In the last decade or so it has become increasingly common for younger pastors to start off as church planters or revitalizers. Whatever wisdom and benefit there may be in this development, it does come at a particular cost. Many pastors today have never had the opportunity to watch and learn from the second chair.
I recently had a young man ask if he could buy me lunch just so that he could ask me to describe my weekly schedule. To save you the cost of a burger and a club soda, I thought it might be useful to write down essentially what I said to him.
The first decision: when to take your day off
Planning your weekly schedule begins with deciding on when to take your day off. I would estimate that about 60% of pastors favour taking Monday off. The rational for that decision is generally based on emotional energy cycles. Pastors are often exhausted after Sunday and require at least 24 hours to recharge their batteries.
I have always preferred to take Fridays as my day off for the following reasons:
- It allows me to get my sermon finished earlier in the week. This gives me more time to reflect and potentially edit and also allows the rest of my team to plan accordingly. This concern is less relevant for solo pastors.
- It gives me a two-day weekend at least once a month. If you take Fridays, then you get the odd Saturday thrown in. Not every weekend has a funeral, a potluck or a wedding and therefore, when the calendar shines on you, you get to feel like a regular person. Those 48 hour respites are absolute gold!
- If I fall behind on my regularly scheduled duties because of unforeseen pastoral circumstances, I can use Friday morning to catch up.
- Skipping the first day of the work week makes me feel like I’ve already fallen behind.
I recommend the Friday day off to every new pastor starting out, but I understand those who feel like they just can’t pull it off. My advice would be to try it for 6 months. You might notice your emotional rhythms making the adjustment.
My schedule reflects the fact that I am the Lead Pastor of an established, multi-staff church. I don’t fold the bulletin, cut the grass, drive the youth bus or do any of the things that the real heroes in ministry do on a day-to-day basis. Use this schedule as “a” sample, not “the” definitive standard.
I set my alarm for 5:15 a.m. on Sunday morning so that I can do my personal devotions before heading to the church for 7:45 a.m. When I arrive at the office, I print out the order of service and my sermon manuscript and I spend the next 90 minutes reviewing and praying over my message. At 9:30 a.m. the worship team comes into my office and we pray together over the service. By 9:45 a.m. I am out in the sanctuary shaking hands and chatting with folks as they arrive. Our worship service runs from 10 a.m. to about 11:30 a.m. After the service I typically pray with people and talk until about 12:45 p.m. I am usually home by 1 p.m. unless I have membership interviews with prospective members afterwards, in which case, I would be home by 1:30 p.m.
Sunday afternoon for me is crash time. My wife is a veteran of the pastoral energy cycle and she knows that my domestic contributions will be negligible for the next 4 hours and she is extraordinarily gracious to me on that front. The children are encouraged to play outside or downstairs while dad watches 2 innings of the baseball game before falling into a coma. By late afternoon I am fairly functional again and ready for what’s next. This past semester that meant returning to the church by 4:30 p.m. to prepare for our Adult Education program called Cornerstone U. I would prepare from 4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. (essentially review my notes) and then teach from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. Fellowship and prayer would typically follow for 30 minutes to 45 minutes, with me arriving home by 8:30 p.m.
I set my alarm for 6:10 a.m. on Monday mornings. I get up, do my personal routine and then have my time of devotion. I do the RMM Bible Reading Plan and have done since 2012. It typically takes me about 35 minutes to do the readings and to make notes in my journaling bible (for some thoughts on what to do with completely filled bibles see here). I typically follow up my bible reading with prayer. On Monday mornings I prepare a brief agenda for our staff meeting and try to have that sent out by 8:30 a.m.
Staff Meeting for us takes place at 9:00 a.m. I live 750 metres from our church so commute time is not much of a factor. At Staff Meeting we pray for each other and coordinate the work of the week.
I use the time after Staff Meeting to meet with individual staff members to consult and collaborate as required.
