SBC Voices Forum: Night Owl? Morning Person? Does It Matter in Ministry?

I have been a night owl since I can remember. My wife (a morning person to beat all morning people) has asked me a million times – why don’t you just go to bed? I don’t have a credible answer to that, except that I don’t. Every night around 11 I tell myself I need to get to bed, but something deep inside me fights that decision.

Of course, as a confirmed night owl, I have a serious allergy to mornings. They are of the devil! I think if I had the freedom to set my own schedule I’d be on a 2 or 3 AM bedtime with a wake-up call at 9 or 10 AM – followed by a strong pot of coffee to get me through till noon and the demise of the AM hours.

My first pastorate was in a rural area of Virginia. These were folks that considered “sleeping in” to be anything past 6:30 AM. They considered my night owl schedule to be a de facto sign of sluggardliness. It really mattered to them.

I’ve fought my night-owl-ness since college, a losing battle, always feeling a little guilty because I have wondered if being a morning person is somehow inherently better than being a night owl.

But does it matter? I’m going to be awake between 16 to 18 hours a day (sometimes more). Does it matter if my sleep hours are from 10 PM to 6 AM or from 1 to 9? Is there any biblical, spiritual or moral imperative that makes the morning person’s schedule superior to the night owl’s?

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” said Ben Franklin. But was he right? Morning people are generally confident that their lifestyle is preferable to mine. Have you ever heard a night owl brag about how late he stayed up? Have you ever known a morning person who DIDN’T brag at least a little about how early they get up?

Do we need to be morning people to be good ministers of the gospel? Can a preacher sleep in and still serve Jesus efficiently and effectively? Does it make a difference?

I was up late last night. I’m going to go take a nap while you guys talk about this.




  1. Dave Miller says

    I started thinking about this because a friend was harassing me about how late I responded to an email last night. She was joking, but I started wondering about it all.

  2. William Thornton says

    I wouldn’t recommend sleeping in on Sundays, at least not past 10 or so.

    I hear there was no electricity in bible times and therefore no particular bible prescription for a daily schedule. I also hear that they didn’t have timepieces, nor did they divide a day into hours, minutes, and seconds, nor vacations, nor retirement…

    Had a pastoral ministries adjunct prof who got up at 4:30 am every day for prayer, bible study etc…no thanks.

    • says

      There was a time I got up at 4 o’clock every morning. Then the doctor gave me a C Pap and that took care of that. Now life is at 7:30.

      Sorry, I can only stay serious so long

  3. Dave Miller says

    I read something that said people used to often sleep twice. They’d sleep after sundown for three or four hours then awaken for a few hours then sleep again.

    Not sure what that means or what difference it makes or even if it is accurate.

    • says

      I’ve seen that as well–I don’t think it makes much of a difference except to put in context some of the journals of our forefathers when they record praying or reading the Scripture from 1 AM to 3 AM–it’s possible they were neither up that early nor stayed up that late.

      Instead, they lived by a clock that followed their local culture and the rhythms/needs of their own bodies and health. They took that clock and used it to glorify God through their actions, being slaves to Christ and not to the clock. That should be what we hope to see in ourselves and each other.

      As for me–I am up early for the same reason you were in that first rural setting. It’s what works where I am. Given a complete freedom, I’d be up until sleepy and sleep until awake every day.

  4. says

    While I was in Seminary during finals I would sleep two hours, study two hours, study two…..
    That worked very well for me. I have ever tried that as a pastor

  5. Christiane says

    for those who want to ‘reset’ their sleep time, my cousin in New England camps out a LOT and he says that one week spent camping in the out of doors with NO communication via electronics will reset your bio-rythms to wake up at sun-rise and want to go to sleep when it is night time . . .

    this sounds like pretty good advice . . . a camping retreat to a natural setting (camping at lake-side or the woods is always lovely)

    but how can a pastor let go of the world (communication via electronics) for one full week . . . ?

    quiet retreats were recommended in sacred Scripture, even Our Lord went into the desert for forty days and forty nights . . .

    if my cousin is right, then there is a natural tie to our ‘rhythms’ that we have messed up with all our ‘inventions’ . . . in short, ‘the world is too much with us’ (Wordsworth) and we are sadly ‘out of tune’

    I think there may be something to this.

