Working hard… like regular folk do

Pastors work a lot. According to some studies, pastors work anywhere from 50 to 60 hours a week on average. I’ve seen these statistics thrown about in a couple of ways: 1) to combat the myth that pastors only work on Sundays, and 2) to either throw a pity party for the poor, overworked pastor or to elevate him as being more hard-working than the average Joe.

The nature of pastoral ministry can easily lead to burnout. There are constant stresses, no set hours (meaning anyone can call anytime), and a constant concern for others. But before we go throwing ourselves pity parties or praising ourselves for our endurance, we ought to consider whether or not hard work, stress, and constant busyness are our burdens alone.

I’ve known many people who work full-time, secular jobs and who serve wholeheartedly in the church. After logging 40 to 50 hours at the office, these people study the Bible and pray on their own time. They prepare for Sunday school classes and read Christian books on their own time. They show up to church early for music rehearsals and special events, staying through the service, sometimes leaving late, all on their own time. They meet with new believers over coffee and invite church visitors into their home for dinner, all on their own time. They visit sick friends from church in the hospital on their own time. They prepare meals and volunteer to babysit when a young family has another child, all on their own time. They attend business meetings, committee meetings, and deacons meetings all on their own time.

Much of what a pastor does in the course of his duties church members do on their own time. This can easily amount, when paired with the hours they’re putting it at work, to more than 50 or 60 hours a week. Before we as pastors feel sorry for ourselves or feel good about ourselves or how much we do, we should not forget that many church members are working just as hard, perhaps more, and they do it on their own time.

Having spent a considerable amount of time as a lay minister with my own full-time job, I have a greater appreciation for lay people in my church and less tolerance for pastors who complain about being busy or who exalt themselves for it.

Have you thanked your volunteers lately?


  1. Greg Harvey says

    Might I recommend that the leadership of the church plan an annual Thank You Banquet for volunteers even if it’s just a “dinner on the grounds”? Make sure that it happens at a time when both the outgoing and incoming volunteers can be appreciated and can rub shoulders with each other and the various organization leadership members. And especially I think it’s helpful if you use a nomination committee or committee of committee structure to have either or both groups join the leadership in planning that event and to take the time to personally thank both outgoing and incoming leaders/volunteers.

    One of my absolute favorite parts of the Sunday School Director role was praying for and selecting and inviting our volunteers. It was humbling to be able to do that and I always got great advice from the other members of the committees and from existing department directors. Putting a firm organizational “recognition” in place for each volunteer helps him or her feel that the role is important to the church. And expression of personal gratitude for taking on the challenge helps calm nervousness that someone accidentally asked them to serve.

    It’s such a great privilege to lead volunteers in part because you know they don’t “have” to perform the role or task and so it’s a direct affirmation of your personal ministry when they accept the opportunity and especially when they then make the role their own.

    • Greg Harvey says

      Oh…one other big plus to an appreciation dinner: it’s a great place to confirm the available training schedule for the next year…and to encourage folks to participate and get prepared.

  2. Greg Buchanan says

    Well said!

    I know a minister who taught me to be a staunch defender of volunteers for these exact reasons. He said paid staff, even if part-time, are PAID to do what they are doing, that is their immediate reward; volunteers get nothing comparable.

    The volunteers are there to help and serve in any way they can, from musicians & singers to Sunday School teachers and parking lot greeters (almost rhymes). They deserve thanks and praise and respect as co-laborers in the ministry. We are all gifted and called to different tasks, the first of which is to be servant to all. So, we should all be lifting up anyone who serves and praying for others to join us in the joy of serving the King.

