There’s a trio of time- and work-related tensions in pastoral ministry. First, unless you work in some kind of weird regime that makes you punch in and punch out, you set your own schedule. Second, you have a lot to do. And third, you are never finished. You may complete a project, but there are more projects. You’ll finish your sermon, but then there’s the next sermon.

I feel your pain. Juggling these three balls is hard. Despite the tired old joke that pastors only work one day a week, most people in ministry work long hours.

Why do we work as much as we do?

For some, it could be pressure from above. And I don’t mean from God. Maybe the elders have unrealistic expectations, or the Senior Pastor is a workaholic and expects his staff members to be that way too. For others, it could be an overactive desire to please people. And while none of us want to admit it, some pastors equate their worth (both to the church and the Lord) with the number of work hours they accumulate. 

But even if we struggle with one or more of the above, the fact is that effective ministry takes time, and there always seems to be more to do. I’m pretty sure that few pastors have ever come to the end of the work week and said, “Well, I can’t think of anything else that I can work on.”

Think about your typical week. People needs, meetings, programs, and preparation all crowd into our work time. People drop in. There are unanticipated phone calls. Your study time is more difficult than you expected. You have projects that must be finished. As a result, it’s easy to keep working more hours. But if we don’t learn to manage our lives, we’ll pay in the long run.

Some tips:

Plan to take the same day off each week. For some it’s Monday. Sunday is draining and Monday is a chance to recharge. For others, Friday or Saturday works best. Obviously, there will be times when something unexpected comes up. But most weeks you should be able to manage a day away from work. But make it the same day so it is something that you have scheduled.

Find a rhythm for your work week and stick to it. For example, I spent time on Sunday night planning my week. Most of my administrative work was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday and then I focused on my sermon prep Tuesday through Thursday. I would finish my sermon on Thursday, let it marinate on Friday, and then on Saturday I would tweak the sermon and, when possible, catch up with whatever was left over from the week that had to be finished.

A word about evenings: Because our people are generally not available during the day, a good deal of ministry takes place in the evening. But don’t plan something for every night of the week. And don’t bring your work home. Sure, bring a book if you want to read at night, but don’t be working on your sermon outline while you’re eating dinner.

Find a good time management approach and follow it religiously. We have an incredible number of helpful tools available for managing time. On Wednesday I want to look at some of those resources. Whatever system you end up using to manage your responsibilities, consider planning an hour or two each week where you can read for personal growth. Schedule lunch with a fellow pastor regularly. And don’t forget your family! Take your wife out regularly, even if the best you can afford is to go to McDonald’s and split a small fries. If you don’t plan those kinds of activities, they’re not likely to happen.

I know these bits of advice are basic, but they could be life-changing and ministry-saving if adopted early on. How are you doing in the area of work and life management? Are you working too much?

Image by Theodor Moise from Pixabay

2 Comments

  1. Well said. I always found guilt to be my biggest struggle. Though my typical work week is 60 hours, I still struggled with guilt knowing I still have so much more to do. I often drive by landscapers cutting lawns and envy them because when the lawn was cut, they did not have to worry about that lawn till next week. They could see their completed work.
    I remember listening to a lecture by Howard Hendricks twenty years ago and he told the room of eager pastoral students, “There are three segments of a day, morning, afternoon, and evening. Do not allow yourself to work through all three.” I attempted to follow that, but the struggle is still there.
    Thank you, Peter, for speaking truthfully, candidly, and wisely. Great lesson to learn early.

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    1. I’ve struggled with guilt as a motivator too, and it’s not easy to let go of that. Thankfully God does value us on the hours we put in. Great quote from Howard Hendricks. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

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