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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  • Hey Thom,

    Really enjoyed this article! One issue I’ve run into as a Pastor with Office Hours is having a wife who is working full-time. Because she works full-time the more evening hours I do (better for many congregants) the more time I’m away from home. Fortunately my church understands this and is willing to work with me. When we have children I’m sure my hours will change some to reflect that change in our personal schedules.

    Also I really enjoyed your post on reasons Millenials don’t want to serve in established churches and wrote a reply here from the perspective of a millennial currently Pastoring in a revitalization context.

    I would be honored if you would read and consider sharing in your Thursday links post. I’m so grateful for the ministry this blog and podcast provide for Pastors like myself. Blessings brother!

  • Todd Giesen says on

    These issues are exponentially increased when you are invbivocational ministry. I work 60+ hours per week and then the need to counsel, prepare for preaching and discipleship.

    I don’t know how to describe this conundrum.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Wow. You are really working many hours, Todd. Please don’t neglect your family (I’m not assuming you are).

  • That lay person that would wait in the parking lot does not have his heart in the right place. In fact, that is a terrible way to treat a pastor. He should be confronted and corrected.

  • John Fleming says on

    The comment about “visiting the greens” hits home, since I am a golfer. I’ve always been diligent about playing on my day off and making sure that I’m available for emergencies. Furthermore, I’ve been thankful for the fact that I could legitimately play golf on Fridays so that I didn’t have to leave my family to enjoy something for myself.

    But I stopped posting on Facebook about playing even on my day off because I began to see there were people who assumed I was sneaking away when I was supposed to be “working.” It’s exceedingly rare for me to have an entire day during which I don’t have to deal with some ministry related issue. And even on those rare days, I’m almost always at least thinking about my ministry–the people I serve, the community needs, or what I’ll say on Sunday.

    I wonder if there are others who feel as if they can’t “go public” about what they do with their free time out of fear of being judged a slacker … I have a hard enough time not judging myself that way, I don’t need anyone else’s help! 🙂

  • Some great points here, for sure. A growing number of churches have bi-vocational pastors, and this makes this challenge of balancing office hours and time in the community even greater since there are quite simply fewer hours available for both. I serve bi-vocationally more by choice than by necessity, and since I have started doing this, I have to be even more intentional about my schedule. Fortunately, my congregation understands this. For that, I am grateful. Good post today, Thom.

  • I am a bivocational pastor, in transition with my non-bivocational senior pastor (with denominational approval). My “taking the mantle” date is January 1. Tentmaking for me is as a statewide project manager for a state agency.

    As you can imagine, office hours and availability are huge questions for some in the congregation. My leadership gifts and experience (10 years as senior pastor in another state, and 8 as assistant) are strong enough to do this, but not without help! So I am intentionally switching my role to lead pastor with others in preaching rotation. It has been amazing to have people rise to this new opportunity, as we do church as a team. It is also amazing to have a 30 year incumbent senior pastor totally supportive of my changes…and a great blessing.

    My first mentor/pastor taught me that “a pastor isn’t paid for what he does, but for who he is”. I too have had comments regarding my office hours, some by the very persons who had been at my house the week before for marriage counseling, etc. Talk about what you can’t say! The key to handling these folks is always the love of Christ, love for the Body of Christ…and discernment of when is the time and place to speak the truth in love. all the while serving Jesus AS a servant. After all, we serve Him in all our ministry. That helps me to keep loving the sheep…even when they “love” me with their sharp teeth.

  • I agree that this is an important issue for the modern church. The best pastors I have known are creative in exercising their gifts. The legalistic adherence to hours in the office seems to wear out the pastor especially, but also other staff. If the church wants creative, moving sermons, we need to get rid of the rules that treat pastors like they are recalcitrant school children.

  • It’s no wonder the Bible calls us “sheep” as we’re not very smart sometimes! By that I mean that if people would really think this through, they would understand.

    I have a great and wonderful relationship with my deacons and my church, but I do have those few that make those comments about not being in the office. I have in jest, (but making a point at the same time) have said, “If people would only check with me before they schedule their surgeries, weddings, funerals, and family crisis, I could keep regular office hours.” They usually get the point and all is well.

    I had one of the deacons spend a day with me one time. At the end of the day he said, “Is every day like this for you?” I said, “Pretty much, but we’re not done yet. I have a couple of visits to make before I head home. You comin’ with me?” He said, “I would, but my wife has supper ready. I better go on home.”

    Another deacons daughter was having a late night procedure done at the hospital. It was VBS week and he knew it was already a very long week for me, but when I showed up at the hospital at 10:30 at night to be with the family, he said, “What are you doing here? Have you even been home yet?” I said, “No. Just left the office and came to be with you. This is what I do. Happens more than you think.” He and his wife both seemed very surprised and amazed of the time put in. It changed their attitude and thinking of the work of ministry.

    I try to live/work with the principle that if I am honest and right before the Lord in my work, that my work and time spent is pleasing to Him, then the fruit of my labor will prove itself, and I ask God to fight the battles with those critics for me. I seldom track my hours, but when I do, (usually when someone questions), it usually surprises them and me.

    Thom, thanks for your articles. Very helpful and encouraging. Keep up the good work.

  • I am the lone Full-time Pastor (Students and Families) at a church of 200M/20Y/10Coll./20K. Though I have no supervising Senior Pastor (we are in search committee process,) I want to be accountable. I believe my congregation should know where to find me, for multiple reasons: congregational/personal accountability, short notice counseling needs, cross-program cooperation and other matters for which leadership is desired. I placed a dry/erase board on the door to my office upon which I list my location and anticipated time of return when I need to be out of office (as well as a contact number should they need to call). Yes, often times, this means that I have to run by the office VERY early to list the items I’ve already committed to (or remember to list them the evening before,) should they carry into my usual arrival time of 8:30AM (for example, FCA at the M.S. begins at 7:30 and ends at 8:30, but requires travel.) As a Pastor to Students and Families, I find myself out of office a majority of the time. Hopefully, the dry/erase board–in concert with social media check-ins and transparency–is a successful strategy born of the decision “never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”

  • I serve two smallish congregations 30 miles apart that are out in the middle of nowhere. Ninety percent of the hospital visit I make take 2 to 3 hours of travel one-way. I have no set office hours but my cell phone number is readily available to everyone via the Sunday bulletins, newsletters and on the church’s voice mail. If someone needs to see me they call me and we set up an appointment. I have been here for 4 years now and this system seems to be acceptable to the congregation. I know of no complaints about a lack of availability on my part.

  • Drew Dabbs says on

    Dr. Rainer, I have a couple of questions that you may or may not want to explore:

    First, have you noticed any difference between the way Millennials view office hours and the way other generations do?

    Second, do you think the cell phone has in some ways rendered traditional postings of office hours all but obsolete? Given the ease with which church members can contact pastors via cell phone, why would any pastor want to sit around the office just waiting for someone to drop by? It seems to me that staff meetings, sermon prep, and administrative work are about the only things a pastor these days would really need to be in the office for, unless there is something specifically scheduled (counseling, meetings, etc.). Otherwise, wouldn’t the pastor NEED to be out of the office doing ministry?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Drew: The answer to the first question is definitely yes. The answer to the second question is not obsolete, but definitely changing.

  • I appreciate this article. Early in my current church appointment I learned the hard way that seeing my car parked at the church (or not) was being monitored informally. I live three blocks from the church and preferred to walk back and forth, but when there were complaints that I wasn’t around enough I simply chose to drive my car every time I went to the church for about three months and the perception that I wasn’t around enough changed.

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