On Monday afternoons I tend to do most of my Board work. Sometimes the Board will ask me to write letters on their behalf or to craft policies and guidelines for their review and affirmation. I will also typically do a bit of advance study related to either a future preaching series, Cornerstone U series or Into the Word series.
On Monday evenings we meet as a Board of Elders. 3 Mondays a month we meet for prayer from 7:30 – 9:15 p.m. and then once a month we have a full business meeting that lasts from 7:30 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. on average.
Tuesday is my sermon writing day. I usually set the alarm for 6:10 a.m. unless it was a full business meeting the night before, in which case I bump it forward 30 minutes. I can’t come home from a Board meeting and go directly to bed. It takes me about an hour to unwind so I adjust my next day’s wake up time accordingly. My morning routine on Tuesday is the same as it is on Monday, in terms of personal routine, Bible reading and prayer.
Once at the office, the better part of the day is dedicated to sermon preparation. My routine has changed a bit over the course of my ministry, as well it should. I am 48 years old, and I’ve been in vocational ministry in some form for 28 years. I started as a part time youth worker while finishing my university degree in Humanities (Classics and Religious Studies). I continued serving as a Youth Pastor all through my MDiv. I was Greek heavy in my undergraduate program which allowed me to skip the language introductions and do extra exegesis. I carried on with my language disciplines pretty faithfully, such that I had completed my own translation of the New Testament by the age of 38. That changes the way I prepare sermons today. My fully translated New Testament sits on my desk ready for consultation, therefore, what used to take me 2 hours on a Tuesday morning now takes 5 minutes. I say that by way of encouragement. Do your homework and this work will get easier over time.
Today in my sermon preparation process, I read the text, review the translation and grammar and then attempt an initial outline. I write it down on a lined piece of paper and then open my commentaries. Again, having been at this for some time, I almost never find myself preaching on a book of the Bible that I’ve never studied before. Generally speaking, I’ve already read 2-3 commentaries on the book in question and then will work through 1-2 new commentaries when preaching through a book of the Bible. This means that, again, I’m way ahead of where I would have been in my process 15 years ago.
Having read the commentaries, I will make changes and improvements to my outline and then begin to write. I try to have a first draft done by 2 pm and a second draft done by 4:30 p.m. The 4:30 p.m. deadline has to do with a Preaching Workshop that I facilitate. There are 4-6 churches participating on a typical week and the sermons are circulated to the whole workshop on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. so that the group can provide feedback on Wednesday afternoon when we meet. Having submitted my second draft, I will review the drafts sent to me by the other workshop participants and provide initial feedback to them offline. I usually go home around 5:30 p.m.
Sidebar: Regarding nights out
Nights out are a part of pastoral ministry. If you can’t be out nights, then you need to find another job. Most people work during the day, so your classes and prayer groups are going to be early in the morning or at night. Factor that in.
I use a 2.75 nights out per week schedule. When I was a Youth Pastor it was 3.75 nights out per week, but I worked fewer day hours. By 2.75 I mean that I have 2 regularly scheduled nights out per week. Last semester it was Monday and Sunday night, next semester it will be Monday and Thursday night. The .75 is for irregular meetings and contingences. Sometimes a married couple will require counsel, but they both work during the day and so an evening is the only option. If you schedule yourself for 3 nights out, you will find yourself working 4 nights out which in my opinion, is in the red zone. My wife still loves me at 3 nights out so the 2.75 approach strikes me as wisdom.
Wednesday for me is a bit of a mish mash. I do some advance study on Wednesday morning and then try and book as many people appointments as humanly possible. I’ve been to the local Tim Hortons 4 times before on a single Wednesday. Sometimes I drink more coffee than is good for me. I live in a town that has lots of trails along a beautiful lakefront so in the non-winter months I try to do as many “walk and talks” as possible. I try to meet with interns, new people, first timers, young leaders and everyone in between. I like people, coffee and walking so Wednesday is a pretty good day for me. Wednesday is the day I spend the least amount of time in the office. There should be one day in your schedule at least where you are out and about in town.
