Readers Note: I wrote this with a specific heart for pastors and ministry leaders, but I believe anyone with a demanding vocation can learn from the principles I share here. An abridged form of this article was originally published by the Acts 29 Network.
Pastors, church planters, and ministry leaders, you don’t need to work 60 hours a week. It’s not good for you, your family, or your church. And the best part is, isn’t not necessary. You don’t need to work crazy hours to plant or lead a healthy, fruitful church.
If a corporate manager or mechanic in your church was consistently working 60 plus hours a week, and never had time for rest and family, we’d be rightfully concerned. Most of us would encourage this brother to find a way to cut back. Why should pastors be any different?
Of course there are seasons in any job where there is a new launch, a crisis, or a major issue that requires extra time and attention. Sometimes it’s just crunch time! But I really believe that for most people, consistently working more than 50 hours a week as a long term commitment is an unhealthy routine. Of course don’t hold me to these exact numbers – I’m not trying to be legalistic. Only you (and probably your spouse) know the needs of your physical health, emotional health, and family life. Ultimately, you must submit to the Lord’s leading. The point is, for most of us, our default is to work too much!
Young men just starting out in pastoral ministry must not allow the demands of ministry to usurp the primary calling to take care of your family. But even if you are single or an empty-nester, that doesn’t mean you get a free pass to work as much as you want! Ministry can quickly become our sole identity, a crutch to rely on, or even an idol.
I must confess, I’ve had seasons when home life was discouraging or parenting was frustrating, and I turned to ministry as an escape. After all, people respect me in my church! They look up to me! They ask me for my advice! That doesn’t always happen when I’m at home. Yes, ministry is important, it’s our calling and vocation, but it’s not our identity. It’s not our life.
I’m not suggesting that we can give lackluster effort to planting or leading a church. Ministry is hard, and you must be all in. If you are called to serve in full-time ministry you have to be relentless, you have to work incredibly hard, you have to make sacrifices. But there is a difference between hard work and overworking. You shouldn’t have to kill yourself to give life to the church!
I made tons of mistakes when I planted Living Hope Church 16 years ago. I got stressed. I didn’t delegate. I stayed too late at the office. Sometimes my “downtime” included some work. But by and large, I have kept my work week to around 50 hours, and I have almost always taken a day off. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a hard worker. My father was a contractor, and I grew-up with a blue collar work-ethic. I can work 12 hour days, and sometimes I did. Sometimes I still do. Sometimes you have to. Sometimes you have a wedding, a funeral, an elder’s meeting, and a Sunday service all in one week. But not all the time. Not as a routine.
Some young pastors hear the idea of overworking glorified by older, seasoned pastors. They look back on their early days of ministry, and brag “I worked nonstop! I don’t know how I survived! But praise God look at my church now.” I’m telling you, don’t believe the hype. Don’t make the same mistakes that others did.
I was meeting with a young pastor recently who assumed that church planting would put him on the brink of a breakdown. When I told him there was no reason for him to regularly work more than 50 hours, it was like a breath of fresh air. When he told his wife what I said, she felt like it was a huge gust of fresh air!
There are at least three good reasons not to work nonstop when you are planting a church or just starting out in ministry:
1. It’s not good for your family.
Your family doesn’t want to hear your excuses. Your kids don’t want to hear how much the church needs you in this season. Your wife needs your attention and affection, and she may not recover if ministry becomes your mistress. Your kids need a dad who is there. There is no quality time without quantity time. Please hear this: An extra 10 hours of work each week won’t make or break your ministry, but it might make or break your marriage.
2. It’s not good for you.
You need to rest. You need to take care of your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. While launching a church is an intense season, be careful: the patterns and habits you set early on will likely be the patterns and habits you still have 10 years later. Remember, your church doesn’t rest in your hands, it rests in God’s hands.
3. It’s not good for your church.
Church planters and pastors, your leadership, gifting, and ministry is essential to the church. God equipped and called you there for a reason. But you can’t do or be everything. If you are the only one keeping it all together, what happens when you are sick, out of town, or dead? If the church is dependent on you to preach every sermon, greet every visitor, and run every meeting, what does that say about everyone else? Everyone in your church is essential, not just you! So train others, raise up leaders, and delegate responsibility to others.
Pastors and ministry leaders (and everyone else!), there are some practical, godly practices we can put into place to keep our work week reasonable. We can work 40-50 hours a week and still have a thriving ministry. Consider some advice in these 6 areas – most of these I had to learn the hard way over 20 years of ministry:
1. Get good at rest.
God commands us to rest for a reason. If you take one day off, you’ll be more productive the other six days. If you sleep for 7-8 hours a night, you’ll be more energized the next day. But, if you try to cut corners on sleep and rest, you won’t get more done – you’ll actually be less effective. We even need to take breaks during the day. Studies show that after just 90 minutes of deep work, our brains need a break.
2. Get good at time management.
There are tons of books and resources out there on how to make the most of your work day and work week. Good time management is not just about your schedule, but about managing energy and tasks as well. I have gained a ton of insight from Jordan Raynor’s book “Redeeming your Time.” In this area, technology can be your friend or your foe. Don’t let your phone steal your productivity. Consider taking email off your phone, so you are not constantly checking it. Put the phone out of the room when you are doing counseling or sermon prep. Concentrate on one thing at a time.
3. Get good at setting boundaries.
The vast majority of us think others will be disappointed in us if we are not accessible 24/7, but most of the time those are expectations we’ve set for ourselves. People will usually give us a whole lot more slack than we give ourselves. When we set clear expectations for other people – what we can do and when we are available to do it – most people will respect and appreciate those boundaries.
4. Get good at utilizing admin help.
There are tons – I mean hours and hours – of logistics, details, and administrative tasks to do when planting and pastoring a church. I actually don’t mind doing some admin, but what I’ve learned is that God has made other people that love admin and are much better than I am! Finding the right support person means that you can focus on your unique calling as a pastor. I believe most church planters can and should prioritize room in the budget for 10 hours a week of admin support from day one. That will make a huge difference. But if you don’t have room in the budget for paid staff, ask for a volunteer. Some people would love to serve the church in this way!
5. Get good at sermon prep.
An older pastor once compared writing a sermon to writing a college term paper – every week – it’s a lot! Sermon prep can feel overwhelming, and it can be tempting to want to spend 20 hours a week to get it just right. But, I believe that once you get some experience, and hone your skills, most pastors can have all of their sermon prep done in 12-15 hours. Of course you could spend more time digging into commentaries, researching illustrations, or memorizing notes, but no amount of our work can replace the work of the Spirit. Rely on him. Sermon prep is only part of what is essential to pastoral ministry. Finish up your message, then go disciple a new believer, mentor a leader, or counsel someone in need.
6. Get good at not getting it all done.
Ministry is a job where we are never done – so stop trying. You can’t do it all today or even this week. Go home for dinner, go to bed, take off for the weekend. Don’t try to be at every event, run every meeting, have lunch with every visitor, or preach every sermon. Your church won’t grow because of the hours you put in. Lives won’t be transformed because you worked hard. Christianity is a supernatural religion. The Spirit of God must show up – and he doesn’t need you to be there when he does. If you feel like you have to be and do everything in your church, that’s a problem. The problem might be in your own heart or it might be that you need to equip, motivate, and release other people. As I said before, 10 extra hours of work will not make or break your ministry, but it will make or break your marriage.
Pastor, work hard for 40-50 hours a week, and then put the rest in God’s hands. Remember, the church belongs to him, not you. It’s his job to save souls and grow the church. So pray, trust him, and go to bed.
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”Psalm 127:1-2