Several years ago, I had an entertaining conversation with a young lady who remarked that she would love to be a pastor. Pastors, after all, have the enviable position of working one day a week and being paid as if that was a full time position. “It would be easy” she mused, “to get up once a week and just talk for 15 or 20 minutes. I can do that. Who wouldn’t want that job instead of some 9-5, Monday through Friday gig?”
As a pastor, I chuckled. The truth is, however, that many people see pastoral ministry as this type of ideal situation. The reason is apparent: the vast majority of what a pastor does takes place behind the scenes, hidden in the lives of individuals rather than put on display before a gathered community. It is what happens between Sundays that few people see, yet it is these moments that often make or break a ministry.
It is true that pastors don’t work a typical Monday through Friday job. Instead, pastors typically work a Sunday to Sunday job. Once the Sunday morning service is over, many of them will go visit shut-ins to be able to bring them communion, or have to attend a council meeting. Or a finance meeting. Or a trustees meeting. Or a ministry planning meeting. Or an outreach committee meeting. Or any other meeting you can think of.
Some of them have services Sunday night. Others use Sunday evening to enjoy getting to know that woman living in their house who reminds them that she is their wife. She looks familiar. Kinda cute, too.
After Sunday, the hidden work begins. In celebration of Pastor Appreciation Month, I invite you to join me for a brief visit into the life of the average pastor of a small to medium-sized church. We will call our pastor Joe.
Joe arrives at the church and begin going through the mail, chucking the overwhelming number of ads and collecting the bills, noting that they are barely skirting the edge of the funds available. Then, he goes through the attendance of the previous Sunday. New visitors. Time to write some welcome cards, or even just make phone calls.
At lunch, he gets together with Jerry, who is having issues with his wife and wants a visit from the pastor. They meet. They eat. They talk. They pray. Joe refers Jerry and his wife to a good counselor, and makes a note to see if there are any funds available to help offset the cost of counseling.
After lunch, it is time for the weekly staff meeting — which really means meeting with the college student running the youth program. After the meeting, he begins laying out the service order for next Sunday. The order of service and the sermon topic needs to get to the choir leader by Tuesday so that she can prepare the music and have it ready for practice on Wednesday. In the evening, it is another council.
Joe has a little bit of free time … except that the hospital calls. Suzie was admitted last night, so he spends the first part of his day there. For lunch, Joe meets with his Pastor-Parish Relations Committee Chairperson. It turns out that there are a few ladies in the church who didn’t like the introduction of a contemporary worship song into the service. He makes a note to get together with some of the ladies and hear them out, communicating to them why these decisions were made and that they were made in the context of a committee.
Tuesday afternoon, he reads through the passage for the sermon on Sunday, but doesn’t do any real study on it yet. Instead, he prepares for the Bible study the following evening.
Joe gets in early and puts together a few boxes of food. He received a phone call from a family in need, and they are meeting at the church at 9am to pick up their box. At 9:30, he meets with the treasurer and she brings the checks for the bills that were pulled out on Monday. Every check requires two signatures as an accountability precaution, so the signers are notified that the checks are ready.
For lunch, Joe goes home. He needs to get out of the office for a bit to finish the Bible study for that evening, especially since the phone has been ringing off the hook. He then returns an hour or two before the evening study, making sure that the classroom is in order and he has everything they need. They have the study. They didn’t have everything they needed.
The signers for the checks come by and the checks are then gathered up and delivered to the post office. On the way back, he visits the hospital again. Suzie is still there. He then leaves to meet Andrew for lunch. Andrew is heading up some of the discipleship groups, and the two of them meet every Thursday to strategize and discuss needs.
After lunch, he proceeds to visit Geoff who called yesterday. Geoff has been out of a job for three weeks now and is really feeling the strain. The church has provided him and his family with some food while also looking for a job opportunity to connect him with, but right now he just needs someone to talk to. After Geoff, he returns to the office to spend the next several hours researching the passage for Sunday’s sermon.
This day is set aside for Joe and his wife. All things ministry related are put to the side so that his time can be faithfully devoted to her. Of course, during the day he still gets three calls from parishioners. He will call them back tomorrow.
He calls them back. After this, he settles into the office to review the research from Thursday and devotes the rest of the day to crafting his sermon. He details the primary emphasis and organizes how the text relates to it. He pulls commentaries and linguistic analyses and breaks them down into language can be easily communicated. He organizes illustrations — some are pulled from life experiences (those are usually the best), others from current events.
At times, he will also look for anecdotes and humor to flesh out a point that is being made. He writes it. He preaches it. He rewrites it. That evening, Joe attends his own Bible study group so that he is plugged in somewhere for his own spiritual formation.
The week begins again. And this doesn’t account for paperwork due to the conference, conflict resolution when issues arise in the church, weddings, funerals, special events, Holy Week or Christmas, planning baptisms, new member meetings, board meetings with the conference, community activities and on goes the list.
So, yes … It is true that a pastor does not work a Monday through Friday job. It is far from that simple. Most pastors love the work that they do, but there is a reason that it holds one of the highest burnout rates of nearly every career.
This is also why we dedicate October to celebrating the men and women of faith whose lives are poured in the men and women God has entrusted to their leadership. And pastors … this is why we so greatly appreciate you.
T E Hanna is the author of Raising Ephesus: Christian Hope for a Post-Christian Age. He writes regularly on issues of faith and culture on his blog at TEHanna.com.