Seven Myths about a Pastor’s Workweek

December 22, 2014

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

  • In regard to this topic , the best resource I have is a pithy response to the thought less comments…

    With regard to the real world comment – I respond “tell me what is not real about holding a parent’s hand as their child dies in their lap”… The silence is deafening, but the message is clear

  • Myth #8: “Pastors are isolated from the ‘real’ world.”

    FACT: Pastors deal with a lot of ugliness behind the scenes. In my 19 years of ministry I’ve had to confront family breakups, child abuse, child neglect, conflicts among members, marriage infidelity, drug abuse, and a whole host of other issues. Since a good pastor keeps confidences, most members are unaware of what he’s had to deal with. Laypeople have to carry burdens for their own families, but pastors often carry the burdens of an entire congregation. 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.

    • Good point, Ken. I’ve only been a Sr. Pastor for 6 months and I know exactly what you’re talking about. It also comes in the form of folks calling the church and/or showing up demanding and expecting hand outs. When someone calls and asks for money, I gently respond with something like, “I’d love to meet you and hopefully see you come to church on Sunday. After the service, the elders and I would love to sit down with you and see what we can do to help. Our desire is to help those who have a genuine need, especially our widows.” You know what happens next….

  • Stephen Owenby says on

    Great Article. Wish I could figure out a way to share this with church leaders without looking like I’m trying to get sympathy. It would be wonderful, not to get sympathy, but just for many to understand what is involved in tugs on our time as pastors.
    While there are many challenges, I am SO GRATEFUL that God has graciously called me into pastoral ministry! His grace is sufficient!

  • Many have the notion that a pastor is hired to comfort members of the congregation in any distress they may encounter – herein lies the source of considerable stress for any human being.

    I submit the role of pastors is to guide (mostly in the form of preaching & teaching) their congregations in the work God assigns to that particular congregation and then oversee the equipping of individual members to meet their roles in that work. In other words, the role is people-oriented, but not babysitting.

    Immature congregants often insist that THE “pastor” marry them, visit them when they are sick and bury them in addition to listening to all their gripes. I’d like to experience a situation where other mature members of the congregation be equipped to do the bulk of that work.

    I’ve observed this radical model is unlikely to develop since most of us cling to the model of paying one person to do all the marriage, bedside, counseling and burial duties for an entire congregation.

    .

  • I agree with myth number 1. The work week finished, the job us never finished. Which is why I stop after a specific ( agreed) number of hours.

    Myth number two… I make it work for me and my family… There are some things which can’t be avoided
    ( like my ten year entering a try-athalon on Palm Sunday) but there are other things which I can diary around, like school cross country… If it is in my diary, then I can slip out of the office for an hour and cheer her on. Because of number one, I make sure my diary works and make sure that number two isn’t the reality for my kids

    • Kay-

      As a fellow church staff member I do the same “life math” with my work- yes, there are times (VBS comes to mind!) when I’m working many many more hours than normal. But when I’m able to leave work to pick up a sick child, or leave work to see a school performance or in some other way be there for my kids, it’s so worth it.

      I was a former teacher, and that is the least flexible of all jobs. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom when I wanted! There are times when I feel overworked and stressed, but I try and remember my “diary” (does an online calendar count??) and try and make it a bit more level. I’m so blessed with my job!

  • I had a similar discussion with the leadership with my last church. It did not go well. I tried my best to explain the emotional, social, and spiritual pressures I carried. It’s different than any 40+ hour week I’ve ever worked – and I’ve done a few. Ultimately, in my previous situation, they did not believe that my 60+ hours a week were enough and through a series of political games, my family soon found ourselves unemployed and ostracized.

    Now, 7 years later, I’m so glad I’m not pastoring anymore – and many of the comments above confirm that. I continue to serve God and coach and mentor many – but I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with the likes of those above.

  • Bill McDonald says on

    The above comments to the original essay and the essay itself need to be examined using the 24 hour rule. Draft your comment today and if it still looks good tomorrow, post it. It seems that some have spent an inordinate amount of time comparing the weight and difficulty of dragging your individual cross. Perhaps all of us, including myself could have more productively spent this time focusing on the real cross, the one He carried. Just a comment from a lay person who has a great deal of respect for each of you.

