Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Do Pastors Really Only Work One Day (or One Hour) per Week?

For this week's newspapers, I answered a reader's questions about what pastors do during the week:

Q:  What does my pastor do for the remainder of the week after the Sunday service is over? 

We’ve all heard the joke about pastors working only one hour a week, but hopefully it’s just a joke to the people who say it, because it is certainly not a reflection of reality.  In fact, due to their many commitments in the congregation and the unusual hours in which they must fulfill them—ranging from evening meetings with congregational boards to giving counsel to couples or individuals during most people’s “after work” hours, to the frequent emergency calls to the hospital or the bedside of a dying member—many pastors actually find it a challenge to devote adequate time to their families. 

One of the primary tasks of the pastor’s work week is preparing the sermon and service for the upcoming Sunday.  If a pastor followed the commonly-accepted formula that college speech professors dictate for preparing a public speech, the pastor would spend one hour of preparation for each minute of the sermon.  In the real world, pastors often rely on their education and experience to prepare more efficiently and most report spending 10-20 hours in sermon preparation (or 20-50% of their working hours).    

Unless a congregation has a professional musician on staff or an administrative professional devoted to the task, he is probably also responsible for planning all of the other elements of the service, scheduling those who will perform them, and distributing the materials necessary for them to do so. 

Because the pastor is often the primary staff member to occupy the building in smaller congregations, he may also spend many of his office hours answering phones, responding to correspondence, researching information requested from the congregation’s records, sorting mail, and other administrative and office tasks—or in passing on messages to part-time staff who perform them—beyond sermon preparation and service planning. 

If he teaches weekday or Sunday Bible classes or instructs youth, he will spend about 2-5 hours of preparation per hour of teaching if he is writing his own material, and an hour of preparation per hour of teaching if he is using curriculum purchased from a Christian publisher. 

In rural areas like ours, there is also the element of travel.  When frequently-visited hospitals are an hour away and the drive to the hospitals where congregation members receive more specialized care may be up to 4 hours, pastors spend a significant amount of time traveling.  A visit to a member in Rochester or Iowa City will easily occupy a full day for the pastor.

Pastors will frequently have responsibilities to the denomination to which their church belongs or to the district and regional bodies of that denomination, which equates to additional meetings and travel.  Additionally, much like other teachers, doctors, and other professionals, a pastor who takes his work seriously will devote time to keeping his skills current and expanding his knowledge.  This could take the form of single-day classes that are nearby, but often involves week-long conferences in another part of the country. 

The descriptions above all assume a traditional full-time clergy devoting the vocation’s statistical average 50-52 hours to congregational work, but it is becoming more common, especially in rural congregations, for pastors to serve multiple congregations, or serve the congregation only part-time, while working in another vocation as a supplement for the portion of compensation the congregation cannot provide.  This requires adjustments and choices to be made, both by the pastor and the congregation, to adapt for the reduced flexibility and shorter hours of this arrangement while maintaining the best possible degree of pastoral care in light of the circumstances. 

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