the shape of leadership

Punching the Clock

How should pastors measure their time on the job and away from the office?

Chris Colvin on July 20, 2017

When does your work day end in ministry? That can be a tricky question. Most people in regular occupations can draw a dividing line between their work day and their off-hours. But for pastors and ministers, the line is blurred.

I remember my part-time, bivocational days in ministry. I quickly learned that those terms were more about my pay schedule than my work schedule. The expectation was for me to be available anytime, day or night. There were many weeks when my actual work hours were well over full-time status! I never punched a clock, but I was never really off the clock.

That can present a problem for pastors prone to burnout. However, most of us chalk it up as just part of the job description. Nevertheless, the question remains: Should you have set office hours? And if so, where do you draw the line between a work schedule and private time?

There are two main approaches to this: either requiring all staff to be at the church for set office hours each week, or remaining totally relaxed with the rules. Here are some benefits of each.

No Office Hours

As a pastor, your first priority is to the people to whom you minister, not the tasks you complete. And relationship happens best out of the office. It’s unrealistic to require every person who wants to meet with you to come by the church. And whenever issues arise, you need the flexibility to leave the office for several hours at a time.

But more than that, the work week of a pastor is different from the average layperson’s. The expectation from your congregants may be that you are in your office for 40 hours each week. After all, that’s what their employers expect of them.

However, that doesn’t take into account that pastors work on Sundays, a day parishoners probably have off, or that Wednesday night is work, and so is Saturday if you happen to have multiple services each weekend. How about Tuesday night board meetings, Friday night outreach, and early morning Bible studies? Whenever the church doors are open, pastors are there working.

I recall my first experience with this as a staff member. We were planning a trip to a baseball game. We loaded up the church bus and headed off to Comiskey Park in Chicago. While I was there, my senior pastor reminded me that we were on the clock.

“We might be having fun right along with everyone else,” he said. “But remember, this is work for us.”

Whenever the church doors are open, pastors are there working.

That has always made an impression on me.

Established Office Hours

But there can also be benefits to requiring office hours for you and your staff. First of all, team-building can only happen when the team is all together. And the only way your team is together is if you require them to be there. How do you expect multiple departments to work and flow in unison with the vision if they are never around?

Requiring office hours is also about accountability. This isn’t about babysitting pastors to make sure they do their jobs. But let’s be honest: There can be lazy people in any profession. Without a clock to punch, we can easily get in the mindset that pastoring is just something we are instead of something we do. When that happens, important work of the ministry gets neglected.

Don’t forget about the needs that will always pop up without an appointment. Those in need will seek out help at the church building. You may “office” at the local coffee shop, but they won’t know to look for you there. Many churches have a pastor on call who is required to be at the church all day to handle such emergencies, and that’s a great idea.

Finally, to keep communication clear and consistent, you need to have at least one day a week when every staff member is present. This is a time when you can conduct meetings with all staff members, providing a venue for reminding everyone of the vision of the organization, addressing overall concerns, and praying together for the church. It is also a great way to accomplish interdepartmental meetings. If you have a designated day when everyone is on-site, large projects have a greater likelihood of success.

Can We Have It Both Ways?

Which idea works best for your church? Or can you settle on a system that incorporates the best benefits from both ideas? I think you can. You must give your staff — and yourself — space to be relational and permission to set their own schedules. At the same time, you need to be consistent and available. Thom Rainer writes this about how such a hybrid approach could work:

“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.”

It’s the rigid nature of a set 40-hour-a-week schedule that must be guarded against. It’s true that pastoring is much more about who you are than what you do. And who you are is more than just the sum parts of your ministry responsibilities.

You are a father or mother, a husband or wife, a caregiver or coach. You have outside interests and responsibilities. And ultimately, it’s the time you spend away from the office and off the clock that makes you a better pastor while on the clock.


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