I came home after another long day and a friend was there. They were surprised that I was working so late since it wasn’t a “church” night. I simply shared that I work sixty hours a week most weeks and they were taken back. “I thought you worked only on Sundays and Wednesdays?” Sadly, it was a sincere question.
Most people are unaware of how demanding the pastorate can be on a family and some actually attempt to find more things for the pastor to do thinking, “The pastor has time to take care of that, he only works on Sundays and Wednesdays.” The joke is getting old, but it strikes at the heart of a question that is often out there, “What does a pastor do?” So here is a list of a few things that pastors do in general. This is not a prescription, in fact as I complied the list I found it to be an exposition in how a ministry can quickly turn into a job if the pastor isn’t careful to balance it with much needed time off and family. To be fair this is also my experience working in small to middle size churches. I am sure there may be a few lazy pastors out there, but I don’t know many of them. Most I know work incredibly hard and still feel as if they haven’t gotten enough done.
Study- I guess a lot of folks just think we show up and speak, but in order to speak we have to be prepared with a message. Unlike preparing a regular speech though, we don’t start with a topic, we start with a passage or scriptural theme. It is important that we illustrate the truth of scripture. This process usually involves language study (The bible wasn’t written in English), prayer, reading the passage in the context of the book it is written in and discovering what others are saying in commentaries that help understand the passage.
The study isn’t done at that point though because a message has to be formulated. The pastor then must analyze his congregation and prepare the message in such a way that it bridges the gap between the original audience of the scripture and the contemporary audience. This is where he needs to look for key illustrations, stories, videos, all of which will illustrate the truth of the passage.
The study isn’t done at this point either, because a sermon is supposed to be persuasive not just informative. We are attempting to make you a better disciple. Disciples don’t just need information, they need compelling instruction. Here is where it gets a bit tricky though because it’s not like teaching a school grade where everyone is pretty much on the same level. Any given Sunday you are speaking to non-believers, infants in the faith, mature believers, and everything in between. So as apart of the message you need to illustrate what a clear response should be from each of those positions.
The study is not over at that point because now all you have is a bunch of notes, maybe a rough outline. To be truly proficient at your job it is best to write out a full manuscript. Writing everything out in a manuscript (or at least a full outline) helps eliminates rabbit trails, clarifies transitions, and generally sharpens the message. Not all pastors write out full manuscripts for a multitude of reasons. I am only able to get one done when I get ahead on the preaching calendar. Most who prepare full manuscripts don’t preach from them. A manuscript is more about preparation than presentation.
Preach/teach – All that study has to lead somewhere and it’s usually the pulpit. Most pastors preach a few times on Sunday and sometimes once in the middle of the week. Some pastors preach up to three times a week. To put that in perspective… Have you ever had to give a make or break presentation at work? If you have, you know a similar feeling of what it is like to preach. Can you imagine making a new make or break presentation every week? Can you imagine making three a week? Now you are getting a picture of what it is like to preach. All that prep, all that urgency, all that emotion, wrapped up into a presentation every week.
Pray – When I say pray, I’m not referring to those public moments of prayer in a service or gathering where it is customary to call on a pastor. I am referring to the private prayer closet of the pastor. The pastor is consistently lifting up his congregation in prayer. Too many skip this or go light here. They fail to realize that they have no true power in the pulpit apart from prayer in the closet. Prayer for a pastor is measured in hours each week not minutes. Think of it as meeting with the boss, you don’t skip those.
Meetings – Pastors attend meetings. It doesn’t matter if your church is large or small, there are meetings to attend. Because your pastor oversees a large part of what goes on at church he sits in on multiple meetings each month. And during some seasons, multiple meetings each week. (There was one season where I had meetings Monday through Friday night for a month straight and I’m just an associate pastor). Furthermore, he leads most of these meetings which means he is responsible for the agenda and usually has some sort of actionable items that he needs to bring to the group as a report.
Events – Pastors are expected to participate in church events such as Vacation Bible School, Easter Outreaches, etc. In the case of smaller churches the pastor often plays a crucial role in developing those events. In my case as an associate I’ve been the one responsible for planning these type of events and coordinating volunteers etc. Regardless of if the pastor plans or just attends and says a few words, his routine is altered and he has to find time to do all the other necessary work of ministry while still being present for these events. If he is not careful, he won’t get a break on those weeks.(I remember a season where I went for fifteen consecutive 12-18 hour days without a day off.) It’s important to remember that most pastors are paid a salary and don’t get paid overtime on days or weeks that push them beyond their normal routine.
