Last week, the question of office hours for Pastors was asked here on The Network.
To me, the question of office hours cannot be answered in terms of an exact number, or even a range. It’s about wisdom and so it requires some discernment.
It is interesting how times and circumstances keep changing! Just 35-40 years ago, pastors had a “study” in the parsonage. Telephones were all landlines, without voicemail capacity. Pastors were always available—at least when they were home. (But even then, there were questions of boundaries: some hours were set aside for study.) Then the study moved to the church and transformed into the “office.” And now, with smart phones and portability, offices are not tied to a place, so now home or even vehicle offices are possible.
The points raised in the question above are valid. All of them. Technology allows for greater flexibility and for greater opportunity for pastors to be involved in activities with their families or communities. On the other hand, there is something to be said for having defined office hours.
So, how many office hours are just the right amount?
Simply put, having defined office hours fits somewhere between the two extremes of always available and never available. Somewhere. The values to honor would include the need to be accessible to congregation members and others. Having some defined hours allows a pastor to plan and also allows people to plan. It is respectful of everyone’s need to plan.
But exactly how many hours? There’s no right or wrong answer. Review periodically as a matter of good practice: how well is this working for the pastor and how well is it working for everyone else? Adjust as needed.
The number of office hours is an example of the need for gracious, candid, ongoing conversations between churches and their pastors. If viewed and undertaken in a collaborative manner, such questions can be answered in ways which reflect a healthy relationship. And, they can be instrumental in producing healthier relationships between pastors and churches. This is not about churches demanding a certain number of hours or about pastors offering a certain number of hours, but about a collaborative conversation in which the flourishing of all is the goal.
Pastors must live the paradox of being available at all times and being unavailable at certain times. For some critical matters, anytime is the right time. For health and strength of body and soul, there also needs to be necessary “space.” Boundaries need to be in place, but here too, these boundaries need to be observed wisely. Too rigid, and they are counter-productive; too permeable and they lose their ability to benefit.
For churches and for pastors, the image of a tree is helpful. Trees without any flexibility are dead trees. There must be a capacity to bend with the wind. But trees require sufficient anchor and strength so that the wind does not flatten them to the ground. This is about discernment. Mutual discernment that honors the various needs and gifts.
How many hours are the right amount? Good question! One with many good answers.
Of course, these are just my thoughts. What are yours?