As mentioned above, I also host a Preaching Workshop on Wednesday afternoon. Preachers from 4-6 churches meet in our Leadership Centre and we review a chapter of a book on preaching and then work over the rough drafts of several sermons that will be preached on the coming Sunday. My own sermon is fair game and I will usually receive at least 2 workable comments that result in significant improvement to my message. I will make those changes and submit my manuscript to the visuals team and the worship leader by end of business that day.
Thursday is an early day for me. The alarm goes off about a half hour earlier than normal so that I can complete my routine and get to Prayer Meeting for 7:00 a.m. This is one of about 8 prayer meetings that we run weekly at the church. I say “about” because the number fluctuates. We try them at different times to accommodate a variety of schedules. I’ve been leading or co-leading the Thursday morning group for about 13 years.
After Prayer Meeting I do some advance study and then prepare my small group curriculum. As mentioned, last semester I was teaching an adult education class on Zechariah and this coming semester I am teaching a leadership development class for younger men. I will work on the curriculum and answer a ton of email on a typical Thursday. If you send me an email on Monday, unless the subject line says: “I am on fire! Bring water quick!” you will almost certainly not hear back from me until Thursday afternoon. I also do a ton of personal meetings on Thursday and, as mentioned, I sometimes have an evening group or class.
On Friday mornings I try to wake up reasonably early, complete my morning routine and then I do a 60-75 minute walk in a nearby forest. I listen to podcasts, sermons and audio books. It is soul refreshing in a way I cannot even describe. In the winter, when the conditions are right, the walk becomes a cross country ski. While I don’t believe there will be snow in heaven, I do think there will be cross country skiing. I haven’t worked out the particulars on that, but I feel pretty certain of it.
Around 10:30 a.m. I usually head into the office. Friday is everyone’s day off except the cleaning staff, so the building tends to be pretty quiet. I catch up on anything I’ve fallen behind on and then record an episode or two of Into the Word. I’m usually home and ready for chores by 1:00 p.m.
Saturdays, like nights out, are part of the deal in pastoral ministry. I’m out for at least part of 1-2 Saturdays a month. There are pig roasts, potlucks, carnivals and concerts, not to mention weddings, funerals and 50th anniversaries. Regular people work. Weekends are when life happens. Get over it.
I do between 5-10 weddings a year. Each wedding takes up a whole Saturday plus a Friday night rehearsal and 3-4 nights out beforehand for counselling. That’s an average of 42 extra nights out per year just on weddings – so again, be careful about how many nights out you schedule. 2 nights out for program plus 42 for weddings brings you pretty close to 3 nights out on average.
I go to bed early on Saturday night. My wife and I are often the first ones to leave the wedding and we almost never go out with friends on Saturday evenings. Friday night is fun and friend night for us because Sunday morning begins on Saturday night.
Disclaimer and Encouragement:
Everyone is different. I am not sharing this schedule to judge you or to influence you. I am sharing it because a young man I really admire said it would be helpful. That being said, I am 48 years old, I married a Hall of Fame woman, my kids are a little older, I’ve been at my church for 17 years and I am a reasonably boring person, emotionally speaking. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve come home from church depressed. I get tired – more so now than 20 years ago – but I don’t find ministry emotionally or spiritually discouraging. I am amazed that people pay me to study and teach the Bible, drink coffee and walk by the lake. Sometimes I feel like I am scamming them. 90% of the time I think I have the best job in the world. My schedule is a reflection of that.
But you may be different.
You may have a different marriage.
Your stage of life might be different.
Your energy cycle and emotional makeup might be different.
By the grace that God supplies, you be you. If there are principles and patterns here that help you serve the Lord faithfully and well over the long haul, I will be very thankful for that.
And may God alone be glorified.
Pastor Paul Carter
If you are interested in more Bible teaching from Pastor Paul you can access the entire library of Into The Word episodes through the Audio tab on the Into the Word website. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.