Six Ways Pastors Can Find the Work-Life Balance Sweet Spot

Most pastors work long hours. Most pastors work hard for their churches. The median amount of hours worked by a senior pastor is 55 hours per week. Pastors are a notorious bunch when it comes to work. The ministry tends to attract two types: lazy bums and workaholics. This post is more for the workaholics. How can a pastor find the work-life balance sweet spot?

  1. Plan the church year, then plan your week. A schedule facilitates both a plan and a vision. Your church schedule in any given year is a roadmap for discipleship. Plan church events, sermon series, and programs one year out, then plan your week around the annual church calendar. Every Sunday evening or Monday morning, spend 30 minutes refining your weekly schedule. Keeping a schedule is one of the best ways to increase productivity with fewer hours.
  2. Take your weekend every other week. The five-day workweek is a recent phenomenon. The first five-day workweek was instituted in 1908 by a New England cotton mill to accommodate Jewish workers who wanted off on Saturday. In 1926, Henry Ford started letting his factory workers off for both Saturday and Sunday. The two-day weekend didn’t catch on nationally until 1940, when the Fair Labor Standards Act mandated a 40-hour workweek. The Bible calls for a day of rest—one day, not two. One way to control work hours is to work a six-day week every other week. Rather than cramming a lot of work into five days, spread it out over six days. Also, pastors should count Sunday as a day of work, not rest.
  3. Build interruptions into your schedule. The work of a pastor is often disjointed. Pastors get a lot of interruptions during the day. So plan for them. As you schedule your week, build into each workday about 30-60 minutes of “interruption time.” If the interruption doesn’t occur that day, then leave a little earlier and surprise your family by being home.
  4. Identify time suckers. This one should be relatively easy. Block trolls on social media. Block the number of a person who calls your cell phone incessantly. Let people know you will only do a set amount of counseling before handing them off to a professional. Set an email filter for the person who includes you on all those forwards.
  5. Create systems of care. One requirement of pastoral ministry can take up more time than any other: pastoral care. A hospital visit can take half a day, especially if the hospital is not located near the church. A short phone call is rare in ministry. Most people enjoy talking to their pastor. The role of a pastor includes congregational care, but it doesn’t mean the pastor must do it all. Assign a day of the week to each staff person or a deacon for hospital visits. Use your schedule to create natural breaks, like making appointments one hour before a Wednesday night service. Set limits on how far you will travel to see a church member (and remember, you can always make exceptions if needed). Create a system of care rather than attempting to do it all.
  6. Get regular rest and exercise. You’ll be surprised at how much energy you have and how productive you are if you simply get rest and exercise. Sleep at least seven hours each night. Playing catch-up with sleep on the weekends does not work. Exercise at least three times a week. Schedule both your rest and your exercise and make them a mandatory part of your calendar.

Work hard for your church. It’s biblical! You can’t minister effectively if you’re fried. Most pastors struggle with balance. The ministry has far too many lazy bums and workaholics. Pastors should model spiritual disciplines for their churches. Work-life balance is a key part of living in a way that glorifies God.

Posted on February 22, 2021

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7 Comments

  • Sam Rainer says on

    Les and Matt – You both make excellent points about the need for work around the home. If your sixth day is “home work” then I agree with you.

  • This is good for pastors because personally I do the work without a proper schedule. Exercise 3 times a week is needed as a pastor. Thank you I have been helped

  • I agree with most except #2. As one who worked a job in my first career that encouraged “half-days” (meaning 12 hour work-days) and generally 5+ days of work every week it is very important for one’s physical and mental health to have a weekend every week.

    You touch on a great point in #1, plan your week. Instead of cramming as much work into your week, leading to #2, it is better to start with the amount of time you have to work and fill the time with work you need to do – not what everyone expects you to do but the things that require your specific skills/abilities as laid out in your work agreement. As with most organizations, the church is horrible at not allowing a person to work themselves to death.

    My practice is, barring pastoral emergencies, Friday and Saturday every week are mine. On Friday, I often do what I call “diddle” which is whatever strikes me as something to do. That might be cutting the grass, doing laundry, or sitting at Starbuck’s (before the pandemic) and drinking coffee. But diddling does not include doing church work. Saturday tends to be more structured but still the focus is on personal time not work.

    In my experience, if one starts working 6-days every other week it is likely that the extra day of work may creep into an every week thing. Being firm that the church gets 5 days, Sunday plus 4, is the best way to make sure to keep the balance.

    • Les, agreed. See my comment below. I take two days off from the church, but one of those days is still “work” (because housework is work, not rest, yes?). It seems the 6 day work week comes from pre-industrial times when all work included everything that needed to be done by both spouses (and kids) to keep up a household (agriculture, trading, home maintenance, etc). While the Sabbath was truly a day of no work, everything else had to fit into the other 6 days. So today I might give 5 days to the church, but my sixth day includes mowing, laundry, fixing up the house, going to the market, banking, etc–all of which, to me, counts as “non-Sabbath work” by biblical standards. I’m not simply lazing around for two days straight. Does that make sense? – Matt

      • Matt, I think we are in agreement.

        One thing I find in my days of rest during the week is I am doing things, chores, activities, which are in line with my health. In my “world” Saturday is the day of Sabbath – one where I am more attuned to God’s presence in my life and more self-reflective of who I am as a child of God. Friday is a day of enrichment – whether that be a hobby, chore, or simply “going to iFly” or maybe a day of re-creation. In fact, as I understand sabbath (not unlike a sabbatical for clergy) the principle is being alone with God, resting and listening. But not about product.

        Peace to you, Les

  • These are very helpful tips. I’d like to comment on the five day work week, and I welcome any feedback from those commenting. It seems in our modern society, it is less common that one of the spouses (usually the wife, but not always) is at home to do house work full-time. As a responsible husband, I commit one day a week to helping out with house work and other projects. So although I am away from the church two days a week (or I try to be), I only rest on one of those days. If I only took one day off from the church, I would likely never have a day of rest.