Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Hours in the Office

I began my current youth pastor job with great fear that I would fall into workaholic patterns. However, after six months in this position, and after many talks with my senior pastor and my husband, I've averaged about 45-50 hours a week (not including weekend retreats, lock-ins, etc.). This feels pretty reasonable.

My father is a pastor and set very good examples for me in this arena. Unless there was the occasional board meeting, he was home every night at 5:30 pm for dinner and consistently took Friday's off.

About a month ago a friend of mine asked me to e-mail him my job description and weekly schedule. His response was:

"Are you sure that'’s all you do? You'’ve got to be kidding me, right? (OK, that's not a slam if you'’re not kidding me… it'’s more just a depiction of how surprised I am and how different our roles look right now)."

I think my 45-50 hour work week is uncommon among pastors (Nate Kingsbury's recent post confirms my suspicion).

My questions are:

Who is responsible for keeping reasonable hours? The pastor or the church? Can a pastor legitimately blame the church or her or his senior pastor for long hours and limited days off? Are there different rules for singles, or whether of not you have kids? If you're a pastor, what does your schedule look like?


Nate said...


TO be honest I realized early that I was the one that chose to work the long hours, not the church making me. When someone tells me that they work 60 hour a work week -I often think they are chosing this not the church. DO you can to work 40-45 hours a week? Then make a schedule and stay too it! Will things pop up? yes - go with it, but stay true to your schedule and you will be just fine. ANd guess what? You won't get burned out - you'll be in ministry a good long time.

Tony Myles said...

A lot of this is in less in the job description and more in the hidden expectations. The senior leader sets this bar... if he/she is in on the day he/she is supposed to have off, it dishonors the Sabbath and hints that other staff should do the same. Likewise, when your summer calendar is full and he/she questions if it looks full "enough," you just may find yourself busy more than is humanly possible.

I've burned out in ministry three times... once when I first started, once when I had my first crisis, and once when I let someone else's values become mine. I know what I need to do in ministry now, and I know what I don't need to do. That's the key to sanity and honoring God. Doing anything that takes you away from what God has specifically called you to do could very well be considered sin.

David Drury said...

Great post, Mandy. I'd ovserve that there are at least this many different kinds of Pastors:

1) Those that work like crazy because they need counseling (still trying to impress Daddy).
2) Those that tell people they work like crazy but they are actually complete slackers because they don't have any work ethic (these ones also need counseling).
3) Those that have seasons of balance and seasons of crazy schedules (more dictated by the kind of ministry demands)
4) Those that are constantly trying to work more hours than humanly possible because their LBA or Senior Pastor expects way too much from them and they can't imagine confronting them on it.
5) Those that work efficiently and with good boundaries so that their day off is sacred and their nights are not all away from their family / dating life.

Before you smack back at me, know that I've been in all of these categories in my short ministry life. I only got to #5 in the last 2 years, and it's really a lot more like #3 for 4-5 months of the year.

JohnLDrury said...

I know I've seen a lot of #2, but it takes a little more to explain because they really do look busy. The distinction b/w "hours" and "working" might be helpful. I've seen some ministers who put in 60 hours a week, but work about 20. And then I've seen others (the author of this blog post, for instnace), who put in 40 hours a wekk and work, well, about 40 hours.

The key difference is efficiency. Sure, there are distractions and things that we have to respond to in ministry. But the effecient minister will find times and ways and places to get what needs to get done quickly and well. And least that's something I've seen Amanda and many others do. But effeciency only comes if we set our own boundaries and standards (though a permission-giving senior leader sure helps!).

Amanda said...


I think you're right to be using the word "efficiency." I probably have to guard against inefficient use of e-mail the most.

If my youth group ends up getting a digital video recorder this year I'll need multiple accountability partners to keep me from sapping hours in the "editing videos" department.


Amanda said...


Thanks for addressing this issue on your's really got me thinking. You've challenged me to reevaluate some things.



Amanda said...


Thanks for sharing a bit of your story. I'm mulling over the comment "and once when I let someone else's values become mine."


Amanda said...


Those five descriptions are great. I end up in #3 a lot. I'm already trying to figure out what to do next summer when my schedule explodes overnight events (missions trip, Creation, Whitewater rafting, etc.). While I can claim comp. time for some of these events, I'm guessing it still won't work out to a 45 hour a week average.

Still trying to sort through this...


Kathy Drury said...

Ah, yes... that's when youth pastors make their money... it's like quadruple overtime.

That's why it's a little more sane to be in adult ministry. You see, there are no "overnighters" really in adult ministries. Unless someone is having an affair, that is.

In honor of Nate and You and all the other youth pastors out there I usually work a 20 hour work week during our church's youth camp! :-)

Kathy Drury said...


This is Dave Drury writing under my wife's name. She was logged in on my laptop -- it all looks funny written from her perspective!

She's a "Home Manager" full time... so instead of a 50 hour week like a pastor, she works 126 hours a week!


