Seven Myths about a Pastor’s Workweek

December 22, 2014
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It is an old joke, one that is still told too often. You go up to your pastor and say, “I wish I had your job; you only have to work one hour each week.” It is likely your pastor will laugh or smile at your comment. In reality your pastor is likely hurt by your statement. Indeed the reality is that too many church members have made wrongful and hurtful comments about the pastor’s workweek.

Sadly, some church members really believe some of the myths about a pastor’s workweek. And some may point to a lazy pastor they knew. I will readily admit I’ve known some lazy pastors, but no more so than people in other vocations. The pastorate does lend itself to laziness. To the contrary, there are many more workaholic pastors than lazy pastors.

So what are some of the myths about a pastor’s workweek? Let’s look at seven of them.

Myth #1: The pastor has a short workweek. Nope. The challenge a pastor has is getting enough rest and family time. Sermon preparation, counseling, meetings, home visits, hospital visits, connecting with prospects, community activities, church social functions, and many more commitments don’t fit into a forty hour workweek.

Myth #2: Because of the flexible schedule, a pastor has a lot of uninterrupted family time. Most pastors rarely have uninterrupted family time. It is the nature of the calling. Emergencies don’t happen on a pre-planned schedule. The call for pastoral ministry comes at all times of the day and night.

Myth #3: The pastor is able to spend most of the week in sermon preparation. Frankly, most pastors need to spend more time in sermon preparation. But that time is “invisible” to church members. They don’t know that a pastor is truly working during those hours. Sadly, pastors often yield to the demand of interruptions and rarely have uninterrupted time to work on sermons.

Myth #4: Pastors are accountable to no one for their workweek. To the contrary, most pastors are accountable to most everyone in the church. And church members have a plethora and variety of expectations.

Myth #5: Pastors can take vacations at any time. Most people like to take some vacation days around Christmas. That is difficult for many pastors since there are so many church functions at Christmas. And almost every pastor has a story of ending a vacation abruptly to do a funeral of a church member.

Myth #6: The pastor’s workweek is predictable and routine. Absolutely not! I know of few jobs that have the unpredictability and surprises like that of a pastor. And few jobs have the wild swings in emotions as does the pastorate. The pastor may be joyfully sharing the gospel or performing a wedding on one day, only to officiate the funeral of a friend and hear from four complainers the next day.

Myth #7: The pastor’s workweek is low stress compared to others. I believe pastors have one of the most difficult and stressful jobs on earth. In fact, it is an impossible job outside of the power and call of Christ. It is little wonder that too many pastors deal with lots of stress and depression.

Pastors and church staff are my heroes. They often have a thankless job with long and stressful workweeks. I want to be their encourager and prayer intercessor. I want to express my love for them openly and enthusiastically.

I thank God for pastors.

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117 Comments

  • Thank you Thom for a thoughtful article. As one who was self employed from age 20 to 35 and then called to the pastorate, I do realize my real world is quite different than some who are employed by others. While self employed I was always on call even when on vacation. I was always subject to returning home early due to an emergency. I experienced the stress of making sure the cash flow was adequate to make payroll each week. The hours were closer to 65 or 70 per week than they were to 40. I loved those days. I must say I also love the time as a pastor. The experiences are very similar. They are also very different. Two particular areas come to mind. An attorney friend of mine commented to me some years ago, “What makes your job so difficult is you are given a tremendous amount of responsibility with very little authority make sure it is fulfilled.” I had a good laugh as I realized he had just captured much of my personal frustration. While self employed, I had not only the responsibility but also the authority. The second difficult area is that of deadlines. In my current place of service, this deadlines happen three times each week. It is reminiscent of school work with a final exam each week. The primary difference to school test is the audience. For a school test it is only the instructor who offers a grade. When the sermon is delivered it is judged by the entire gathered church on that particular day. At the same time I counsel staff members and those surrendering to the ministry, “Life is hard and those whom you serve in the ministry deal with hard matters just as you. You are privileged to serve the Lord by serving others.” Where more grace is needed, more grace is supplied. The minister is strengthened by God’s grace and completely equipped for the task. (By the way, I am grateful for the seminary education provided by SBC seminaries preparing me to take three final exams each week in the pulpit and numerous quizzes in the area of leadership)

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Gary –

      Thank you for a well-thought response. You obviously have a very mature approach to ministry.

