What Should A Pastor Consider “Work”?

May 06

What Should A Pastor Consider “Work”?

No, this isn’t a post debating Calvinism and Arminianism. It’s more practical than that.

When Billy Graham was interviewed about what he’d do differently if he had to do it all over again, he said he would spend a whole lot more time praying and studying. And he’d spend a lot less time speaking, etc.

Lots of people say, “I can’t believe I get paid to do what I do. I don’t consider it work.” I woke up this morning struggling with this concept as it relates to being a pastor. I try my best during “office hours” to do office sorts of things (emails, letters, phone calls, website updates, worship guides, service planning, meeting with people, etc.). I also use part of it for study. Part of me feels guilty using that time for prayer, skimming a book, or reading the Bible. Who else in their jobs outside the church could do that? It just doesn’t seem fair.

Yet many people would say, “Yeah, but you’re a pastor. It’s your job to pray/study/read the Bible, etc.” I understand what they are saying. After all, what more important thing can a pastor do then spend time with God? Even Billy Graham wished he did that more. And I do believe that a pastor’s calling is going to look different than someone who works a “secular” job. But part of me wants to disagree. Here are some reasons why:

1. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus got up early in the morning to find solitude with God and pray. If it were anyone’s job to pray/study, surely it was the Son of God’s job to do so! Yet it seems He was occupied with spending time with people during “normal hours,” and He found time outside of operating hours to spend in solitude with God.

2. Martin Luther is quoted as saying something along the lines of “Today is going to be so busy for me, I can’t afford NOT to get up super early and pray for 4 hours beforehand.”

3. If I went to bed 1 hour after we put our children to bed (on a normal night), I could easily wake up at 4-5 am and have slept for 8 hours. If I were to do this, it would give me at least 2 hours in the morning before everyone else in my home wakes up to spend time with God/study.

4. The time I spend after the kids go to bed is mostly wasteful. I just relax and watch TV. I’m too tired to do anything really productive.

It seems to me that a pastor who uses his/her office hours to pray/study is in a way “cheating the system.” I know some people would separate study for a sermon and personal study, and I see that point too. But the flip side of that coin is that many times it is hard for me to separate personal study and sermon study, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I would hope that what I share on Sundays is an overflow of what God is doing and speaking to me in my life. I would also hope that others in the congregation would come on Sundays ready to share from that overflow as well in their own lives.

The congregation isn’t getting paid for spending time with God, shouldn’t the same be true of the pastor?

P.S. I wrote this blog during office hours. I feel halfway guilty for this too.

P.P.S. Another piece to this puzzle is that I don’t think it’s biblical to look upon the role of pastor in a church as a “job.” Rather, I think that my role as pastor is to give of myself to the church, voluntarily as a slave and not as an employee. My life should be a gift to the church. And I think it’s the church’s role to give financially to the pastor in appreciation for his gift to the church, voluntarily as a gift and not as a paycheck. Perhaps if we had more of this mindset, there wouldn’t be such an inward struggle as to how a pastor’s time is spent during the day. Even so, however, I stand beside my four points in this blog post. They are true regardless of the structural arrangement between a pastor and the church.


  1. The time after the kids are in bed (which lately is nowhere near 8 p.m.), is the only time we have together as a couple.

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  2. So, I don’t consider it wasteful.

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    • But if we both went to sleep early, we would still have 1 hour after they go to bed, and then plenty of time in the morning!

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  3. Alice /

    You can’t expect not to relax and unwind after the day’s done. You have to have that time to be a better pastor. Another reason I think you get money for being a pastor is so you can be sustained and devote yourself to the church and not be pre-occupied with a secular job. Don’t feel guilt. It hinders your “job.”

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    • Alice, after reading your comment, I can see some similarities here with many mothers who feel conflicted between the calling of raising their children and their desire to hold a secular job. Good points!

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  4. You’ll of course have to work out exactly how and when you do your praying, but I am pretty sure it’s God speaking to you about spending a solid and regular block of time devoted to prayer. I think He’s speaking to others about it as well. Just this morning I was thinking that I really need to figure out a way that I can get up extra early and pray–maybe not two hours, but longer than fifteen minutes for sure. I need and hunger for uninterrupted time to just be in God’s presence. Yes, I turn to prayer throughout the day and that’s great, but it’s not the same as having some solid time just with God and no one else. I want to encourage you to just get that time, even if it is during office hours–hey, if that’s a problem, you and God can work it out and make the change down the road.

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    • Thanks, Nanda. Just to be clear, I don’t intend on spending 2 hours a day in prayer–yet. Hopefully, in time! But if I did have 2 hours of solitude at the beginning of the day, I’m sure some of it would be spent in prayer, study, silence, blogging, catching up on Facebook, surfing the web, and deeper thinking.

      And maybe I could help get the kids ready in the morning, instead of dumping that all on Audra…oops, how do I block my wife from reading this comment?

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      • Two hours in prayer can go by faster than you might think, but yes, it’s something to build up to for sure (and no, unfortunately I don’t habitually spend two hours in prayer either, but now I’m wanting to so we’ll see). I think silence, study, blogging (at least this one) and deeper thinking would also count as prayer.

        I think it’s very important that the pastor prays and that doesn’t in any way mean it’s any less important for the church members to pray. But it is vital that you do. I can’t speak for everyone in the Highland churches but my vote would definitely be that we support you in your prayer life, even if that means part of your prayer time happens during work hours. It’s clear to me that you have no intention of taking unfair advantage of “the system.”

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  5. too late! 🙂 But hey, you take Naomi to the bus stop every morning, so you are already a wonderful help in the mornings 🙂

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  6. I’m a little late to this.

    I’m of the mindset that the pastoral position isn’t really an on-the-clock/off-the-clock type of role. It sounds like you hold a similar view based on your PPS. A pastor’s responsibility is about helping those in and out of his congregation grow closer to God. I’d rather a pastor spend office hours doing a personal study/prayer if it allows him to bring others closer to God than fill his time with office work because he happens to be in the office.

    Another thing… while spending a lot of time in prayer and study is usually a good thing, it should never be about the length of time we spend reading or praying (Matt 6:7-8). Our attitudes, priorities, and willingness to sacrifice are more important than the amount of time that we devote to prayer.

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