By Jake Belder

A number of times over the past couple of years, I have found myself in this situation: I walk into the home of someone who is not a regular churchgoer, sit down, and begin to make small talk. “Have you had a good week?” I ask. “Yes, thank you,” comes the cheerful reply. “And you? Have you had a busy week?” “It’s not been too bad,” I might reply. And then, invariably, the same response – the person leans forward, with curiosity piqued at the opportunity to discover something they never knew before: “What do you do all week?”

Yes, the stereotype that a pastor only works for a couple of hours on Sunday is alive and well, and we’ve learned to laugh it off. The reality, however, is that a pastor is still engaged in work. There are people to see, sermons to write, emails to send, Bible studies to prepare, meetings to attend. As a result, like any other work, pastors have to deal with issues of time management.

In some ways, pastors face particular challenges with managing time. In the first place, with the exception of Sunday services and things like weekly staff meetings, we don’t have fixed schedules. As someone who was never a fan of the 9-5 workday, I really like that. But it can often present a challenge to getting things done. You sit down on Friday to plan the upcoming week, which at that point is wide open, but suddenly on Monday you’ve got people calling you with emergencies, meetings that pop up out of the blue, you hit a major block trying to write a sermon, and before you know it, that whole plan is shot, and you’re burning the midnight oil at the end of the week to try and get everything done.

Jake Belder at work

Jake Belder at work

Pastors also have to deal with a unique, and often overwhelming, set of expectations and demands. William Willimon, in his book, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, quotes one pastor who said, “I have six hundred different bosses, each one holding a detailed job description for me that no one has had the decency to show me!” Parishioners expect a lot from their pastors and, since you as pastor are paid by your parishioners, you also feel that you owe them a lot. This can make it hard to say “no,” which just compounds the problem above.

Related to this are the expectations we place on ourselves. Even though my theology tells me otherwise, I still fall into the trap of over-spiritualizing my work, which makes it easy to turn everything into something I need to do. This failure to prioritize usually means that, despite the perceived urgency of everything, even less ends up getting done

There are things that don’t matter as much as others, and we need to learn to figure out what those are. This is particularly true in churches where there is a lot going on during the week. We can feel as if we need to take part in every activity and program.

Willimon, again, says that time management is a theological issue. Lots of things are important, but what is necessary for the nurturing of the life and faith of God’s people? Understanding this difference helps us pastors shape our priorities. After two years in this work, I’m starting to get that.

Jake Belder lives in Hull in the northeast of England and serves on the staff team at St John’s Church, Newland, where he is responsible for developing and coordinating the church’s community outreach work. He is originally from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

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3 Responses to A pastor's time management

  1. i12know says:

    But you didn’t write much about the practical time management for pastors 🙂