    • “What makes your job so difficult is you are given a tremendous amount of responsibility with very little authority make sure it is fulfilled.”

      Man, is that comment ever on target! If you see your attorney friend anytime soon, please thank him for summing up the issue so nicely.

  • There are plenty of studies that prove the difficulties of pastoring; the information isn’t hard to find. Instead of passing out studies that say a pastor’s job is every bit as stressful as a CEO’s, I have found that if I take people with me in emergencies or on calls of mercy, they finally get to see what I really do. These individuals never complain about my job being easy.

  • Jerry Edmonds says on

    A pastor’s life is much like a law enforcement officer’s life. No one calls you when things are going well…

  • Wayne Norris says on

    The one area that many do not consider is that the majority of pastor’s are by-vocational. On top of a regular job they are still expected to do as any full time pastor and not miss a beat. If only a member would walk a mile in their pastor’s shoes. God be with all you pastor’s and may he give you strength to keep going.

  • Ralph juthman says on

    i loved the article. I smiled and winced at the same time. Someone nice sis tome ‘ Pastoe ituat be great to be paid to pray all day.’ I laughed with him but insideI was smitten by the humble realization, yes I have a job that affordse and calls me to the highest job ever. I was also convicted that if my job was based on my prayer life, I would have been fired ages ago.

  • Pastor Bruce Farnsley says on

    I like the old saying, “If you cannot do anything else God will make you a pastor.”

    God called me and I would not have it any other way!

  • I was told one time, “I wish I had your job where I could spend 40 hours a week doing nothing but studying the Bible!”

  • I understand a pastor has different responsibilities than a church member; however, they are not fewer. What about the faithful church member who attends Sunday School, Sunday am, Sunday pm, Tuesday evening visitaion, Wednesday evening prayer and Bible Study, church cleaning / decorating on Saturday, bakes treats for the Sunday morning fellowship, prepares a Sunday School lesson, makes additional visits throughout the week to hospitalized members, has a discipleship meeting at least once a week, AND works a secular 40 hours a week job. In addition, if this person mentions feeling exhausted the response is often, “There is joy in serving Jesus”. Absolutely; but there is also little sleep and much stress. I’ve read blog post after blog post (not necessarily on this site) of pastors complaining about their job. If I conplain about my secular and church responsibilities (that I do love) I am rebuked for complaining. Why do pastors get a free pass?

    • Thank you for your service to the Body, first of all. I’m sure your church appreciates the time you give. Might I humbly suggest that if one person is doing all of those things, he/she might be over-committing, which leads to burnout, which leads to quitting altogether all too often. But here’s the main thing: no one’s complaining and no one’s saying that pastors get a “free pass.” In fact, the pastor gets the brunt of the negative criticism for everything, not the volunteer. If the volunteer is questioned or criticized, he/she can just quit without any consequences. Furthermore, a volunteer can walk out and leave without any repercussions whatsoever; the pastor can’t obviously. He has to walk on eggshells so as not to discourage or offend anyone lest they just simply walk out the door and go to the church in the next town over. It’s happened plenty of times in my community.