  3. says

    A committed layman leading a sizable (30-40 member) Sunday School group (or whatever your church calls it) class will spend in a given week:

    2-4 hours of lesson prep (if they are good)
    2 hours class time (including early arrival and late leaving)
    2-3 hours of ministry (hospital, funeral home, baby births, lunches)
    1/2 to 1 hour responding to or talking with various staff
    1 hour sending texts, answering questions, returning calls from class
    1/2 to 1 hour event planning/attendance (comes in chunks, but I’m averaging)
    1 hour church meetings
    2-3 hours attendance at other functions which feel obligatory for leadership
    2-3 hours service in other church leadership – staff usually comes back to the same (willing) well

    Personal devotion time is on top of that. These activities usually involve separate trips to the church, so drive time becomes a factor. Additionally, most churches will expect them to tithe (if they don’t already). They will be expected to have model families and exemplary private lives as well. They will live their lives in a fishbowl and face criticism just like any other leader.

    So for working professionals who already spend 50-60 hours a week on the job (not to mention frequent travel), volunteer leadership can easily mean a commitment of up to 20 hours a week and 10% of your income, while working with staff who will hold them at arm’s length according to yesterday’s post . This is all before they focus on their own families. I am curious pastors: why do you think they do it year after year? Are you surprised when some burn out?

  4. cb scott says

    It is my opinion that every seminary student should have to work in a secular environment for the first two years of school. Frankly, I don’t think a person should be allowed into a doctoral program unless he has worked secular work at least three or four years in his life. (real work -like construction or mill work – hard, dirty work using tools and raw muscle) We have too many sissy guys with doctorates in the SBC either preaching or teaching. Pastoral ministry is not for sissies. Not working for a living in a blue collar job causes sissy-ism among far too may pastors. That is one reason so many of our churches are run by women and are feminist in nature — sissy preachers that real men don’t like or relate to in any way.

    Good post, Andrew Wencl.

    • says

      I would hope my collection of firearms and my CCW would counteract my “sissy-ism” by your standard having not worked a “real” job before. My “secular” jobs were all customer service orientated. You know, listening to the customer, getting to know what they need/want, explaining to the customer our products/services, ect. Nope, can’t see how jobs like that can be beneficial to our congregations and our churches.

      • cb scott says


        No problem. We can solve that for you pretty quickly. Call Dave Miller. He can get you a job with the Iowa Buzzard-Eyes during this off season, hoeing ‘taters and corn at the FOOTBALL stadium.

        During the off-season they use the field to grow the FOOTBALL team’s food for the fall and winter. They also raise hogs in the Field House. You can get plenty of that “raw muscle” work shoveling out the shower stalls. They use them as fattening pins for the pigs. So there is lots of shoveling that has to take place during the off-season at the University of Iowa.

        Call Dave Miller. He will help you out. He worked there all the way through college and seminary. It made a fine pastor of him, even if his FOOTBALL NATION is a forever loser.

        • says

          I would never work for the Buzzards!

          But on that note, consider this. Draw a line between the three “best” FOOTBALL NATIONS in the country (Mizzou, Alabama, Minnesota) and smack dab in the middle of that triangle you created, is the best city in the country (St Louis). Coincidence? I think not!

          • Dale Pugh says

            Boy, you draw your lines in some strange places. Mizzou? Minnesota? Alabama? Hmmm…….
            But let’s not turn this into a football post. LOL

    • Dale Pugh says

      Dave Miller says that it always gets “interesting” when SEC CB and I tag team, but here we go again.

      The best ministry advice I ever received was from my father-in-law: “Be yourself and love the people.” He was the hardest working pastor I’ve ever known. He ministered for 33 years on an Indian reservation as a Home Mission Board missionary. He never made much money. He gave it all he had and poured his daily life into people. He fixed cars, lawn mowers, washing machines and dryers, all while telling people about Jesus. He never saw a lot of results, but 20 years after his retirement he’s still the one people from that reservation call in a crisis. The 7 pastors who’ve come and gone since his retirement have been lazy and useless excuses for being both a pastor AND a man.

