Last month was Pastor Appreciation Month. During that month, you’ll have a handful of people share on social media a little peek into the difficult life of being a pastor. But for the most part, most people sit around and wonder what a pastor actually does. You hear a statistic that pastor’s routinely work 60-70 hours a week, and most people wonder, “Doing what?” More than one person has responded to hearing my husband is a pastor with something along the lines of, “Must be nice to only work two hours a week.” They mean it as a joke, but the fact is, most people don’t have any idea what a pastor does all week. So, I figured I’d shed a little light on that. Not all pastors do all these things. Some pastors are bivocational, meaning they work more than one job, and cannot do all these things. Some churches have more staff than just the pastor to help with some of these things. But any given week, this is what pastors across your community are doing.
You see them preaching on Sunday morning. That sermon usually takes around 10 hours to write and get ready to deliver. That doesn’t include all the other prep for Sunday morning, like typing up and printing bulletins, getting ready to teach a Sunday School class, choosing music or approving music for the service, picking up the coffee and tea, and making sure all volunteers will actually be showing up on Sunday. Then after church, they are putting things away, cleaning up, and getting the list of thing they need to remember for the next week going. (Remember to go pick up more pens. Get more giving envelopes printed. The nursery is out of wet wipes, pick some up. Etc.) Sunday morning takes a team of people to pull off, but the pastor has the bulk of the work, usually spending 18 hours or more each week just making Sunday morning happen at all.
The pastor is also responsible for making small groups, midweek meetings, and/or Sunday School happen. Even when there are other people to help lead these group meetings, the responsibility to choose curriculum or books still falls on the pastor. Every study done in a small group is usually read by the pastor first, to make sure it fits with their congregation and isn’t heresy. (Pastors, if you don’t already do this, you should.) They are also responsible for teaching those that are teaching how to teach and lead. They are checking in with them, seeing how things are going, and keeping up to date on the group’s progress. Just because they may not be at every small group meeting does not mean they aren’t actively involved in every small group.
The Pastor is on call all the time. Not just for church members, but for anyone in the community. He is called in for counseling on a regular basis. Some of those, he’ll refer to a counseling professional after an initial meeting. Some, he’ll continue to meet with on a regular basis. He is always there when people need to talk, not just people who give or contribute to the church. It may simply be a phone call. Or he may have to leave before dinner and head out to pick someone up that needs a friend right now. Sometimes it is people just needed a place to vent. Life is stressful. Sometimes he may need to mediate a family conflict. Sometimes he may need to pick someone’s teenager up and try to be a voice of reason when they aren’t listening to much of anyone lately. Whatever it may be, it can take hours of his day or week, even in a small congregation. And he can’t just turn off his phone, ever. Because people need him.
The Pastor is often just the guy people call when they need someone. Emergency childcare, emergency transportation, house work, yard work, moving- he’s just the guy you call because he is dependable. When a single mother of four is evicted from her apartment, he’s the guy people call to help her figure out temporary and permanent housing. When she needs a sitter for a job interview, he’s the guy called to babysit. When someone locks their keys in their car, he’s the guy to call to drive them across town and back with the spare key. He’s just the reliable guy that will drop anything he can to help anyone he can.
The Pastor is visiting people often. This is something people in the church should be doing as well, but the pastor is making it a point to see the elderly, sick, and shut-ins in his care often. Taking them flowers to brighten their room. Delivering cards from the kids’ Sunday School class, so they know they are missed and still feel like part of the church. Taking them communion when they can’t make it to church because no one should have to miss the sacraments. He’s visiting strangers in the hospital, because someone called and said there is someone in a local hospital that needs someone to talk to. He’s also visiting with those in the church outside of a church setting. Getting together for coffee to catch up on life. Grabbing a quick lunch on someone’s lunch break with them just to be able to chat. He is staying connected constantly, which takes face to face time.
The Pastor is out there in the community doing the work of Jesus. Yes, he is coordinating volunteers to do this work as well. Yes, he is harassing and dragging those in the church along with him at times. But he knows from the example of Jesus to be a servant leader, to get out there and do the work himself, hoping you’ll follow his example. Often, he’s going at this alone, unable to convince anyone to join him. But he’s out there getting his hands dirty for Jesus, caring for the least of these.
The Pastor is constantly reading and trying to stay “in the know” on both or culture and the Christian culture. He’s reading through the top books at the Christian book store so he can know what you’re hearing. He’s staying up to date on current events so he can know where people are. He’s challenging himself by reading theology, counseling, and leadership books so he can be the best he can be for you. He’s also doing his own daily Bible study, and studying the Bible with his family. He’ll also, likely, be heading to conferences and meetings to stay “up on his trade”, like continuing education. And he’s likely listening to the sermons of other pastors throughout the week.
The Pastor also has to do work that just needs to be done. Keeping up the church website, making sure it stays current and relevant. He has to send out the same information in a half dozen different ways to make sure everyone is informed. He can’t just send an email about an upcoming event because half the church will say they don’t check their emails. He’ll have to put it on the website, knowing only 3 or 4 people even check that on a regular basis; make a Facebook event and personally invite every person in the church and share it on the church’s group page; share it on Twitter; send half the church a text about it, because that is the only mode of communication they use; and then call people every few days to make sure everyone knows what is going on. This is all in addition to the ad on Sunday morning and the reminder in the bulletin. He has to upload the sermon each Sunday and make sure he shares it on every available social media platform. It may look like he is always promoting himself, but really, he has to share things that many times to make sure everyone in the church even knows the thing exists. He’ll also have to type up and send prayer request emails through the week as people call or send those to him.
The Pastor may also have other ministries that he is involved in. Our pastor is on the board for our association, so any given week, he has several hours of work to help them out as a volunteer. They are also contacted by all manner of non-profit ministries and organizations to try to solicit the congregation on their behalf. They have to wade through each request and determine if the non-profit is in line with the values and mission of their church and what their involvement should be, if any.
There are also the services a pastor performs. Weddings and funerals both take considerable time and often, pastors aren’t paid for either. A wedding usually takes about 30 hours of work from the Pastor. (10 hours of counseling, 5 hours to write the service, 5 hours for the rehearsal, 10 hours the day of the wedding from pre and post wedding duties.) A funeral usually takes about 20 hours of work from the Pastor. (10 hours meeting with the family and writing the service. 6 hours of visitation. 4 hours for the actual service and after.) Keep in mind, in both scenarios, the Pastor is first there and usually last to leave. And a pastor isn’t guaranteed to make any money from either, even if travel and hotel expenses are involved.
There are also other speaking engagements a pastor may be asked to do. A youth camp, a retreat, a service at a Christian school. Those are often unpaid, as well.
The majority of a pastor’s work is secret, unseen, so it is easy to see where the misconception comes from that they don’t do that much. But when you are going through a crisis, you know who you can call. When you are in need of guidance, you know who you can call. We know they do things other than just preach on Sunday morning, but we often don’t think about just how much they are doing.