Pastors and Hospitals: Why They Should Be There Less

A recent Lifeway Research study investigated the number of hours pastors in America are spending on the job.  This study was targeted specifically at senior pastors, but also included bi-vocational and part-time senior pastors.  Even with those two “part time” groups included in the study, which lowered the total number of hours, the study still revealed that pastors in America spend over 50 hours a week on average performing the duties of the their job, a smaller but still significant percentage spending 70 hours or more.  Working with some of the numbers that were reported, 5-14 hours on average are spent in sermon preparation with 1-2 hours spent in prayer.  5-7 hours are spent in meetings.  Most pastors report trying to spend 6-11 hours to actually visit, counsel, and pray with church members, often times at the expense of prayer and sermon preparation.  Pastors reported having to at times dramatically cut back on their availability with family at the home in order to accomplish all that needs to happen in their pastorate.  What do these numbers tell us as church members and pastors?

Well, first they remind us that pastors are busy people who take their jobs seriously.  Unfortunately that sometimes means a sacrifice of time with family and quite time alone, a reality that every pastor should examine in his own heart and work to implement adjustments.  One of the qualifications for an elder is the proper management of his house; the Lord takes that very seriously.  Put simply, a pastor is unfit to serve if he places church responsibility over family responsibility.   

Second, this study should soften the hearts of our church members to embrace a greater awareness of the pastor’s time and to begin fostering an environment where the pastor can spend his time in the most important areas of his church ministry and still fulfill the most crucial area, being a husband and father.  However, the typical pattern is quite the opposite.  Most churches are host to an atmosphere of extreme expectation for the senior pastor to be physically present at all the hospitals and all the sick beds.  Even among church leadership there is usually a greater interest in how much time the senior pastor is visiting hospitals and the sick instead of his time in the Word and prayer. 

Third, this study reminds us of the actions in the early church as recorded in the book of Acts.  A priority of time in Scripture and prayer was recognized, so other ministry tasks – even important ones – were shared with other qualified believers.  This would obviously include associate pastors, worship pastors, youth pastors, family pastors, but also mature, qualified lay people.  Of course, the senior pastor needs to remain involved in the visiting ministry and allow himself to be used in that way.  After all, if his increased time in Scripture does not move him to reach out more effectively as a pastor, then it is all for nothing.  Nevertheless, those tasks are not a pastor’s first priority, and certainly should not reach the point where he is failing to visit the most important bedside – his own. 

The most effective way for pastors to begin sharing this information is to first speak with the elders and/or deacons.  Second, preaching through some of the key texts on how the church as a whole shares in the ministry to the sick and needy is a good idea.  Third, start implementing some of these ideas and allow the people to see that the pastor is serious about guarding their personal time with God and family.  If the congregation is unwilling to accept that, then it is time to prayerfully update the resume and move on.  At the end of the day, God gets to decide the priorities of a pastor, not sister Bethel in the back pew. 

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