      Knowing how to work gives people something to relate to. People respect a man who gets his hands dirty. The best compliment I’ve ever had from a church member is when a 90 year old gentleman told a guest, “My pastor isn’t lazy.” It doesn’t just have to be “physical” labor. But recognize that there is no such thing as a job that’s beneath you, your talents, or your giftedness. I’ve learned some major life lessons from hard working, hard living, heavily calloused men and women.

      I’ve been called to bi-vocational ministry. I’m well-educated. I’ve been a carpenter and a machinist for the past 15 years. I’ve moved out of those positions into an office job that fits my education and experience a little better, but I’d move back onto the shop floor if I had to, and never bat an eyelash. I work in a mission field, and I love it.

      • cb scott says

        “He fixed cars, lawn mowers, washing machines and dryers, all while telling people about Jesus. He never saw a lot of results”

        Duckman Dale, The “results” may follow him into heaven after he gets there for generations. . . . and generations.

        Great story of a man who was/is faithful to the Good Story of Jesus.

    • says

      Time loading trucks for UPS, and the several years that followed, was an invaluable lesson for me, that’s for sure.

      I think you’ve hit a good point, CB, and it goes to the overall question of how we train and prepare ministers. What schedule do we expect seminary students to keep? Can they work a labor job and attend school?

      Usually, the answer is “no,” because someone who is working 10+ hours to feed his family has not got the time to take a full-time load of classes. Not being full-time means not being on campus as much as the professors think is enough to show dedication, so he may as well forget building relationships for growth outside of the classroom. Or asking for any help, since he’s perceived as not really committed to the school work anyway. Our system elevates those who work light while they are in school–makes those without hard jobs into professor’s assistants and campus spokespeople, the people who get to go with professors to big conferences and speaking gigs or get to fill in or preach where the professor sends. Meanwhile, the man working and sweating to put food on the table? He can go to school for 3 years and still have no one know his name, because he doesn’t hang around–he has work to do.

      If we’re going to see the work aspect change, we’d have to see the whole of our SBC culture and “find your buddy/protege/friend a good church” system change to value men who worked 50-60 hrs/wk to survive seminary as much as men who nerded 50-60 hrs.

      • cb scott says

        “Meanwhile, the man working and sweating to put food on the table? He can go to school for 3 years and still have no one know his name, because he doesn’t hang around–he has work to do.”

        Jesus knows your name. Yes he does. Jesus knows your name! Amen!

      • Dale Pugh says

        “What schedule do we expect seminary students to keep? Can they work a labor job and attend school?”

        Interesting question, Doug. In the mid-80’s when I was at GGBTS, our seminary president, a prominent preacher of SBC renown, told a group of us students that we should be working a 40 hr. a week job, going to school, AND pastoring a small church because it would make us appreciate full-time ministry more. A professor sitting in the meeting commented that he hoped that the seminary would never adopt such an attitude towards its students. Student burn out would be the result of such a schedule.

        On the other hand, I’ve sat in seminary classrooms with people who have no concept of what goes on in the working world because they’ve never done it. They need to do it. They need to know what the people who follow their pastoral leadership deal with on a daily basis. They need a dose of reality.

        I never would have made it without my wife’s support and encouragement. My diplomas are as much hers as they are mine. We both worked while I was in seminary, but she carried the bulk of that load. I’m grateful for her investment in our life together.

        As to having a “known name,” that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As far as the good ol’ boy system–“I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves” (Eccl. 10:7).

        • cb scott says

          Duckman Dale,

          I don’t know if this thread is going like Andrew envisioned but . . . .

          “They need to know what the people who follow their pastoral leadership deal with on a daily basis. They need a dose of reality.”

          Absolutely! They need to know what it is like for the guys who are their church leaders who work for hard-nosed bosses who yell and cuss all the time. Then they might have more understanding of a deacon who might ask them, “How many days did you say you played golf this week, Preacher?”

          “I never would have made it without my wife’s support and encouragement. My diplomas are as much hers as they are mine.”

          I can certainly say, “Amen to that.” I gave all of my degree documents to my wife. She earned them along with her own.