure your people are being made aware of the difference your ministries are making — have ministry partners share that good news from their own perspectives, too — and build a positive congregational culture that’s excited about the good you’re doing in the name of Jesus. Let the “big picture” successes overwhelm the instinct to count hours and visits, etc.
Thom you bring up great points. I think leaders have understanding that most members of church want them to be around when they need the Pastor or the other leaders in the church. If we do not have the conversation about expectation with our church members how can we expect the to understand why our hours are the way they are. The key thing is communication.
So true. Communication is key.
Although you didn’t address support staff, I would like to add that as a past Administrative Assistant for almost 30 years, there were constant after hours phone calls from church members asking for other member’s contact information, asking about schedules, wanting to tell me something that needed to go in the church bulletin, etc. I tried to tell them that I didn’t keep that information at home with me, and please call me in the morning. I got many “huffy” responses. I was on vacation once, standing on a mountain in Tennessee when a church member called my cell phone for information. It became so frustrating I finally had to get a new unlisted phone number. I never minded members calling me in the event of an emergency and have spent many a night in the hospital with them when the Pastor was unavailable. Church members need to remember that support staff don’t live in the church office.
Much needed input. Thank you.
There are times when it’s appropriate to screen your calls, especially if you have a lot of people who regularly bother you with trivial issues. When I get calls from people like that, I let them leave a message. I check the message and, if it’s important, I call them back. If it’s something that can wait, I let it wait. I know that sounds terrible, but sometimes it’s necessary to preserve your sanity. I remember how disillusioned I was when I learned Adrian Rogers had an unlisted number, but after nineteen years as a pastor, I can understand it now. People often drive us small-church pastors crazy, so I can imagine what they would do to a megachurch pastor!
In other words, Beth, don’t feel bad about what you did. We pastors understand!
A skilled Administrative Assistant/Secretary with set office hours can be a big help in receiving communications and preventing interruptions. In the last church I served, her office was on the first floor, just inside the front door, and my office was on the second floor. This meant that I could focus on sermon/worship/teaching preparation without having to greet every person who came to the office. Another way in which pastoral office hours can be flexible is by being available through email or cell phone. Pastor who respond to messages promptly are valued, making set office hours less of an expectation.
Wise words. Thank you.
So helpful. My office hours are well-communicated to the congregation–they know that I’m available for appointments Tuesday-Thursday afternoons, after lunch until around 5pm. I usually have lunch appointments on those days with congregants as well. I’m flexible with other times (except for Wednesday morning, which is when I write my sermon). But this seems to work well.
I like your schedule. Thanks.
Great post and important issue. As a bi-vocational pastor this is even more important to me. I’ve had 2 situations – 1 positive and 1 negative. In my first church I was the bi-vocational children’s pastor and was supposed to work 20 hours a week. I worked well beyond that every week. I’ll never forget how heart breaking it was to be reprimanded by our Senior Pastor based on a report by 2 full time staff members that I was not in my office enough on the one weekday that I was my “church day”. I explained that that day was spent running errands and doing the things I needed to to plan for children’s activities on Saturday and Sunday. I also explained that I made sure to start and end those days at the church.
Fortunately now as a Senior Pastor (still bi-voc) I have a wonderful church that understands my situation and is appreciative of a flexible arrangement. I still work lots of hours and do try to have “office hours” once a week but no one is checking over my shoulder. This sort of “unwritten agreement” is incredibly freeing to a Pastor.
That is wise.
When I preach on the passages that deal with pastoral compensation, I always say a word or two about bivocational pastors. I usually say it like, “I realize many churches cannot afford to give a pastor full compensation, and there’s nothing wrong with a bivocational pastor. However, if your pastor is bivocational, you need to respect his work schedule. You can’t always leave your job at the drop of a hat, so you shouldn’t expect your pastor to do so.”
Amen some like Bro Tom talked about can not understand that.
Very good thoughts. I am blessed to have a hardworking and conscientious pastor. The challenge is a lack of accountability in some situations. I have always thought it helpful if the pastor gives some info to his church board regarding activities for that month. A brief recap of calls made, sermon prep hours, meetings attended, etc. gives a sense of assurance to lay leadership without treading into bean counting territory.
Sounds a bit silly to me.
I have worked for several churches and has several secular jobs never did I have to give such a report.
I recently finished a one-year residency at a church and the pastor and I both turned in monthly reports of our activities. I enjoyed doing it, as it usually revealed that we did much more than people knew. But then, I like accountability.
Amen to that!
Very well said my brother. Wish every church member knew the weekly demands of the ministry as well as the unreal expectations that many like to add as well.
Through the years I have kept a “pattern” for office hours. I try to be in the office daily until noon. (Monday – Thursday) Afternoons are for visits, relationship building, and sermon preparation. Wednesday is my primary hospital day so I might be out all day on Wednesday. This schedule is well known to the church. If I am needed for counseling in the afternoon or evening, I just make myself available. Reasonable people know that you can’t be in the office 100% of the time and be relational any % of the time. My cell phone is my friend in making me quickly available when needs arise while I am out of the office.
I like it.
We are generally more concerned that our hard-working staff is getting enough rest and family time, since we see them on the go, night and day and all weekend long. So thankful for servant-hearted leaders!
John- I think your point about communicating where staff members are is vital. It allows the fluidity of their schedule to be understood by the support/admin staff and allows them to respond to member needs/requests better.
Dr. Ranier- thanks for this post! Great insight as always.
excellent as usual – as senior pastor I always kept the office aware of where I was and expected the staff to do the same. being available to the members was always a priority to me even if some abuse that privilege so I did sermon prep in office. being flexible is what it was all about. keep up the good work.