March 26, 2012

Under the Whip: What Pastors Do the Other 167 Hours of the Week

by Clint Archer

A relative said to me, “It must be great to only have to work one hour a week on Sundays.” I replied, “Do you know what’s better? Olympic sprinters only have to work for 9.6 seconds or so, every four years!”

Most congregants don’t realize the preparation that goes into a solid expository sermon. A common sigh among those in the fulltime teaching ministry– those who are faithful to prepare expository sermons– is how little time is left over for the variegated pastoral responsibilities clamoring for attention.

From counseling to corresponding, premarital sessions to divorce prevention, from house visits to hospital visits, from baptism to burials, the pastor is present in every facet of life from the cradle to the grave. What an honor. What a joy. And what a load to bear.

Somewhere in this milieu time must be carved our for preparation and teaching Bible studies, home groups, men’s breakfasts, elders’ meetings, classes and courses, and let’s not forget the central expectation that comes inevitably every week, in some cases twice a week: the Sunday sermons. That is before any personal time (what’s that) which most people enjoy.

Exercise habits, a healthy sleep quota, hobbies, entertainment, family time? What do you think is the first to get bumped when someone calls in tears asking for a visit? It’s not the ministry that can be batted to leg, it’s items on the personal time list that are expected to be expendable.

Think about when people can meet for the counseling they desperately need: at night. Think of when people get married: Saturdays. Think of when people die: unscheduled!

I’m not whining by the way. I love a career that is spent in the eternal work. I thrive on knowing what I’m doing has value in the lives of people I love and will leave echoes in eternity.

Vets don’t complain about being surrounded by animal smells all day, and pastors don’t bat an eye at being inundated with people’s problems all week. I’m just pointing out that if your pastor hasn’t invited you to coffee lately, it probably isn’t because he’s chilling at the beach all week working on his tan.

Sometimes a pastor has to say no to a plethora of good duties in order to make time for the better tasks.

Jesus told Martha that her sister Mary was not being a slacker by opting for the one necessary thing. It’s not that Martha’s service and hospitality was wicked or futile. It was a good deed through and through. But it wasn’t the best choice at that moment. Sometimes the best example your pastor can be to you is to say no to seeing you because he has more pressing duties to attend to.

On occasion, depending on how appointment heavy his week has been, that “more pressing duty” may simply be keeping his derrière in the chair and his nose in the books to prepare for the Sunday sermon.

The sermon is potentially the most effective moment of the pastor’s week; he needs to be prepared for it. To have the entire flock sitting expectantly for a word from the Lord, insights deeper than those their study Bible’s supply, and application more relevant than the Dr Phil show, is an intimidating thought.

And the thing about Sunday is that it is at most one week away, and coming closer. And it never stops coming.

Pastors live under the whip of their flock’s expectations, their own goals of productivity, and their Lord’s standard of excellence.

Unfortunately some folks don’t recognize this. If people don’t see the pastor in their lives, they assume he is “bookish” and unapproachable at best, lazy and unloving at worst.

If you are a pastor, I can only encourage you with these three nuggets my mentor bolstered me with:


1. you can’t please everyone all the time,

2. you only have one Boss, and

3. you can sleep when you’re dead!”


Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • This is even worse when a Pastor is Bi-vocational.

    • True. I think that is one reason Paul made a strong appeal in 1 Tim 5 to pay those who labor in preaching.

    • Jamie McBride

      True. I spent last year working a secular job and filling the pulpit for a church between pastors. Had to preach Sunday morning and Sunday evening. Working 40+ hours a week and preparing two sermons a week, plus caring for my wife and five children was a physical strain. Not sure how men do it for years at a time.

      At the same time I grew spiritually and it was a blessing to my family and the church.

  • Thanks for the post. I think every pastor needs to read “The Tyranny Of The Urgent” by Charles Hummel. It helps with keeping the “main thing” the “main thing”. Also I am in a “Spiritual Formation” course and I am more convinced than ever the silence and solitude is a must for longevity in ministry.

    • In seminary, that was a book I was required to read. I’m thankful for that and the lessons learned. Most phone calls at 9 pm with people who “need to talk” can really wait until morning, and often by morning the problem has resolved itself.

  • Kevin Sorensen

    This is an encouragement (in a weird, pastoral sort of way) as the pastor of a small church in the upper midwest of the USA. I’ve been at this for 27+ years, 15+ at this local body. It is sheer joy, pure blessing and wondrous joy. It is draining, tiring, exhausting labor and I wouldn’t trade it for anything (well, okay, if the Lord literally spoke to me and said, “Come up here” I think I’d be willing to switch). I’ll have to share this on Facebook and my own blog in order for even <10% of my people to have an opportunity to see it, but perhaps they will and perhaps they pray for me a little harder. That would be good.

