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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  • Office hours are a terrible accountability tool and not the right metric for pastoral ministry effectiveness. We’re not paying pastors (I am one) to work a certain amount of hours. Find me a similar philosophy in the scriptures? One solution for church staffs who feel like a guy is “always gone” or “hard to get ahold of” is to give that man a cell phone that he should answer during office hours (that only the other staff have access to). That frees up the Pastor to study, visit, and yes. . recreate in ways he sees fit, . .and also keep him available to those who need him and should an issue arise. There are usually enough meetings in the office in a pastor’s life for him to be available a large part of the week anyway. I just think this whole issue is coming from a secular, worldly work pattern that we shouldn’t put on our ministers. Just because someone works in an industry like that does not mean they should expect a similar rhythm from their pastor. With all of the family expectations in 1 Timothy a pastor has a different goal he’s shooting for. . .in and out of the office.

  • I believe more needs to be said about a pastor “protecting” time needed for sermon prep, prayer, and personal feeding. I understand that flexibility is needed in the pastorate, but a pastor who is available all the time is not going to be worth much when he is available. Furthermore, the first thing that will go for the pastor who doesn’t block off time will be caring for his own soul. Also, sermon prep will take a hit where there are continual interruptions. I walked into a situation as a pastor where the former pastor had an open door policy. So when I came it was tough for some to grasp that I was not available. It was perceived as being unapproachable and inaccessible. I even set up certain times for appointments. This was a rugged transition from what the church was used to. But they have since settled in. Interestingly enough, one of the criticisms of the former pastor was that of the sermon content. Might there be a connection to the “open door” that they loved? And shouldn’t they have seen that as a symptom and to have helped the pastor block off time? Those who love their pastors can help him/her by insuring time is blocked off- times where he is unavailable!

    • I’ve found that most people will respect your study time under the following conditions: (1) You announce your schedule to them in advance, including what hours you set aside for study, (2) you assure them you’re available anytime day or night when there’s an emergency, and (3) they can see the effects of your study in your preaching and teaching.

      Of course, you’ll have some people that will inevitably disturb you. Having a secretary helps in those situations, but if you don’t have one (and I don’t), I would suggest screening your phone calls during your study time. If it’s really an emergency, they’ll leave a message, and you can get back to them right away. If they won’t leave a message, chances are it’s not serious enough for you to worry about at the moment.

  • Thanks for this. I have not read all of the previous comments (not time) so these may have been addressed. Two thoughts:

    1. With the advent of smartphone technology and multiple avenues to contact a Pastor in addition to the office phone (email, cell, social media), many of us are never “off” unless we can find a retreat with no cell coverage.

    2. My experience has almost always been that church members care less about how much you work than about what you’re doing. I often say “it’s all ministry” – not everyone agrees that having a chai latte with someone counts. Of course only the Pastor knows the content of the exchange. Personally, I have to be careful not to “judge” other staff on the use of their time and chosen priorities. I like to think I know what they should emphasize . . . but alas there is only “One” that really knows He directs our steps!

    Thanks again for addressing this prickly matter!

    • Good points. If I may add a third, don’t you just LOVE those church members that think they’re entitled to know what you’re doing every minute of every day? More than once I’ve had to tell people that what I do on my personal time is none of their business.

  • My dad kept Tuesdays as a work from home day for sermon prep. He was in the office the other days of the week, but he also spent time visiting. He had a pager and later a cell phone and the church secretary always knew where he was expected to be and how to reach him. Rigid 9 to 5 hours are not realistic.

  • With many years of pastoring behind me I can attest that even in the best churches there are those that will question a pastor’s work ethic by how many hours he’s at the office. As Executive Pastor I found that some (usually younger) pastors deserved some of that criticism and needed to be mentored a bit on managing themselves, and managing the perceptions of those who might not understand the unique nature of their roles – including the Senior Pastor who often became frustrated when he didn’t know why they weren’t available when he needed them.

    We were in a larger church, so we had administrative assistants who kept standard work hours and could take calls and often handle simple issues so we asked Pastoral staff to be “accountable to the office” during office hours – i.e., their assistant was always to knew where they were if off site, and when they expected to return. And, of course, they were required to be on site for meetings and ministry appropriate to their position.