-David Drury

Keith.Drury said...

My answer to your question on who is responsible to moderate excessive hours would be: If not the Senior Pastor then the church board and if not the church board the youth pastor, and if not the youth pastor the spouse of the youth pastor using maybe a wrench or a candlestick. Most SPs don't, and most boards only care about an overworked SP ignoring what they consider "temp help" on the staff, so in most cases I'm guessing the YP will have to set their limits... or someday they might think they're meeting Professor Plum in the study for counseling and their mate will lower the candlestick.

Kelly said...

We went to IWU together. However, we really didn't "know" each other. I lived in Muskegon, MI before I went to IWU. My dad is a senior pastor there. Tim Palmer serves as the youth pastor in the same church. I'm pretty sure you knew Tim & Marcea.


After graduation, I served on staff at a church in Marion. I was the Children's Director/ Office Assistant. Our office was open 8:30-4:00. I worked in that capacity Monday-Thursday. I was expected to give 12-15 hours above and beyond that for Children's ministry. Friday was a day off.

My time spent on Sunday's & Wed. nights was not to be included in my "logged" hours. The reasoning for this was understandable (Laity volunteers offer their help during services while working 40 hours a week in "regular jobs" Why should a staff member be different?). However, the reasoning got fuzzy as I spent 10 "non-hours" a week running children's church, kids' club, 3 nurseries, & a preschool program.

I have a nine month old baby. 3 1/2 months after she was born, I resigned from my position. I took a 40 hour "regular" job and saw it as a relief. It was just too much.

Please don't misinterpret this post as a gripe session. This is NOT my intent. I was sooo thankful for my experience at this church. It was amazing. I still can't believe God opened the door. I resigned not out of contempt. I just needed to be more available to my family.

How do you handle your Sunday & Wednesday service time? Do you include that as part of your "hourly" quota. Was my situation a normal expectation that most churches have of their staff members? I've always wanted to ask around and see how other churches handled this matter.

God Bless!

Pete Vecchi said...

A big question that seems to run through the original post and many of the comments is this: What is work? I am a pastor for a small church. I am the pastor and the staff combined. In the past few weeks prior to the holidays, I averaged just under 50 hours per week working for the church. My goal is to make it closer to 45.

There's nothing I can recall in the Bible saying that it is any honor to wear out or burn out. God has given us all 168 hours per week, and we need to be good stewards of that time. We pastors have church responsibilities and most of us have family responsibilities as well.

So, getting back to my original question, what IS work? I am in my office right now responding to this message. Is this work?

I am trying to come up with a Bible Study per Wednesday evening, and 2 sermons per Sunday, because the people of the church want that schedule. I had been doing Bible Study on Sunday evenings, and Dare-to-Care outreach ministries on Wednesday evenings, but people didn't want to continue that after about a year. So I am trying to prepare two sermons per week instead of one.

I know a pastor who used to pastor a church this size who also worked a full-time job outside of ministry. He told me that he spent about 20 hours per week working for the church. But then he told me that his sermons were prepared mostly on Sunday mornings before the services by praying for guidance, and then getting into the pulpit.

If that worked for him, great, but I'm not geared that way. I believe I personally am supposed to be carefully preparing each message I preach. An estimated amount of preparation time for me is generally 10 to 15 hours per message. That 10-15 hours includes time seeking God's will as to what should be preached.

Should that count as "work" time? I believe it should. I'm trying to organize my time better, and reading this blog is giving me ideas. Should this count as work time? I don't see why not.

I don't know why it seems like such a badge of honor for so many people to put in so many hours per week at work. What really gets interesting is trying to tell people what you do with your time at work.

I remember 20-some years ago when I was a youth minister in what was supposed to be a "half-time" job--one that was supposed to be, by contract, 20 to 24 hours per week. At one point, after I'd been in the position about a year, some people on the church council wanted me to account for my time, because "they didn't see me at the church" a lot (Hmmmm, could it be I wasn't there when they happened to show up during the week because they showed up when I was working my other job, or because I was out where the youth were during the week--which wasn't in the church building?). So, I painstakingly went through my calendar from the previous 12 months, and tried to get an idea of what I did. Even though I knew I was leaving out some things (because not everything I did was on my calendar), I wrote out 4 "representative" weeks from the past year. I decided to include the week with my highest number of hours, the week with my lowest number of hours, and 2 "average weeks" (although there is no such thing in ministry). The two "average" weeks included about 24+ hours per week. The highest week included about 60 hours. The lowest week--a week in the summer where there were a large number of youth out of town with families on vacation, I put in "only" 16 hours that I could specifically remember. Those 4 weeks averaged about 30 hours or so per week, but everyone keyed in on my lone 16-hour week, and acted as though I wasn't putting in enough hours.

The bottom line is that people are going to think what they are going to think. We who are responsible for getting certain jobs done need to do them the way we believe God wants us to do them, and not be so worried about the number of hours other people think we should work.