by Thom Rainer
This excellent article reminds us of the unreasonable expectations most people have of their clergy. Yes, it is universal, so don’t be put off by the protestant setting.
If you pursue the priesthood, you’ll be in a parish most likely, and you will be dealing with these kind of expectations.
I recently wrote a post based on a survey I did on a pastor’s work week. I also included better research and more accurate information from five-year old data from LifeWay Research.
In this post, I want to approach the issue from a slightly different perspective. I want to ask the question: How many hours must a pastor work each week to satisfy the congregation? Ultimately, I prefer to hear from pastors and church members and get their perspective.
An experiment I tried several years ago, though, might prove instructive. When I was a pastor in St. Petersburg, Florida, I gave a survey to the twelve deacons in the church (I jokingly said we had eleven good deacons and one Judas!). I listed several congregational responsibilities and asked them to share the minimum amount of time I should average in each area each week. I listed about twenty areas; but they were free to add other responsibilities to the blank lines.
I’m not sure exactly what I was anticipating. I just know that I was shocked when I tallied the results. In order to meet those twelve deacons minimum expectations I had to fulfill the following responsibilities each week:
- Prayer at the church: 14 hours
- Sermon preparation: 18 hours
- Outreach and evangelism: 10 hours
- Counseling: 10 hours
- Hospital and home visits: 15 hours
- Administrative functions: 18 hours
- Community involvement: 5 hours
- Denominational involvement: 5 hours
- Church meetings: 5 hours
- Worship services/preaching: 4 hours
- Other: 10 hours
Total: 114 hours/week
If I met just the minimum expectations of twelve deacons, I would have to work more than 16 hours a day for seven days a week. Or I could take one day off of work each week, and work 19 hours a day for six days a week. And remember, I still would only meet the minimum expectations of twelve people in the church, not the entire membership.
Clearly a pastor will sense the tension of so many factors competing for the limited hours in a week. And clearly no one can ever humanly meet all those expectations.
Do these numbers surprise you?
If you are a layperson, what are your workweek expectations of a pastor?
If you are a pastor, how do you handle such expectations?
Ilya Zhitomirskiy says
At least, I feel that a priest would need to spend at least 20 hours a week on preparation, 20 hours on counselling and visiting the sick , and 20 hours on administrative functions, about 60 hours a week, in addition to the liturgical cycle. Maybe my estimate is too low, but I want to be able to understand what priests and deacons need to do, because I am hoping to be eventually ordained as a deacon
Fr. John A. Peck says
If only your expectations were what everyone expected!
Priest Seraphim Holland says
Sermon preparation is out of whack. Be reading the Gospels and the Psalter daily, pray, be thinking about things. I have never had a need nor have I been good at hours of preparation. The Holy Spirit does inspire when we are in the moment. I have not infrequently given an entirely different sermon than I anticipated because of something I heard before or during the service.
Administrative functions 18 hours? I guess I am a crummy administrator, or else, I am very fast.
Services and preaching? over 10 hours in a slow week.
Privately, there must be prayer for parishioners and reading. – at least an hour or two a day.
Writing, letters to prisoners, teaching, posting sermons – probably a dozen hours.
Pastor Jeff Tomlinson says
Interesting! I worked like that, around 16 hours a day when I was an associate pastor! I nearly killed myself too! After 30 plus years as a Senior Pastor and 23 years in the same congregation, I have been able to meet the needs of the congregation and now destroy my health doing so. I have found that if I don’t spend the morning hours in prayer/study the rest of the day is shot with things that ultimately don’t make a difference in the long run. Sermon prep takes about a day (after reading and praying and meditating on the Word) throughout the week. Visitation is my weakest area, but I have laymen who go and let me know when the “Pastor” is needed. Church business is minimal. That is what my council is for and the other thing I won’t allow to be squeezed out is meeting with a group of like-minded pastors for prayer for each other and our community, for the lost to come to know the Lord.
Fr. David Wooten says
I know that the standard evangelical pastor is expected to spend 15-20 hours a week on a sermon, and I’ve met one Orthodox priest who goes by the rule of one hour’s study for every minute you preach. I especially don’t know how that very busy priest finds time to do that; I much prefer the ratios laid out in the article “Prepared in Prayer” on Preacher’s Institute (http://preachersinstitute.com/2013/08/12/prepared-in-prayer-musings-on-homiletics-and-the-preaching-pyramid/).
As for the rest of the time, I know parish size makes all the difference in terms of visitation. I’d appreciate knowing how other priests (who prioritize community outreach) define “outreach hours” as defined in this article. What are some commonly-done activities? Where do you go, and who gets talked to? Time is precious in a week, and we (i.e., relatively new priests like me) shouldn’t waste time in ventures that don’t go anywhere instead of learning from more experienced brother priests.