  6. Jeff Johnson says

    I’m with you, Dave. It doesn’t matter how early I go to bed the night before, waking up early means I start the day tired and sluggish. On the other hand, I feel energized if I can sleep later — even if I was up into the wee hours. The schedule of my wife and kids dictates things for me, but if left to my own rhythms I would definitely prefer a night-owl lifestyle. If a night owl is working effectively and taking care of his responsibilities, I don’t see any reason why he should feel convicted to change. But as you said, there will be people who interpret his habits as being lazy.

  7. says

    I’m a morning person by nature and have been my whole life. My favorite time of the week is Saturday morning from about 6:30-8 on my back porch with coffee, my pipe, and scripture and books.

    Nothing biblical about it, I just can’t sleep late.

    My mom always said she liked to get up early before everyone else gets up and screws up the world. :) I’m not quite that cynical.

  8. Nick Horton says

    No problem so long as you can fulfill your responsibilities, which you can.

    You sure you don’t have a night schedule because you like the time alone? Are you an introvert?

  9. Tom Bryant says

    I am a morning person whose idea of sleeping late is 6:15. Fortunately, I am married to another morning person. I wish i could sleep late. My dad got up for work at 6 AM for 40 years, the day he retired he was able to sleep late and never got up early again.

  10. Tom Bryant says

    Hit send too early. It has helped in visiting people at the hospital and studying before the phone starts ringing.

  11. John Wylie says

    Although I get up most mornings between 6 and 7, I prefer to stay up late and get up between 8 and 9. I love the quietness of the house after everyone has gone to bed. Some my best times with the Lord have been in the middle of the night.

    Insofar as biblical precedent is concerned, both rising up early and staying up late are demonstrated in the Bible.

  12. Christiane says

    there is a component of the effect of diet on a person’s sleeping and waking patterns . . . what you eat (type and quality), in what quantities, and when you eat it all have a bearing on your quality of sleep, and how refreshed and energized you feel when you awaken

    keep some records, try some experimenting with your food intake pattern, and record the results of how well you are able to rest and be refreshed when you awaken . . . take about three weeks minimum to keep a log for each food intake pattern you try, be honest in your log, and you WILL get some interesting information (this takes time, as if pastors didn’t have enough to do, but if you want to learn more about how YOU function and how you can benefit from making a few changes for the better, it’s not a waste of your time :)

    P.S. medical information also is important . . . your thyroid function, supplements to diet, difficulties with depression, and prescription medications taken daily . . . your doctor can advise you about the specific things that most impact your sleep patterns)

  13. says

    I’ve worked the “graveyard shift” for much of my adult life. Try waking up at 4 pm most days.

    I’d say, don’t worry about what people think, Dave. If they think you’re lazy for sleeping until 10, then call them for a chat at midnight, and chide them for going to bed so early!

    …uh…On second thought, maybe not…

  14. Mike Bergman says

    I’m wired to stay up until I crash, then fall asleep for 8 hours, then wake up and I’m good to go… Unfortunately the church world doesn’t operate that way and so several days, including Sundays like now, I wake up, stare at the wall and grumble to myself, “I really, really hate mornings.” Then I’ll finally force myself out of bed, stumble around a bit, and eventually grab coffee.

    It’s definitely not the right attitude, but I’ve yet to discover the secret of facing pre-9-am-ish with joy…

      • Mike Bergman says

        I think someone needs to propose a resolution in Baltimore…

        Something, something, “Be it resolved that Southern Baptists will not begin any church service prior to 2pm.”

        • Stephen says

          I have heard many younger churches in resort type areas (like the mountains) intentionally do worship on Sunday evenings because they know most of their potential congregants are out in nature all weekend and would not want to wake up early just to make it in for the service. Also a good excuse for a college church near a thriving saturday night club/bar scene!

  15. Dale Pugh says

    I guess I’ve been molded by years of having to work for a living as a bi-vocational pastor, but I go to bed before 10 and I’m up before 5 most days. This morning I slept until 6:30. That’s a rarity for me. I love getting up and watching the sun rise.
    Getting up early gives me time to get ready for what I face each day. I can think through the work issues I face. I can pray for people. I can formulate plans for how I’m going to approach a problem or deal with a difficult person. I find it helpful.
    Some people have a different schedule. Rural folks are more agrarian. Their schedules are ruled by the sun and the seasons. City folks, not so much. Those are generalities, of course, but the cities don’t sleep the way the countryside does. I would think that people’s sleep patterns somewhat follow their environment and lifestyle.

