March 2018 – How Pastors Spend Their Time

March 5, 2018 | | GNJ News, Bishop's Relay Column

How does a pastor spend her/his time?

Today’s pastors are pulled in many directions and are required to know more and do more than their predecessors of 50 years ago. The high speed of change, new technologies, diversity of thought, experience and culture, the many challenges people face in their families, work place and community require pastors to know and do more.

A big challenge before the church is understanding and embracing the changing role of the pastor. Congregations at one time called the space where the pastor did their work, the pastor’s study. A large part of a pastor’s work was studying the Bible and theology for delivering sermons and leading Bible studies. Today, the space is called the pastor’s office. It is a place where the pastor studies, prepares for carrying out ministry, administrates, counsels, writes, researches on the internet, answers email and supervises when there are staff.

This calls for a new style of pastoral leadership which is primarily leading. It is a shift from a majority of time doing the ministry to leading others in the doing of ministry. This shift is actually a move back to the biblical model of pastoral leadership. Jesus first and then Paul and the apostles equipped others for leading congregations. It is also the model of early Wesleyan circuit riders who had as many as 18 churches on their charge as they road from place to place equipping disciples to lead and carry out ministry.

This requires the pastor to understand, less is more, a team approach, and the primary role of equipping laity to carry out ministry. Clergy who understand this spend equal amounts of time reading religious, leadership and organizational books and articles. They go to workshops on preaching/worship, how to quip and motivate others, and how to be a better leader.

Organizing time, pastors are well served to think in terms of three areas of ministry in which each must be given appropriate amounts of time and attention for a congregation to be fruitful.

  1. Drivers of the congregation’s health and vitality – 40% of a pastor’s time or 20 hours a week. Pastors develop congregational leadership and work with the leaders to plan, organize and implement ministries that lead to more engagement by the congregational members and new people. Leading these activities is core to the health, vitality and sustainability of the congregation. The planning, organization and implementation is attentive to including new people.
  2. Leading and engaging in the ministries of the congregation – 40% of a pastor’s time or 20 hours a week. These are the activities of a congregation. Pastors both lead and support lay leadership to carry out these activities.
  3. Congregational administration – 20% of a pastor’s time or 10 hours a week. These are the ministries that undergird the operations of the congregation.

Part-time pastors need to adjust their hours of service accordingly. Also, this is based on a 50-hour work week for a pastor. Many pastors are working 60 hours or more a week.

See the chart below for descriptors of each of these ministries.

Successful clergy are continually figuring out how to spend more time in the 5 Vitality Drivers area, which is not doing these ministries but identifying, equipping leaders and working with them to plan, organize and carry out these ministries.

When GNJ superintendents shifted their time to be less administrative focused and spend more time with clergy and congregations, they did a time study to find out where they were spending most of their time and then asked, what can I stop doing or do less of to spend more time coaching, consulting and equipping clergy and congregations? Today, the DSes are approaching 60% of their time developing clergy and congregations and only 20% of their time in administration. Superintendents started out doing the time studies twice a year. Today it is done at least once a year and each superintendent reports to the cabinet the results of their time study and how they continue to think and act differently in their role of being missional strategists and equipping pastors and congregations.

What would it look like for GNJ’s pastors to do a two-week time study twice a year and report to the SPRC and their superintendent how she/he uses their time and what changes they will be making to spend more time leading and equipping laity to organize and lead the 5 vital ministries of the church? I particularly like a time study when full-time clergy are consistently working more than 55 or 60 hours a week. It provides the opportunity to assess how to organize differently, delegate, what to let go of, and how to achieve a healthy work week and patterns.

When I was a pastor, one of the ways my administrative time was reduced at the church occurred when we streamlined the structure to have only three committees, SPRC/Leadership Development, Trustees/Property, and Finance/Stewardship along with four teams for worship, small groups, mission engagement and making new disciples. The committees and teams met on the same night five times a year. We began with 30 minutes of worship and a strategic overview of where the church was. Then, everyone divided into their groups for a 90-minute meeting. I checked in with each chair/team leader ahead of time about the agenda, floated to where I was needed during the meetings and checked in with the chair/team leaders following the meetings about progress and next steps. Smaller congregations can further combine some of these groups.

To accomplish this, there must be a clear mission, goals and role for each group, and a high degree of trust. This is a leadership and equipping model – clear mission, goals, clarity of role and priorities.

These changes, particularly the role of the pastor is hard to embrace at first, but the more the laity engage, the more fulfilled and active they become. For clergy, many feel they went to seminary so they would continue to study so they could preach and teach. Today, the church needs you to continue to study but also lead more like the first century church and the circuit rider model so we make new generations of disciples and grow vital congregations to transform the world.


Keep the faith!


John Schol



The United Methodist Church

Greater New Jersey