I’ve heard the line probably more times than any of you – “Hey preacher, where have you been? You only work one day a week.” Most preacher jokes are like lawyer jokes – probably well deserved for some, unfair to others. The reality is that pastoral work is a very strange critter that often defies description, calendars, and schedules.
I used to try to keep office hours in my ministry; that quickly got frustrated with the reality that hospital emergencies happen, surgeries get scheduled, family crises happen – and a number of other things that you never think about. That frustrated me, and frustrated people who came to see me during office hours I tried to keep but had to be away because of pastoral needs. So I’ve found keeping set office hours usually doesn’t work.
Expectations, I know, are high. Besides preaching, presiding over worship, and providing pastoral care, churches also expect their pastors to be conflict managers, evangelists who bring in new members, and the chief administrator of the church (the Book of Discipline now says “Administrative Officer”). In the midst of that, churches rightly expect inspiring sermons and want close attention paid to the personal needs of the congregation.
Sermon preparation takes time. My preaching professor said that for every minute spent in the pulpit, one should spend an hour in preparation. I’ve never been able to spend 15-20 hours a week in sermon preparation. But it does take some time – time where I have to listen to the congregation’s needs, and to discern what the Word of God might be saying to us. I’ve found that studying in the office rarely allows for that; if I’m in the office, I need to be available to staff and those of you who need to talk with me, or just want to chat. And I like doing those things.
Communications in this area is important. So I want you to know that I am almost always available to you – I have a cell phone that I carry at all times, and it is also equipped with Caller ID, text messaging, and email. Should you call and I am counseling or in pastoral conversation or a meeting, I may let the voice mail pick it up and call you back. In short – I am only a phone call away. Sometimes, pastoral work takes me outside the office. That doesn’t mean you can’t call me. In fact, I want you too.
Pastoral work also doesn’t respect the clock; being available to you as a congregation sometimes means meeting with people after working hours, even late into the night. Sometimes, my time off and my “weekends” are a little different from the norm. So I have to be mature enough to know when to work and when to take Sabbath. However, I knew all of those things when I accepted the call to ministry.
I just want you to know that the lines of communication are always open.