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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  • This is a great article. I am the lead pastor of a church that has gone from 70 to 300 in just 2 years. Our focus is building relationships within our communities, and I believe that doesn’t happen at church. We now have 3 pastors so we do have set hours in which we get together each week to plan out the week (8-12 hrs a week). This is where our accountability comes from. Sense most of our church members work first shift we make ourselves more assessable in the evenings. We have taken the approach of taking our ministry to the people instead of forcing people to come to us. I feal that this has been the biggest reason for our growth. I am sure that as we grow we will need to make adjustments, but for now this has been the best answer for reaching people and saving the church money by not having to turn the heat on or run electricity.

    We get a lot of flack from other pastors in our communities, so it was great to see an article touching on some of the same things we believe about the role of a pastor

  • I have worked closely with 2 pastors of small churches and 3 with mega churches. One of those pastors took ministry hours to the extreme…hurting his own health and his family to the point of dropping out of ministry altogether. One kept a great balance, working some extra hours every week, but carefully arranging time for his wife and kids whenever there was time available. What troubles me is that the other 3 took great advantage of the lack of accountability that can come with being a senior pastor. One played 18 rounds of golf a minimum of three days a week, mostly with other pastors in the area, and quite frequently took time off to shop, travel, attend sporting events. What is interesting is that the three pastors who barely put in 40 hours a week including Sundays, expected their lead volunteers to work 50 or more hours a week at their secular jobs, then manage another 20 plus hours to direct their ministries. I am not surprised that those lay people did not tolerate the double standard very well. I wonder how often pastors consider their expectations of families where Mom and Dad both work full time as well as serve? The good news is that I truly believe that the majority of ministers more than carry their weight in the work of the local church. I know that ours does and we enthusiastically encourage him to take time for R n R.

  • Great thoughts on pastor’s hours.

    I might just add….

    The congregation needs to be considerate to the fact that the pastor is not their “Personal Drop in Anytime Guidance Counselor”.
    There are some in the church that feel quite offended if they find the pastor not in, at his desk, and available at their beacon call when they just happen to show up out of the blue.

  • I was on full time ministry in a church, then went into full time ministry outside of a church. Currently I am an elder who is having to deal with this issue and it’s way different sitting on this side of the bench.

    Here’s the main issue. The pastor doesn’t always communicate what all he does in the church. There are a lot of volunteers who are putting 40, 50, 60 hours a week at their work, then volunteering and being at the church for another 10 hours a week. When a pastor is only their until noon everyday, there’s going to be issues.

  • I am fortunate to be the Senior Pastor of a church where my office hours are not monitored. Like others, there are certain times of the week that I am I the office. The United Methodist Church sure like their paperwork!!! For a long time, I was a workaholic, where it wasn’t uncommon to work 70-80 hours a week. Now, I am developing a new discipline, one that involves being less in the office at the church, and despite where I am in the community, back at the parsonage every weekday between 3.30 and 4.30pm when my teenagers get home from school. (emergencies excepted of course). I realized some time ago that I expected from those working with me the same kind of unhealthy drive and determination I exhibited. Now, by loosening the reigns, expecting my ministry staff to be out and engaged in ministry, I am seeing a whole lot more being accomplished than ever before – with a much healthier and flexible schedule for all. I missed most of my kids growing up because of church. My oldest died at 11, and my two remaining children (now aged 17 and 14) will be gone from the house in the twinkling of an eye… I don’t want to miss any more of their lives sitting in a chair and chained to a desk. (as a side note, my own preaching/teaching, leadership and pastoral care skills have all improved dramatically thanks – in part – to un chaining myself from the desk).

  • i have a great solution for this, I just turned our office space into sunday school classrooms and a workroom for a PT church assistant.

    I know some of the oldie goldies don’t like that they can’t just “drop by” any time, but honestly, I am never doing nothing. Every “drop buy” was an interruption. I almost always had an appointment or had something scheduled I was doing.

    My favorite was the guy who piped by while I had just gotten on the phone with someone who really needed to talk. I was on a Bluetooth headset so he just sat there and stared at me for 20 min or so, then left.

    He had also said once “we need to know when the Pastor’s available” to which I said “24/7 if I can answer I will, otherwise text, email, or call the church number x.5, all three go to my cell phone”

    But then again, he couldn’t believe we paid our cleaning lady $15 per hour, his first job paid 25¢ an hour and he had to be there at 7:30am every day. ;^)

  • The very idea of set office hours for a pastor is silly to me. Most of their work is done in the evenings and on Saturdays/Sundays when the majority of their congregation is also off of work. That is when they counsel, that is when they teach bible studies, hold staff meetings, host leadership retreats, and organize outreaches or fellowship events. The day time is their quiet time to pray and seek God’s face…and to prepare the sermon. Many pastors and their wives work full time jobs in addition to pastoring. And they too have to deal with all the same responsibilities everyone else does…grass cutting, laundry, kids homework and activities. Their wives are typically run ragged. And many of their personal activities get sacrificed for the sake of church. I think the best pastors are ones who still prioritize their families on some level though…because families who are neglected aren’t typically healthy. Pastor’s kids shouldn’t be stuck at the church till 9:00 every evening. The wisest pastors raise up a support system. Delegation is important for the pastor to avoid burnout (i.e. remain effective). Every pastor I’ve known is overworked, not underworked. Most churches in my area aren’t even open during the daytime during the week. If you need the pastor for a crisis, you text him….or you may text him just to invite his family to lunch/dinner/family game night. (Pastors need some laughs too). We need to give our pastors grace and support and appreciation and cover them in prayer…they NEED it.

    • Susan Presley says on

      What I’ve learned from this discussion is that when I see my practices called “silly,” I get a little bristly.

  • Excellent points. As one who leans toward the workaholic side I post office hours 2 half days a week. That time is blocked out for my folks who just want to stop and talk. I may get some work done then but only the kind I can do without much serious thought. My people know I’m there those two days, barring emergencies or meetings outside the church, but they also know that if I’m in my “downtown office,” i.e. the local coffee shop, that I’m trying to study and write. It works for us.

  • As a pastor’s wife I too can say that it hurts deeply when a church member says that “you get paid alot for an hour work”. Little do they know that my husband put in a lot of hours as a senior pastor. We would be up and out the door at a moment notice when a church member was in the hospital or a death in the church family. My husband preached a funeral on our daughter 18th birthday and one on my 50th birthday.
    My husband is now on staff at a larger church and no longer the senior pastor but still has many demands on his time. We have homeschool our children so it helps with family time. We always have lunch as a family because supper was usually interrupted. We do family field trips on his schedule days off. Flexibility is the key, but the demands are great! But the rewards of serving a risen Savior is greater!

  • I agree with the 9 points. All very valid.
    I also noticed a difference with generations in total ministry hours. I’m in my mid fifties. Some older pastors I have served with pushed 60+ hours a week, neglecting family. I’m usually in the 40-50 hours per week, trying to balance family and ministry. I notice many of the 20-30 year old ministers spend about 30 to 35 hour a week in ministry, with the mindset of prioritizing family.

    Just an observation.

  • Yeah, I think accountability & integrity is the key. The senior pastor & I meet weekly to discuss our work blocks. In doing that, we are accountable to each other @ full of integrity if a member asks “what do you do”.


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