In the Digital Age, How Many Hours Should a Pastor Be in the Office?

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I recently heard this question asked and wanted to get input from the broader Network community. Thanks for your thoughts! 

Many churches are wrestling with the changes that technology brings. 

One aspect of church life that technology may have impacted is office hours for Pastors. Has your church struggled to define the office hours? Many Pastors are spending less and less time physically at the church building. In some ways, the flexibility allows for a Pastor to be more involved in activities with their families or communities. 

And yet, less office hours do raise some questions and concerns. Is it ENOUGH for a Pastor to be available via email or cell phone most of the week? OR, are opportunities for ministry and “casual conversations” being missed when members of the church cannot drop in or plan around standard office hours?

Therefore, in today's age of cell phones and laptops making the "office" more portable, how many hours SHOULD a pastor be available at the "brick and mortar" building?

Has your church found any solutions? Are you still trying to figure out the best balance? 

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  • Pastors > Financial Shalom > Church Management
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Any answer to this question has to be framed by the particular context of the congregation.  Here are four real life examples:

A rural church where the parsonage is across the parking lot of the church building and most of the congregation lives within 10 miles.  This pastor keeps a full schedule of office hours because it’s convenient, it’s a quieter space to study than an office in his home, and he serves as the “church secretary”.  He also wants to preserve a distinction between his home life and pastoral duties and prefers that his congregation meets him at the church office.  He does let the congregation know what days are his days off and asks that they be respected.

A small urban church where the pastor has a thirty minute commute to the church office and the congregation is widely dispersed throughout the urban area.  This pastor does not keep daily office hours, but does maintain a few days of the week when she spends most or part of the day at the office.  Cell phone and email keep the congregation and their pastor in 24/7 conversation.

A large urban church where the pastor lives within walking distance of the church building and the congregation is a lively mix of distance and proximity; some members live in the neighborhood and some commute 40 minutes.  This pastor tries to spend at least two full week days in the office so that folks can drop in, but also to interact with staff.  Those days vary because of other needs in the congregation and involvement in community activities.  If someone wants to meet with the pastor, he often suggests meeting at a place closer to where the congregation member lives or works than the church office.

Another urban church—the only CRC church in the city—where the pastor lives within a short commute of the church building but the majority of the congregation lives further away.  Again, this pastor has flexible office hours based on other demands on his time, but does hold himself to one consistent day a week to be in the office—the day he and church secretary pull together the liturgy and bulletin for the coming Sunday.   

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.  It’s a balance that needs to be worked out between the pastor, the elders, and other church staff.  Most pastors would also point out that their participation in and attendance at church events during the week often offer better times for those casual conversations.  Pastors who volunteer at the church’s food pantry, help serve the neighborhood dinner, attend the local high school football games, or read a story at the church’s daycare center are creating informal opportunities for interacting with congregational members that can build caring relationships without the need to be “in the office”.

Community Builder

Thank you for the question. It is an appropriate one for this day and age where I find it easier - and more economical - to work from my home.  I would, however, like to suggest that we offer a parallel question: How many hours shall the pastor be in the study each week? And to that question, I think the answer has been and remains: "as long as it takes to prepare the sermons and lessons required each week." 

Community Builder

There are some basics here.

The pastor must divide his time three ways:

  1. Personal time. For those who are married: this will be a very important part of the family life. (Some pastors underestimate this role.)
  2. Prepare sermons, read, and study.
  3. Tend to congregational duties: visiting, pastoral care, and be part of congregational management.

Can these duties best be done by the pastor being regularly in his study in the church building...??

I could see advantages. Members would feel encouraged to come and see their pastors when needed.
But there are other equally valid possibilities. Just over a generation ago, most pastors had their study in the parsonage. I think it should be up to the pastors to make arrangements that would encourage parishioners to visit but that would also leave sufficient time for study and other personal  ministerial duties. Pastors may wish to have a study in the parsonage. That would be their choice. But when in  the church, parishioners should keep in mind that pastors don't have an office job. Many of their duties must be done in various settings. When they agree with the congregation that they will keep regular hours, those will be of necessity limited. Whatever pastors decide regarding the setting in which they can work best, they must keep one thing in mind: be accessible! The members should be able to reach them, if not directly then by leaving a message. With telephones now being sophisticated there should be no problems on this score. Congregations should remember that pastors need personal time: for reflection, sermon preparation, study, and a goodly part of pastoral work. In situations where pastors are urgently needed, there will be enough ingenuity among the elders and other leaders to locate him at short notice.

The issue of how to work with a pastor regarding standardizing "office hours" at church is indeed complex. Because of the options provided by cell phones, and because of the nature of ministry frequently and appropriately being done away from the church office, it is indeed possible for a pastor to do honest, productive work while not being in the office at church.

Yet, as you suggest, there is something positive to be gained when "office hours" are posted and observed. Among the benefits is the "drop in ministry opportunities" that may occur, to say nothing of the community perception that someone is at the building, and the congregational experience of seeing their pastor function in a disciplined, accountable manner. 

In our CRC polity a pastor is accountable to the church council, and it is appropriate for the elders and the pastor to speak openly regarding a policy for office hours, and a format for accountability regarding this. Such a conversation can take into account the personal style of a given pastor, and the need or desire for flexibility of scheduling, yet it also can take into account the positive factors that are gained through what we can call "the public accountability demonstrated through a posted schedule".  

A pastor who resists such a conversation and such accountability risks alienation with those with whom he is serving. Elders who resist dealing with this matter risk allowing distrust within a congregation to fester. On the positive side, a ministry and pastor that make themselves physically present on a predictable schedule will open themselves to unknown and significant blessings. 

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