    • Dale Pugh says

      And my “work for a living” comment should not be taken as a poke at you full-time guys.

    • Mike Bergman says

      With my previous church I was tri-vo, part of that was 3 days a week as an administrator at the school part of a private school / home school cooperative hybrid…

      it was the earliest I had to consistently wake in years… It made me a coffee drinker (before that I could count on one hand the number of times I had coffee, now…), but it did nothing to change my morning / not morning personality… :)

    • Dave Miller says

      One of my problems on Sunday is that I have to get up early (between 6 and 6:30) but I generally am not able to go to bed earlier than usual. So, I’m operating Sunday on 4 or 5 hours of sleep.

  16. Jeremy Parks says

    As long as one can minister and be ministered to while holding to a night-owl schedule, there should not be a problem.

    Oddly, I’ve never run across a night owl who believed the early to bed/early to rise groups were somehow lazy. I have, though, encountered morning people who sniffed at night-timers as being sluggards and sloths.

    • says

      I knew some guys in college who went a bit overboard on the intensity level. They’d say things like, “Jesus rose early to be alone with God, so if you’re not getting up early to have your quiet time then you’re doing it wrong.”

      To which I would reply, “If I got up early to have my quiet time, I’d get nothing out of it, then I’d be doing it wrong.”

      It kinda reminded me of the handful of guys I knew at seminary who said, “If you’re intentionally taking easy classes and not the most challenging ones to stretch yourself, then you’re not being a good steward of your education and dishonoring God.” Sure. Thou shalt not take an easy class on purposeth. What is that, the sixteenth commandment, right behind Thou shalt rise early for thy quietest time?

  17. Tarheel says

    You can make a smiley like this: By placing these punctuation marks without spaces.

    : – )

    You can make a wink face like so, again, no spaces.

    ; – )

  18. Sam Downey says

    Having just awakened a short time ago, I am late reading this post, but I did want to comment on 46 years of -mostly- bi-vocational pastoring by one who would be considered a night-owl. I was raised mostly in a city environment, so I didn’t grow up having to get up early to feed the animals before breakfast. Neither was I allowed to stay up late – I can remember lying in bed while hearing my friends playing ball out under the street lights. My natural tendency to sleep in came to the surface when I went off to college and didn’t have my mother getting me up. Eight o’clock classes were murder for me. I may never have opened my eyes to a Saturday morning, but 9:45 Sunday School was still on my agenda. When I knew that God wanted my to pastor, I somehow thought that I had signed up to be on call 24/7/365, so it didn’t matter if I was a morning person or a night-owl. Of course, my family and my wife’s family always thought I was a sluggard if I slept past 6 AM. Maybe I am. I am now retired so I can get up and go to bed anytime I want. I still pastor -part time- a small rural Church, so I am still on call. I am volunteer chaplain at a truck stop 40 miles from home, where I have a Bible Study 3 nights a week, from 7 PM until ??? Mostly, I don’t get to sleep until 1 or 2 AM, so I sleep in. I conduct a worship service on Sunday at the truck stop at 7:45, and drive 40 miles to Church for 10:30 service. I take a nap on Sunday afternoon. The point I wanted to make is that my natural tendency is to stay up late, enjoying the quiet of the night, and sleep later in the morning. That tendency has always taken second/third/fourth place to what God has called me to do, what my wife wants me to do, and what the necessities of life demand. Retirement has not changed the order of my life – if anything, I am busier than I ever have been, and enjoying every waking minute of it. Thanks for reading.

  19. Tarheel says

    “That tendency has always taken second/third/fourth place to … what my wife wants me to do …”

    there is as much or more wisdom in that statement alone as there is in this whole article and comment thread!


  20. says

    I’m a night owl. My brain just seems to function better at the end of the day than at the beginning so I’m inclined to give it more time when it’s working well. There’s no Biblical mandate about sleep schedule and Ben Franklin was not a Christian prophet. If your best scholarship takes place after the sun goes down and everyone else is asleep, then give God your best then. Early mornings are necessary for people like farmers who need to schedule according to the light of the sun, the military who need to guard against attack early in the morning, or nurses who need to take care of people around the clock. But early mornings are not necessary for everyone.