Counsel – Pastors pray for and counsel lots of people. We deal with everything from pre-marriage counseling (prepping people for marriage) to spiritual counseling. Spiritual counseling usually takes place after a message or when God has stirred something in your heart. You reach out to your pastor and he responds. Sometimes this takes place over coffee and sometimes it’s more formal. I counsel lots of people every week usually in regards to a message or blog post. Ideally this takes place in person or over the phone, but with the younger generation there is a lot of texting involved. My phone blows up practically every Wednesday night and Saturday night to deal with questions, concerns, and biblical application. On one particular occasion I was out at a conference and my phone blew up with four different people asking me four different spiritual application questions.
Weddings – Pastor’s do weddings and we love to do them. Weddings require preparation (ask any bride). It’s important to consider that even though your pastor loves you, and wants to help you celebrate this big day that he probably attends a few more than you do each year because he is a pastor. I’m an avid college football fan and I enjoy the break of a Saturday afternoon watching football. But on more than one occasion I’ve caught part of the big game on the radio, or on my phone as we were leaving the wedding instead of TV.
Funerals – Pastor’s are there for funerals as well. It’s not just the service either. It’s spending time talking with the family, comforting folks, and maybe sticking around for a meal after. He probably should have something to say when he stands up to speak so he needs to prepare a message and that takes time as well. Sometimes he assists the family in helping make sure they know what to do.
Visits – Pastors visit a lot of folks from the home-bound to the hell-bound and everyone in between. We visit folks in the Hospital. We visit folks at home who are unable to get out. We visit lots of folks who have questions about a message, or want more information about the church, pastor, etc. We visit with folks to pray about special needs. We visit to talk with adults and children who have prayed to receive Christ.
Sometimes we make these visits late at night. Especially as a student pastor I’ve gotten out of bed to be there for families who are suffering a crisis at the hospital when a loved one has been in a wreck, attempted suicide, and overdosed on drugs. These things typically don’t happen from 9-5 or on typical “work”days. I’ve had to cut my vacation short before and my phone is seldom turned off.
Bible Study – Many pastors also lead bible studies or small groups. As an associate I have a midweek preaching point where all of the study, etc. comes into play, but I also lead a Men’s Bible Study, a High School Guy’s Book Study, an Adult Co-ed Life Group, and a study session for High School students on a weekly basis. All of this takes time to prepare in addition to the time actually spent meeting (that’s 7.5 hours of actual meeting time not counting the mid-week preaching point or preparation time).
Hospitality – We try to open our house once a week to either friends from church or folks from the community. Since hospitality is a qualification for an overseer/ pastor (1 Tim. 3:2) it is one that we take seriously and strive to implement. It came down to the question, “would I rather my kids grow up in a home where folks were always invited in or in a home where we had an abundance of time to watch TV?” Generally I don’t count this as work, but merely as part of being a pastor.
Equipping Individuals for Ministry – This is perhaps one of the most tiring but rewarding aspects of being a pastor. One of my joys is placing people who God has gifted in strategic positions in order for them to exercise their spiritual gifts. In many instances it is easier for me to do the work of the ministry for them (though I may not be as gifted), but it is better for them and the body when they are discipled through the process. It’s like listening to my 6-year-old read. I know that I can read his book and get the story out in 5 minutes, but it is worth 30 minutes of hearing him read to me in order for him to become a more capable reader down the road.
When it comes to equipping people for ministry it usually involves a lot of time, attention, and coffee as you walk though a process of development with them. The beauty is that they become great disciple-makers because of your example and this is how the church is multiplied.
I’m well over my word limit now and there is still so much I do. As an associate at a smaller – medium size church I am also in charge of the website, our social media postings, Sunday morning follow ups, etc.
This list wasn’t meant to be comprehensive or to use as a guide for your pastor. Even among pastors there are different gifts. Some will excel more at counseling while others will find a way to shift this burden to someone who is more gifted. Some will visit those in the hospital more often because they have a special burden their while others will be wise to share this ministry with deacons and other leaders in the church.
Hopefully this post was helpful in sharing a little bit about what pastors do. It is a bit more consuming than 9-5 because it is more of a calling than a job. I am always amazed by men like my father who worked a 9-5 job and was also a pastor of a small church for most of my childhood.