      The point of this article is to point out the common and ignorant misconceptions about the pastor’s weekly schedule. He’s always on call. He always has to be ready for Sunday no matter what happened the week prior. He lives in a “glass house.” He lives on faith that God will provide financially (his salary is not confidential like everyone else’s). He can’t simply skip church to go to the football game (unless he’s granted vacation) or decide he’s not going to church because he doesn’t feel well (there’s no sub list for the pulpit). He’s responsible to lead and care for souls. He’s committed to helping wounded sheep, even when they bite…really hard. There’s much much more to being a pastor than a volunteer. That said, the pastor in NOT better or more holy or above the layperson. The pastorate is unique. And, yes – sometimes it is more demanding. You can’t deny that many church people make false judgments about what a pastor does with his time. The pastor should not have the ‘woe is me’ attitude, but the congregant needs to stop being concerned with what the pastor does Monday-Saturday. Trust me: he does a lot for less than average pay. And that’s OK because he loves doing it. 🙂

    • Telina, first off if that is really what your week looks like, and anyone is shaming you rather than encouraging you when a groan of exhaustion sneaks out, then shame on THEM.

      Secondly, I would wonder sometimes if a lot of the business of the pastor, and other active members in the congregation doesn’t come from a failing in one of the primary callings of the pastor, which is to train up the body for ministry.

      Do you find that you are constantly running for hospital visits? Have you trained up others within the body help you carry that burden?

      Do you have issues fitting in enough time to study for sermon prep throughout the week? Is there someone within the body who you have equipped and empowered to take that burden from you periodically.

      etc etc etc

      In some cases this overwork is just the pastor being unwilling to let go of the reigns.

      I’ve heard it said before that the job of a pastor is in part to make himself obsolete. That is never going to happen entirely, but it should be happening continuously. If no one grows beyond leaning on the pastor for everything, then the pastor has failed in their calling.

      • Well said, Dallas! You speak to something that the overworked pastor seems rarely willing to address.

      • So if the pastor is overworked, it’s his fault for not training the people properly to help share his load. However, if the pastor tries to get others to share the load, he’s accused of being lazy of of trying to pawn his job off on others. Talk about a catch-22.

      • The job of the pastor is to ‘train and equip’ the members for service. Deacons were appointed to provide the more routinized functions so the apostles could spend more time in prayer and teaching. I spoke with a church planter’s wife this weekend trying to do it all themselves, instead of building a team to help with the setup/teardown and ministry.

        In a similar vein, how much of what a pastor does is the same as the volunteer staff, the singers and sound techs that show up 2 hours early or stay an hour after the pastor leaves, the Bible study teacher who creates a lesson or two each week in their non-work time? Most pastors say they are on the clock all the time, meaning they never volunteer (tithe) any personal time to the church.

      • Ken, if you pay attention, I only said the first of those two things.

        One of, if not the, biggest problems that the body deals with today is pastor centered ministry. Pastors are, for the most part, extremely busy and overworked people. My contention is that it does not need to be that way. Pastors have a lot of things that are put on their plate that it just plain not their job. In addition there are other responsibilities that they are called to that are shared by the body as a whole.

        The point being that the pastor needs to work to build a community where he is not the center of everything that goes on, because he shouldn’t be, and should be investing time and energy into the others members of the body to build them up to do the works of ministry, so he is not the only one equiped to do so.

      • That’s much easier said than done. Many pastors are trying to do exactly that, but their members make all kinds of excuses as to why they can’t help him. I’ve seen it many times in my years of ministry. People say the church needs to have more activities for the children and youth, but they always find some excuse why they can’t help put together such activities. They say the church needs to do more outreach, yet these same people never show up for visitation and invariably duck out when the pastor offers training in personal evangelism. Some get downright offended when the pastor suggests that they get involved in ministry. How many of us have heard church members say, “That’s YOUR job, Pastor”?

      • But don’t you agree that it needs to be done?

        The way that much of the body “does church” is inherently broken at this point. We don’t need to patch a few holes here and there and give it a new coat of paint, we need to tear it back down to the foundation as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully when we do that we find out that the foundation that we have been building on is Christ… hopefully.

        Perhaps your next service needs to start with a blunt declaration that you as a congregation are going to stop “playing church” and start being the hands and feet of Christ himself. If people get angry and leave, maybe that’s for the best.

        If they run you out of town on a rail, maybe that is what needed to happen so you can start building something real.

