Even though I have been out of the pastorate now three years, I’m still asked quite frequently what a pastor’s normal work week should look like. The answer is always, “It depends.” It depends on one’s missional context, the size of one’s church and support team, whether you’re a solo pastor or part of a team, and so on. But since the curiosity about my own weekly schedule at my last pastorate has not seemed to wane, I thought I might share it here for anybody interested.
Keep in mind a few things: First, my context was unique. This was a small church in a small town in a rural area (Vermont). I was not only the only staff pastor (we had a team of lay elders also), I was the only staff person period. So not only was I not able to delegate many pastoral tasks to folks, I wasn’t able to delegate many administrative-type tasks either. I answered the church phone and returned most church emails, made my own copies, and so on. All that said, here’s what my typical work week looked like . . .
This was my longest day of the week. I’d usually get into the office about 7:30 a.m. after dropping the girls off for school, something I’ve enjoyed doing all their childhood. This day was largely reserved for housekeeping-type stuff and administrative details. I’d catch up on emails, return phone calls, and look over the week’s schedule and do planning, meeting invites, and any kind of assorted paperwork.
In our context, there were also a few pop-in visitors on this day, largely as a result, if I had to guess, of Sunday’s energy. Sometimes questions would arise, concerns would be shared, or somebody just wanted to stop in and say thanks for the message or mention how it helped them or somebody they loved.
I would also on Monday print out my preaching text for the next Sunday, and while I wouldn’t begin the sermon prep process in earnest quite yet, I’d keep the sheet on my desk to have the passage under my nose all the time and be chewing on it, contemplating it, often scribbling notes or thoughts or questions on the page over the next two days.
I also always had a meeting on Monday evening. This is largely why it was my longest day. I’d typically go home for lunch, and when I returned to the office, I’d then stay through the afternoon until meeting times, which typically began about 6:30 p.m. and sometimes lasted till 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. First and third Mondays I led a men’s discipleship group at the church. Second Mondays were deacon’s meeting. Last Monday was elders’ meeting. On the rare month of five Mondays, I’d get the four Monday evening off.
This was my heaviest meeting day. I did most of my home, hospital, and nursing home visits this day, and also tried to schedule any counseling-type meetings for this day, as well. I’d usually begin the day with coffee with the previous pastor of my church and his wife. (After his retirement, they remained in the town and church, and I was glad to “re-install” him as a lay elder a few years into my tenure.) Then most of my relational heavy lifting for the week would commence this day.
This was reserved regularly for writing and research. I would get out of the office and go to a coffee shop the next town over and spend the day there. The bulk of my sermon prep was done on this day, and I really tried to at least have an outline for the message by the end of the day. If I had any blogging or any other writing projects I typically used Wednesdays to work on those, as well.
Thursday was largely for catch-up and loose ends, but it was also reserved for “fun” meeting day. I would spend many Thursdays meeting with folks simply for encouragement, having lunch with an elder or maybe a young man I was discipling, or somebody in the community or a leader from another church. Sometimes I’d visit church folks at their job site (most of my men did not work office jobs but lots of outdoorsy-type stuff) or accompany them on errands. And if my sermon outline hadn’t been finished at the end of the day Wednesday, I would put the finishing touches on it by the end of the day today.
During the school year, this was a day off reserved just for my wife. We’d usually get out of the house and explore the area, going on hikes or sometimes just hanging out at coffee shops in cool little Vermont villages, having lunch, seeing sights (Becky is a photographer), doing some shopping, and just relaxing together.
This day off was reserved for my family.
Not my longest day, but the most taxing, as most pastors will agree. My Sundays usually began with waking around 4 a.m., pulling out my sermon outline, and spending two to three hours manuscripting. I know that process isn’t for everyone, and I’d certainly never recommend it as a formula, but it worked well for me. I usually didn’t even look at my outline Fridays and Saturdays. Sunday morning I could look at the outline with fresh eyes, and I’d treat the manuscript process as if I was preaching it for the first time, asking myself, How would I say it if I could say it exactly as I wanted? And then I’d take that manuscript into the pulpit with me. Sunday school was at 9 a.m., and if I wasn’t teaching a class, I’d usually have a counseling appointment scheduled for that hour. Service was at 10 a.m. officially, 10:15 unofficially. 😉 Usually I was the first one in the building and often the last one out. Then I’d go home, eat a late lunch, watch lots of football when it’s in season, and become a couch zombie the rest of the day.
Most pastors and their families will tell you that pastoral ministry doesn’t usually come with a “normal schedule.” This outline of a typical week does not include the divine interruptions, ministry emergencies, unusual occurrences, and other happenstances that come with the territory. I didn’t include the evening counseling meetings or phone calls or weekend hospital visits that really make it impossible to think of ministry as a 9-to-5, clock-in-and-clock-out vocation. But this is usually how I thought of my week, and I tried to stick to it for a sense of consistency (and sanity). A regular pattern for the ministry week—and minding one’s RBM—helps keep ministry burnout at bay.