Nearly every minister has heard the joke that a church pastor only works an hour a week (and has then tried to suppress an eye roll). A full-time pastor in a local congregation typically works 40-50 hours a week. What fills that time, do you imagine?
First, not all ministers have the same job descriptions or portfolios. What I describe below is how a solo or generalist minister in a healthy, growing local congregation might spend her time. Someone whose job description focuses on faith formation or evangelism will obviously have different priorities.
Second, while ministry is the sort of profession and vocation that calls a whole person, ministers need a balance between their professional duties and their personal lives. A minister who routinely works more than 50 hours a week, or who seldom takes a Sabbath day, or who has no friends or hobbies outside of church is at serious risk of burnout.
This description also refers to data from Thom Rainer and Lifeway Research, who have some of the most current information about a minister’s work; but in my reflections below, I offer some thoughts in relation to this. Their prime indicator for effective churches is “conversion growth in American Churches,” which is one measure of vitality (but as you know from other CARD research, that’s just one measure).
All that said, let’s dive in:
Worship preparation is probably at the heart of how many solo ministers spend their time. This may include scripture study, sermon preparation, crafting of liturgy, musical selection, special services, and revivals. Rainer and Lifeway suggest that the most effective ministers spend 22 hours a week on this sort of work, or just about half of a typical work week.
Pastoral care is also a key priority for a minister. This includes weddings, funerals, counseling, and hospital visits. Rainer’s research indicates that effective ministers spend 10 hours a week, about a quarter of their work time, engaged in this sort of work. Additionally, Rainer noted that effective ministers spend about half as much time on personal evangelism as they do pastoral care. Additional time may be spent on things like administration (mail, email, phone calls) or meetings.
What is missing from Rainer and Lifeway’s work is information about the effective minister’s role in lay leadership development, ministry development, community engagement, administration, and faith formation. A solo minister may do some or all of this work. Prioritizing leadership development, community engagement and faith formation will mean that somewhat less time will need to be spent on pastoral care and worship preparation. Some administrative work is inevitable in ministry, but limiting it to no more than 10% of the minister’s time allows her to focus more on these other areas (unless, of course, her title is “Minister for Administration!”).
There’s one more thing that I’ve learned as part of the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Team: Effective ministry happens when there is an opportunity to engage in both proactive, creative, long-range ministry work and immediate needs and issues. The polarity between proactive and reactive ministry will swing in one direction at different times, but it should regularly flow back in the other direction. Clergy peer learning groups, such as communities of practice, are deep and rich opportunities for ministers to reflect on and grow in the craft and practice of ministry and to learn from one another. These communities also significantly impact clergy wellness and reduce burnout. If your conference offers these groups, do encourage your pastor to be a part of such a group!
Rev. Elizabeth Dilley serves as Minister for Ministers in Local Churches within the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Team of the UCC national setting. You can learn more about Elizabeth’s work supporting local church pastors here.