I’ve heard the advice many times: Pastors should work as many hours as the average person in the congregation, plus commute time, plus the number of hours that they serve or attend the church. This works out to 40-50 hours for the average workweek, plus another 5-10 hours for the commute, plus another 5 hours for time spent in church ministry, for a total of 50-65 hours a week. Therefore, pastors should work at least 50-65 hours a week.
I don’t buy it.
Here’s the truth in the advice: pastors should work hard. The pastorate is a place where lazy people can hide. I’ve met some lazy pastors, and they do need a kick in the posterior. And yes, we shouldn’t expect more of others than we ourselves are ready to give. And for some, they will be able to work 50-65 hours and still live healthily. Imposing this advice across the board, however, is less than helpful.
Here’s the real issue. Our challenge in ministry isn’t to buy into a lifestyle that’s driven by busyness and the lack of healthy rhythms. For instance, if nobody in the church is taking a weekly Sabbath, the answer isn’t for the pastor to stop taking a Sabbath. Instead, the pastor should be model what it’s like to pause, rest, and find refreshment one day a week. If the fathers in a community never make it home for dinner with the family, the pastor should not necessarily follow that pattern and work through dinner. Instead, the pastor should wrestle with how often to be around for the family even when work is calling.
I speak as someone who has wrestled with this for years, and failed often. I remember the years that I just wasn’t there for my family. I know I didn’t serve my family well those years. I don’t think I served my congregation well then either.
Is it hard to figure this out? Absolutely! But what we need – not just pastors, but all of us – is to discover how to work hard, but also how to love our families, abide in Christ, and live on mission in the everyday rhythms of life. Capitulating to unhealthy and unsustainable work patterns is not the answer. Discerning what it means to live faithfully as a follower of Christ is a much tougher assignment, but an important one.
I want to work hard. But I also want to be around enough to love my family and build relationships with my neighbors, to live on mission, and to take time to pause, rest, and pray. I want the same for everyone in the church.
There’s no place for laziness in the pastorate, but there’s no place for capitulating to unhealthy cultural patterns either. Pastors, lead the way in learning what it means to live, as they say, with gospel intentionality in the everyday rhythms of life.