Pastors, Church Admin & Finance
Discernment Needed for Pastor's Office Hours
September 23, 2015
Updated March 14, 2017
2 comments 1193 views
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?
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Good advice! One of the distinct observations I made in transitioning from the parish ministry to chaplaincy was that I suddenly felt less stressed. In analyzing why, I observed that it probably related to suddenly having boundaries I had failed to create for myself in the parish. I suddenly had working hours and non-working hours (not to mention a more defined list of responsibilities). I had weekends that I was committed to preach or be on-call and weekends that I felt fairly free. I was struck by how much healthier this was. My advice to pastors since that time is to give yourself permission to communicate to your congregation (over and over, if necessary) that you have and need boundaries and schedules. Know that it is ok to focus on what you are good at and delegate other things that are not your forte. Commit to sermon prep time, visiting time, administrative time, etc. and time to be "off the clock" (Sabbath). You will be healthier, your work will be more focused, and your congregation will come to appreciate you as a well organized professional.
Thank you for prescribing spiritual discernment regarding this issue. It can be a tricky one! For some reason, some people seem to equate office hours with the number of hours the pastor actually works, not realizing that often he/she does his/her best work away from the "office." But I agree, balance is needed. One thing I've done recently with council approval is to spend some of my "office hours" at the local Tim Horton's. So, I spend most Tuesday afternoons there, so I call it "Timmy Tuesday." I've found that more people (church and community) are willing to visit me at the local Timmy's than drop by the church "office." I would encourage other pastors to try it!
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