    In His love,

    Bill McDonald

  • Regarding #5: As both a pastor’s kid and grandkid, I can honestly say that one of my family’s biggest fears on or before vacations was that my dad or grandfather would receive one of “those calls,” and then we’d have to all pack up and leave. I also once worked for a church planter who received so many calls on his days off that he refused to look at his phone anymore when he had a day off.

  • Dr. Rainer,

    Let me say in advance, I am sorry for the length of this reply. Generally, I believe that replies should not be longer than the original post, but my heart is full…

    I was happy to see this post, and had a good laugh when I read the first replies. My enjoyment transitioned to disappointment as I continued to read.

    In way of background, I have served in ministry since 1982. First in lay ministry and leadership, followed by Seminary, maintaining a full time job in architectural design and serving on a church staff as chaplain to a local hospital. Upon Graduation I moved into my first vocational ministry position, bi-vocational, and served in bi-vocational ministry from that time until 2012. I have served in full time vocational ministry since that time. In my tenure as a bivocational pastor I worked as a draftsman, IT manager, County System Administrator, school bus driver, substitute teacher, GIS & GPS technician (contract work), while maintaining a side business as a custom home building designer. I share this so people will understand that I am speaking from a broad foundation of experience. All of my secular jobs either always involved stress, or had periods of high stress.

    Before I say anything more, I want to make one thing clear. My wife is a public school teacher. She works much harder than I, and has just as many “bosses” as I have ever had as a pastor. She is a master teacher, has been a national educational consultant, and mentors teachers around her daily. The school district has one day of Parent-Teacher conferences, but she schedules them all week so she can spend sufficient time with each parent/guardian to facilitate the needs of her students. She, and many others in “secular” jobs put me to shame. She too, like myself to the pastorate, feels called of God to serve as a teacher. To say that pastor’s have the hardest job is the farthest thing from what I am saying possible.

    People who have never served as a pastor and believe they understand the emotional and spiritual stresses placed on a pastor always amaze me. As a building designer, managing a design team of 5-7, with up to 20 clients, all of whom are expecting completion of their project in an unrealistic time frame, with almost impossible design expectations (often structurally impossible), and where we are working 18-20 hours a day for weeks on end to meet those deadlines, does not compare to the stresses of pastoral ministry. These are examples of stresses from just one area of my experience. This says nothing of trying to get tax notices printed with a printer that keeps malfunctioning, and working 2-3 days straight to meet the legal deadline.

    This is not to say that others do not work just as hard, or have just as many stresses, but from my observations, those who have the same level of stresses and responsibility receive far more respect and rewards, by the worlds standards. There is nothing the world offers that compares to the rewards a pastors receives when he baptizes a new believer, sees the lights come on in the eyes of someone seeing for the first time a spiritual truth that transforms their life. No, as tired, frustrated, stressed, and hurt I have been in my years of ministry, no matter how many times I have considered going back into custom home design full time making twice my current income, I could give up the calling God placed on my life. This is admittedly for selfish reasons. There is nothing that compares to serving the Lord. Nothing. So yes, a pastor has an unbelievable difficult job, but he also has the best job on earth.

    Again Dr. Rainer, thank you for sharing. I am sorry that so many who have never served in a pastorate believe that they can understand. I am also sorry that so many pastors get lost in the pain and give up, as I too have often done. More than anything else, I am sorry that we can not appreciate the great sacrifices of others, regardless of how they are serving. I look at my SS teachers, kitchen team, building and grounds, janitor, and so many other servants in the church and am humbled with their sacrifices.

    In closing for my dissertation, I would like to say this: I am blessed to serve in a church that loves and honors their pastor. With my many failings, I do not deserve the love and respect with which I am honored. I hope that more pastors share in this experience. This is my experience in three of the four church in which I have served as pastor, which has been a blessing in each. In the one where it was not, well, let’s just say I came close to leaving ministry. I thank the Lord for First Baptist Church of Vernal, Utah.

    Serving by the grace of our Lord Jesus,
    S. Scott Maxwell
    Pastor
    First Baptist Church of Vernal, Utah

  • I’ve worked as a children’s ministry director and a family ministry director and found that the same holds true for me as well. I actually had someone tell me I had the easiest job because volunteers do all my work. Guess I’m just lucky that I get paid to show up on Sundays (and Wednesday nights and ministry meetings and school activities and soccer games and dinners with families and lunches with moms and conferences with ministers and trainings with volunteers and visitations with families and…)

    • Yep, you pretty well summed it up. Most people think we have easy jobs because they never see 90% of what we actually do!