Well, in a sermon-procrastinating move, I want to talk about time and how pastors use it. Or more accurately, how our congregations perceive we use time—or abuse it.
We’ve all heard how many members think that pastors work one day a week, Sunday, when all they have to do is read a sermon and drink some coffee in the social hour, and maybe do a few hospital calls during the week. I don’t think very many people really think that, at least, not any more.
However, I have met people who think that 20 hours a week is plenty of time for a pastor to do all that s/he has to do for a congregation. Again, shuffle a few papers, go to a meeting or two, write a sermon (that only takes a couple of hours, right?), talk to the musician, and there you go. Done, right? Even people who should know better often fall into this mistake, through sheer lack of thinking about what a pastor does.
I try to keep close track of what I do everyday (it’s why I need the two-page-per-day Day Timer, in paper, please)—so that I can point to Thursday and show an hour’s worth of email responses, three hours on the sermon, a two-hour community meeting, and two hours of preparation for Christian Ed. Of course, that doesn’t show the phone calls during the sermon preparation or the conversation with a church member during the research for Christian Ed that lasted ten minutes but reassured them.
Pastors’ lives are not easily parceled out like other professionals. A lawyer or accountant or psychiatrist can show a full appointment book, or time spent on a certain client’s case (one hour on Smith, two and a quarter on Jones). A doctor has appointments, and so many patients seen each office day. A teacher has classroom time and preparation time—although these do run together sometimes. But how to divide out a pastor’s time? How to demonstrate that the time recorded as spent on a certain activity really was spent that way? Meetings and appointments are easy—the minutes or memories of others present will show that the pastor really was there and the appointment did last for an hour. But sermon prep? Or for classes?
Part of the difficulty may be because “sermon prep” isn’t easy to separate from everything else we do. The people we see, the magazines we read, the shows we watch on TV, a movie, a book, a conversation—they spark and inspire our sermons, they give us a lead into what we want to say. And often when we sit down to actually write, the words don’t come, and we struggle for hours to get a couple of paragraphs on paper. And so when people say, “That sermon took you eight hours to write?” we cringe, because we know we should have spent ten or twelve or however many is our personal standard. But what they mean is, “How could you have spent so much time and come up with so little?”
I have often wished that every Board member or prospective Board member, or any member, for that matter, could “shadow” me for a day, just to see what it is I really do, and how I do it.
Which brings me to a related point. Some mentors have suggested posting office hours, so that members know when they can reach you. Others say that’s a bad idea, because then if you get called out or have an appointment outside the building, and you’re not there “when you said you would be,” there’s unhappiness. I have heard various percentages held up as the ideal amount of time to have office hours (15%, 40%, whatever). Of course, if you are lucky enough to have a good church secretary, some of this is eased. A good secretary (and I was blessed with one when I was an intern) will protect you and your office hours. But many of us aren’t that lucky.
I don’t want to go as far as one pastor I know, who lists office hours, and what she will be doing during them (i.e., Monday—off, Tuesday—Office 11-2, 3-5, Wednesday—Sermon preparation, etc.). On the other hand, to leave people with no idea of when they can reach you, or when you might be available to them, doesn’t seem right either. So I personally settle for something in between—I state my office hours, but caution people to call first as I “may have been called out of the office.”
I won’t even go into the whole issue of boundaries, and how many hours we work vs how many hours we are paid to work…