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The Pastor as Hourly Employee?

The Pastor as Hourly Employee?

One of my favorite things is getting together with other pastors and asking them how their ministry is going. Most of the time a pastor will say that things are going great, and then he will share some of the joys of his ministry. However, occasionally a pastor will sigh deeply and tell me that things are getting difficult… and on more than one occasion, that the pastor goes on to tell me that he has a particular elder who demands to know how he spends his time.

There are few things that elicit a deeper groan of sympathy from my own heart than a fellow pastor of a smaller church who tells me that his elders are suspicious enough to resort to tracking how much time he spends “in the office.” To me, it is an immediate sign of an unhealthy session that distrusts the pastor when the elders want a man to keep track of his hours or when they take it upon themselves to do so. I once knew a fellow minister who had an elder who would drive past the church and take note of what time he arrived each day and when he left each day. If he wasn’t keeping the same hours as the elder did before he was retired, he was reprimanded at the next session meeting. Being treated like this makes the pastor feel like a pack animal or Ben-Hur rowing in the slave galleys, rather than what he is – a trustworthy minister and pastor.

I hear enough of these stories that it seems like something that needs to be addressed. And part of the reason I feel I can address this, myself, is because I serve a church where the session does not treat me as a paid hourly employee. They don’t demand that I account for every minute of my day or scrutinize my schedule. In the church where I currently serve, I have never, ever felt like I am their employee; I feel I’ve been treated as a pastor, a minister who seeks to use his time well and live a life that is above reproach.

On the other hand, there are many pastors out there who don’t have the freedom to speak on this issue–and likely won’t even feel free to share this article on social media–because they are literally turning in timesheets and showing their work as if they were high schoolers clocking in at their first job at the Burger King.

There are a few things we can know about a small church that watches and scrutinizes the hours of the pastor:

1) Most likely, there are business leaders on the session.

2) The session members do not trust their minister.

3) The church will almost certainly chase their pastors away.

If you are a ruling elder on a session where you know the minister is being watched and scrutinized like this–if not by you, then maybe by another elder–I hope to give you a few reasons to stop this practice immediately, and consider even repenting to the pastor for how you’ve treated him.

1. Time =/= Increased Productivity.

In the business community, time equals productivity. If you’re working in a restaurant, another hour equals more food made and more people fed. If you’re running a lawn care business for which he was asked to give some troybuilt reviews, productivity means more grass cut as fast as possible. If you’re in banking, staying in the office for just another hour means that account will be completed, which means tomorrow you’ll be able to move on to something else, and over time that productivity turns into greater returns. The business world knows what productivity looks like: Greater return on investment and cash in the books. Time really does mean more productivity in the business world.

But what does pastoral productivity look like? More money in the church coffers? More behinds in the seats on Sunday mornings? More conversions? More baptisms? The biblical answer is that pastoring is not a job like making widgets or generating financial returns. Biblically speaking, productivity looks like the pastor fulfilling his calling with “a good conscience and sincere faith,” which cannot be numerically measured.

2. Time in the Office Is Not the Sum Total of Pastoral Ministry.

This is very important: If you think your pastor is being productive because his car is in the church parking lot, you have missed out on what a pastor does.

Sometimes pastors are outperforming visitations to people. That takes time and doesn’t look like any traditional definition of productivity.

Sometimes pastors work from home. I’ve been known to rise at 4 or 5 in the morning and work on my sermons. Many pastors relish the flexibility to work odd hours, or even to pepper their work throughout the day when they find spare minutes.

But let’s just say the session does consider visitation to be “work.” What about when a pastor is reading a book for his own edification? Or what about when a pastor takes a walk with his wife and discusses what he’s been reading? What about when a man talks to his daughter about the news of the day and discusses how to think biblically. What about if he is having lunch with a deacon?

There are parts of being a healthy pastor with a healthy family that simply does not fit neatly into the categories of traditional productivity or time well spent, and yet without them, the pastor’s life would be a mess and he would be entirely unable to minister in the long term. In other words, you could never really measure the time a pastor spends being a pastor, because he never stops. Probably even the man himself could not tell you when he stops being a pastor and when he shifts into “average joe” mode, and that is because of the next point I want to mention.