    When doing some solo pastoring in a small church, I found it helpful to keep the board chairman loosely apprised of my schedule via email – not because they didn’t trust me, but because I wanted to be proactive in accountability in a small church where every tithe was sacrifice.

  • Grey Beard says on

    I have been in pastoral ministry and worked with hundreds of pastors in congregations over many years.

    Most of us are extremely busy, open, and active as individuals but our public ministries have the appearance of being ‘closed’.

    Look at the physical presence of most churches. The doors are usually locked, sometimes for all but a few hours on Sunday. Sometimes it is hard to find the door. The hours may not be posted. Office hours reflect the needs of the staff and not the traffic flow of the community. Want to drop in to the church on the way home from work? Nope. Church is closed and no one is around. Churches and staff are unavailable most evenings and all holidays. Summertime? Forget it. The pastor is gone for a month.

    If you are a stranger, just try calling or showing up at the church. If you are lucky enough to find a live person, you will be treated like a three alarm fire. Who are you and what do you want? It is worse if you need help? Come back, Tuesday after next when the food bank is open. Or take the bus over to the centralized, professionalized food bank in the other part of town.

    Look up your church on the internet? No social media or website. Or an ancient website with information about Easter 2011. Of course, no office hours posted. No photos of the church or its interior or its leaders. Never mind about what you do or believe. Closed for business.

    And what of the pastor? Open for business? Nope. No one knows where they are. Visiting somebody, somewhere, for some period of time, for what? Or worse, locked away with a bunch of old books, ‘studying’. They haven’t heard that everyone from Paul to Augustine of Hippo to Martin Luther to the modern Ebola scientist believes that serious study requires discussion, debate, and collaboration. If you are spending so much time studying, where is your study blog, your published research, your social media discussion? And after twenty hours per week of ‘study’, all you have come up with for a message is: “God loves you and so you should be nicer to people.” You aren’t studying, you are lounging with some reading material. Ok. “Intensely” lounging.

    And what of the Zacchaeus who regularly spies on you from the parking lot? Do a Jesus and get out there and invite them in. Do it every single time you see them. Offer them a cup of tea, ask them to help fold bulletins, get them to weed the garden. Send them on an errand. Maybe to do one of those visits, the paid, professional pastor is only doing because icy church folk won’t visit each other. Do it every single time.

    Those exciting church plants that the youngsters are so excited about? They often have no physical presence in the community. No storefront or office space. Just a young pastor flitting around the neighborhood trying to get people out to a rented space on Sunday morning. Closed. Mostly.

    My biggest worry is for the healthy ‘ethnic’ churches that might be tempted to imitate our Anglo ways. Their pastors and families are around the buildings. Preachers don’t have time or money or energy for esoteric study, so messages are healthy, basic, and satisfying. There are events and prayer and music and food and decorations and fun for seniors and children. Church doors are sometimes open from 9 to 9, six or seven days a week.. Members of the community are welcome to drop in. At this season, there will be Advent, Christmas, and New Years events. There are resources and people available in the event of seasonal domestic trouble or a lack of groceries.

    • Grey Beard, what is your point?

    • Ditto to HD’s question. Your post reminds me of something I saw years ago that had a description of a “perfect pastor”. The qualifications included things like. “He’s 28 years old and has been preaching for 30 years.” Or, “He makes at least 20 visits a day but is always in the office when you need him. ” The difference is, that list was intended as satire. You seem to be serious.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Yes sir. Very serious. I’m hearing too many sad stories.

      • Just so there’s no misunderstanding, Dr. Rainer, my comment was directed at Grey, not at you. Believe me, I know your blog is serious. I’ve been a pastor 19 years and I’ve seen some of this junk firsthand. Thanks for being an encourager to us.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        My bad. Thanks, Ken.