        It is not a crime to be idealistic, the image that we are being confirmed to is an ideal, the Kingdom that we find our citizenship in is an ideal… lets stop shuffling deck chairs on the titanic and be a little idealistic… that’s what we are being called to.

      • Dallas, are you a pastor?

      • Ken, I am going to save you some time here, and quote you from a later post for what you are geting at:

        “If you’ve never been a pastor, then don’t try to tell me how easy it is. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

        In other words, rather than engage what I am saying, you want to minimize who I am. Rather than thoughtfully converse with me about issues that I have brought up, you would like to put me in my place.

        To put it most simply, and so you don’t have to use such ugly words, you would like for me to “shut up”.

        To answer your question, no I am not a pastor in any way that you would recognize, and am not presently walking in your shoes. But on the other hand, yes I do feel a pastoral calling in my life that I am still working out the reality of. I have brothers and sisters in my life that would never call me their pastor, but if you put the question to them of whether they saw me as a pastoral figure, they would likely affirm that gifting.

        Hopefully (I trust) you are a much different person in the flesh and blood world, and your calling is genuine, but the way that I have seen you throw around your weight here to shut people down and stop conversation does not strike me as pastoral at all.

        Trust that from this point forward that you, along with those under your care, are in my prayers.

        I was reading with a friend through 2 Corinthians 7 last night, please take what I am saying here and elsewhere with the attitude contained there. I don’t say these things to hurt people, but I feel that they need to be said, and if they do hurt, I trust they are the faithful wounds of a friend.

      • I’m not “minimizing” anything. I’m simply saying it’s easy to tell others how they should do their jobs if you’ve never actually had to DO it. Do you honestly think you’re the first person who thought he’d show all the other preachers “how it’s done”? I daresay that most of us pastors felt the same way when we entered the ministry. We may have called it “idealism”, but it turned out to be mere braggadocio.

        I repeat, if you’ve never actually been there, you can’t really know what it’s like.

      • A good portion of the time this blog is a “church growth” blog, but the language that you are using is the language of “church death”. People wonder how congregations get old, stagnant, and lifeless, well making it sound like pure arrogance to voice the view that we can have an influence on making the assembled body look more like the true bride of Christ is one way of doing it.

        I don’t think of myself as some great heroic reformer of the church, but I take heart in the fact that there are people that don’t treat me like a lunatic when I say the things I do.

        Feel free to tell me that I am wrong, that the system of church that we live in today is a perfect portrait of the bride, but don’t tell me that I should shut my eyes and pretend that it is.

  • Thom,

    Thanks for the article! I’ve heard this many times mostly in jest. I always come back with something like, you’re right! But don’t forget, I have to spend time Saturday night googling to find a good sermon! We all laugh as it’s pretty apparent that that’s not true. Overall I’m very blessed with my church!

  • Great post, Dr. Rainer. I hear this some, but it’s all in good humor and doesn’t bother me much. My father-in-law, who pastored the same church for 32 years until he retired in June, once got a phone call from a lady who occasionally visited his church and asked him if he could take her grandson to a doctor’s appointment. He fumbled around for a bit not sure what to say and she broke in and said, “You’re the only person I could think of that doesn’t have a job.” We’ve laughed about that over the years, but I never saw anyone work as hard on any job as my father-in-law did in ministry. And he did without ever neglecting his own devotional life and family. He’s my hero!

    • Rose Berry says on

      How delightful to admire your father in law. It must be as satisfying as admiring your own father. It must be worth a bit to your wife, and help her to respect and admire you, too. and I imagine you have some useful conversations with your children, especially any sons, when you praise Gramps to them, lifting him as an exemplar for them to imitate, in much the same way Paul suggested that his followers could become more Godlike imitating him. We do need some visible examples. We may need to supplement holy imagination with live people, perhaps most of all when life gets tough. We are not “the only Bible some people ever read,” we are also flesh and blood proof that the Biblical standard is not only for Bible-time saints. Keep up the good work!