How Pastors Spend Their Time

The author of the book of Hebrews, who I believe was a pastor, wrote . . . 

Pray for us, for our conscience is clear and we want to live honorably in everything we do (Hebrews 13:18, NLT).

During my tenure as a pastor, I was often asked what I did with my time.

Some of the comments were cynical, “A pastor only works on weekends.” A few had underlying judgment, “I always wondered what you did with your time.” But many were encouraging, “Pastor, I know you’ve had a busy week; how can I pray for you?”

Pastors live in a unique world of constant interruption.  

A pastor’s meticulously planned calendar often gets redlined by a sudden death or some other crisis. Toward the end of my tenure as Senior Pastor, I had one or two emergency situations a week.

A quick answer to a pastor’s usage of time is — overwhelmingly too much. 

One study concluded, “The pastor’s work activities are highly varied, taxing, fast-paced, unrelenting, and often fragmented.”  

Pastors experience a work phenomenon that few other occupations encounter. It’s been labeled “task switching” or moving from one complex task to another . . . often one task interrupts another . . . and then the pastor must go back to the original task. 

An example would be preparing a sermon, interrupted by a memorial service, and then back to the sermon prep.  

One researcher at Notre Dame described this switching as costly in terms of cognitive effort, creativity, behavioral control, and emotional regulation. This is the reason that I appreciated someone who said . . . 

Pastor, I know you’ve had a busy week, and I’m praying for you.

When considering time management with pastors, their list of tasks never ends and keeps growing. Seldom does a pastor go home at night with the restful thought of a job well done, as one job might be completed, but ten more await.

Even with increasingly complex tasks, along with years of ill-timed interruptions — few pastors quit. Research shows that only one percent of pastors leave the ministry prior to retirement.

It’s amazing that only 10 percent of pastors who do leave the ministry quit because of burnout. Pastors adjust to their amorphous schedule, finding a path to physical, spiritual, family, and congregational health.

If you have asked a pastor about their usage of time, recognize the difficulty that they have in answering this question. Often, their time and duties shift weekly. 

The elders at the church where I pastored didn’t ask how I spent my hours; they asked about my calling and how it should impact and direct the church. I remember one elder saying, “Pastor, I know you work hard. Look at the fruit of your ministry.”

I was encouraged — one of the best encouragements that I ever received!

In review . . .  

A pastor spends time with teams, in board meetings, sermon preparation, study, emergencies, counseling, leadership, organizational management, fund-raising, budgeting, and adjusting to crises like COVID, along with maintaining a good diet, exercise, personal devotions, and family life.

They have diverse and taxing weeks — week after week after week.

They need our prayers.

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