    • John Thompson says on

      Thank you Grey Beard! Yes there are many pastors out there who are working hard. Yes there parrishoners out there who do not get it. There are also more parishoners out there who think that the pastor is always right. What I have seen is pastors who claim to be working to hard that are putting in time but accomplishing nothing. I have been bi vocational, and I have been just a worker in the church in conjunction with a full time position. It is difficult to listen to how hard a pastor is working when they have little sympathy for those who have worked 50 hours at their position plus commute time, have been at two committee meetings each week, studied to teach a Sunday school class and studied to lead a small group. Then have the pastor say that these same should be out visiting the sick because they do not have time.
      It is time consuming and emotionally/spiritually draining to build relationships. To often pastors are wrapping themselves in the cloak of professionalism to protect themselves from the hard work of being involved in their sheeps lives so that they can disciple them. It s not necessarily the number of hours being spent but how those hours are being spent. If they are not being invested into the lives of those whom the head Shepherd has put into their care they wasted.
      Not to be drag or not an encourager, but personally, I would like to see a clarion call for pastors and church leaders to honestly, and with brutal truth evaluate themselves and how they are redeeming the time. Perhaps then they will have earned the place to speak to their sheep about redeeming their time for the ministry. Perhaps, our impact in our communities will be restored.

      • That analogy cuts both ways. What would you think if your pastor came to your place of employment every day to make sure you were doing your job? What if he stood over you and constantly offered his opinion, or pointed out everything you were doing wrong? Wouldn’t you find that just a BIT annoying? We pastors are no less annoyed when laypeople do it to us.

    • Susan Presley says on

      I think balance is the key. Our church is open and unlocked with posted hours every morning. But we have the idea that “church” is done in the community (like Jesus did), not by trying to drag people into our building (which Jesus never did).

  • I’ve learned from observation that it’s best to lay all your cards on the table about office hours when you’re dealing with a prospective church. A friend of mine was being interviewed by a pulpit committee, and he asked a routine question: “Why did your last pastor leave?” One of the committee members mentioned something about him not arriving at the office until late in the morning. My friend said, “But how late was he up the night before?”

    The church made some comment about how they pay the pastor’s salary, and my friend replied, “Well, I’d better something straight right now: I don’t ‘work for’ the church. I serve the church, but my only boss is the Lord.” Mind you, he never heard from that pulpit committee again, but his honesty no doubt spared him a great deal of heartache.

  • Every week is different. Some weeks might see three funerals and others might not have any. Some weeks have might one or two weddings and then there may not be any for a year or more. People in many professions have to maintain a list of their time and effort.

  • Dr. Rainer: Great post. What do you think about my practice of tracking work the same way consultant/attorney keeps their “billable hours”? I used and every Monday my Elders and staff at church will get an email on what I did last week in this format: – The funny thing is since we are still a church plant, I and my staff don’t have “office” yet. And I am still bivocational too.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks! I think your approach is good for many pastors. For others, their personalities would not be conducive to reporting detailed hours each week.

  • After only being in the full time pastorate for less than 6 months (part time in seminary), I am extremely thankful that my elders have not tried to micromanage me, nor have any memebers questioned my office hours. I think mainly becuase the previous pastor was hardly ever at the church and I try to be there at least 2-3 days per week. I take Monday off, Tuesday is admin/visitation, Wednesday am I’m home/Wednesday pm is study, Thursday is study, and Friday is admin/study/staff (we have a small preschool I try to be involved this day). Saturday is final prep for Sunday. I don’t feel overworked because I told my elders that I would only do one night away from home once per week, unless of course there’s an emergency. I’d love to see a post on the pastor’s typical weekly schedule, Thom.

    IMHO, after being a pastor for only a very short time, having an extremely flexible schedule is crucial. The pastor does not have the freedoms a layman has, as it should be. For example, like many people, I can’t simply skip church because I wanna go camping or go to a football game, unless I take vacation. I am always one of the first people to show up on Sunday and the last person to leave. I get the call when volunteers fail to come through on their commitments. I preach from the pulpit and receive all the criticism after spending hours in intense study. Despite my best efforts, my Saturdays are no longer mine because I usalluy have prep to do for adult Sunday school or the sermon. These are all the joys and challenges of ministry, but it’s unwise to impose such a rigid structure on the pastor. We’re not working 9-5 jobs. Like one guy said, it’s 24/7. I can’t blame the guy who quits the ministry when the people he loves to serve just demands more and more, thereby completely disregarding Heb. 13:17.

  • I think about this a lot. I am a children’s and youth pastor and I feel like I am in walmart or hobby lobby everyday! My policy is that I am in the office in te
    Mornings and then may have lunch meetings or other meetings,walmart runs, or visiting in the afternoon. I also let the secretary know where I am going and use my cell wisely. I also write down what I do each day just in case. 😉

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