    Love the final three points. #3 reminds me of an aphorism my mother gives me weekly, "No one ever died from tired." I usually disagree, but since I'm not dead yet, she doesn't listen. No surprise there.

    Blessings upon you, brother. Preach the word in season and out of season.

    • I’m encouraged by your faithfulness Kevin. Thanks for serving your body with such discipline.

    • Larry

      Bless you Kevin. You have a shepherds heart.

  • Great post, Clint.

  • Amanda Smith

    It always astonishes me to hear people say things like that, but maybe my job as the secretary at my church gives me a different view of what my pastor does during the week.

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  • Great post. I’ve listened to the sermons of good expository preachers, as well as of one who does poor-quality sermons, and recognize the huge difference that the “behind the scenes preparation” makes.

    “The sermon is potentially the most effective moment of the pastor’s week; he needs to be prepared for it. To have the entire flock sitting expectantly for a word from the Lord, insights deeper than those their study Bible’s supply, and application more relevant than the Dr Phil show” — very well said.

  • A Pastor needs to tell his people something like this.
    Yes, my door is closed and my phone is off.
    No, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with you.
    It means that I am desperate to be with you in the most godly, helpful way that I can.

    • Well said Spencer. That study time ripples through the whole congregation.

  • Clint Archer

    Clint here: Thanks for all your comments folks. I can’t reply to each one, as I’m abroad in one of those places wi-fi is sketchy and the food is more likely to poison you than nourish you (No, not downtown LA). Missions trips are another way pastors’ schedules are made to look cushy, but are in fact bitter-sweet ways of serving our Master, while our families bear the main burden.

  • Great post Clint… these “insider secrets” need to be known by more regular-day-to-day-church-folk… everybody has an opinion of what the Pastor “should” be doing… it’s good when they are able to see what he really IS doing, and you’ve helped with that! Thanks for the post!

  • Steve Roth

    A nephew of mine when he was 8 years old said to his who is a pastor -as he went into review his notes for a Sunday evening service – “Dad why do you have to go study again, all your doing is talking for an hour about the bible.” I think this nephew now that is is a grown young man now sees the value of his dads consistent preperation.

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  • Larry

    Excellent post. I have a habit (I guess) of trying to see deeper into the problematic areas of insightful posts. A point was made that people “need to see a pastor in their lives.” Perhaps I am wrong, but in many cases the person (s) with this mindset is consistent in their profile. They tend to be saints who show little to no commitment to the local assembly, usually “hitting or missing” on Sundays, rarely seeing them in a general bible class, prayer, etc. but is always wanting to “see the pastor.” Meanwhile, the pastor they want in their lives is being dutiful in prayer and the study of the Word in an attempt to edify the local assembly. Pastors have to maintain a balancing act, but in the end, their devotion must be focused on prayer and the ministry of the Word, as in Acts 6:4.

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  • Monica Pixley

    Hey guys…. Love your post. Hope all is well with your family. We are still in Torrance, Ca. Almost here 6 years. Time flies. We have two grandsons and just love it !. Hugs to the fam.

  • Full Time does not mean you do nothing else. I have been full-time for 21 years and without knowing it work piles up. Lots of time we do what people want and not what God requires. So ministry cannot be accomplished by human strength it demands heavenly stamina. Wait upon the Lord and your strength will be renewed. A man should study first if he wants to teach ….many are just text book assistants and Bible readers in the pulpit. Diligent study and waiting on the Lord will tru preaching help people get rid of their weight of worries. I commend and salute those who gave up the world to be a messenger of His Word. Preach the Word….what a privilege. A poor preacher is one who chose not to dig for diamonds and gold in preparation but was satisfied with a few stones that looked good to pick but not good enough to make jewellery with. Ezra 7:10 carries 3 words: STUDY, PRACTICE , TEACH. It makes a good preacher. Thanks Brad and Patrick for the article and for opening your home for me to come to Shepherds Conference for all those years. John MacArthur helped me be a great preacher and a even greater learner.

  • ncstep

    This is really, really great and an encouraging article. However I do have a problem with the ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’. Sleep deprivation can cause serious problems including depression and you cannot do anything well when you are excessively tired. My pastor husband still rises early in the morning exchanging sleep for quiet time with Jesus but he is also aware that burning the candle at both ends has undesirable results, so remains committed to getting enough sleep. I think the Lord wants us to be sensible and needing to sleep just reminds us that we are not God!

  • Azekveld

    A thought that’s been in my mind a lot lately is that, as a pastor, I do not really consider Sunday to be a work day. Sunday is when, as a Christian, I go to church and serve the body with the gifting I have been given.