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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  • Thanks for a great article. I found that people did not freak out as long as I could be reached during business hours. I always stayed in touch with my ministry assistant so she knew where I was during the day.

  • I appreciate the content and spirit of this article. The perception of time spent in ministry through the week for the pastoral critic has been an age old bugbear for many pastors. That coupled with trying to strike a balance with family time, outreach (relationship building) in the community and being there for other staff members in a multiple staffed church is a real challenge.

    The most important thing is that we are hearing from the Lord and doing what He wants us to do, when and how. I have burned out in ministry and it was seven years before I was ready to re-enter. I have been back for 5 1/2 years now and am pacing myself better and being careful that I don’t do a lot more than what the Lord is asking me to do.

    We who are very pastoral can be subject to being people pleasers. It was a hard lesson learned that as a pastor one needs to let the expectations of others take second place to what you know the Lord is asking of you. I have been given the privilege of splitting my day into morning, afternoon, and evening and permission to work two of the three and feel free to use the other segment however I choose.

    No one knows the demands of ministry 24/7 until they enter therein.

    Don Allan (67)

  • Great post! How does one deal with the demand of being a student pastor, campus pastor, administrator, and counselor who is expected to hold full time office hours Monday-Friday, hold group meetings 2 Saturday’s out of the month and lead worship every Sunday?

    • When I was a pastor in Missouri, there was a poster in our associational office that listed the characteristics of a perfect pastor. They included things like, “He’s 28 years old and has at least 30 years experience.” Or, “He makes at least 20 visits a day, but he’s always in the office when you need him.” Those things would be funny if they weren’t so true-to-life!

  • If I may add a lighter note, I’ve often thought about putting a sign on my office door that says, “Do Not Disturb: Exegesis in Progress”. Betcha that would get some rumors started, wouldn’t it? 😉

  • Excellent article. I was a staff member at a church…… understood………one did not.

  • Dear Senior Pastors – Buy your staff laptops & instead of requiring them to hold office hours have them meet with a certain amount of people every week. This gets them out in the community, connecting with people who need Jesus, and pastoring the church in an effective way by meeting with people you don’t have time to meet with.

    Your staff will work way more productive hours than just sitting in an office.

  • THANKS for doing this post. So very important for us.
    I followed the suggestion of Dr. Criswall and kept my study at home. My sermon preparation was during each morning. I was in the office around noon to either work on things I could do there, respond to calls received by my Ministry Assistant, or inform her where I would be for the afternoon. We had a numerical code worked out letting me know the nature of the need and I would respond as necessary. She could always reach me morning or afternoon. We had a Deacons family Ministry and our people could call them with info. or personal needs. If I was needed they would contact me. Our people understood and respected that but knew in case of an emergency they were welcome to contact me if needed. Everyone knew I was accessible at any time. They also knew I may not be needed. This worked as a church planter, a Bivocational Pastor, and as a fully-funded pastor for our last ten years of twenty-six years total. Transparency protected integrity.

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