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A Sample Schedule for Pastors: Review and Reflections

I wrote a brief article about a week ago entitled “A Sample Schedule For Pastors”. I received a fair bit of response, both online and through private correspondence. Some of the responses took the form of requests for more information and further clarity; a few expressed concern or disagreement. Given that the goal of the original piece was to provide some insight on time management and prioritization it occurred to me that a follow up contribution might be welcomed.

First, in response to a variety of questions:

1. What about personal reading?

I don’t tend to consider my personal reading as “church time”. My goal is to read 52 books a year, or a book on average every week. I organize and track my reading habits to ensure balance and breadth. The vast majority of that reading is done at home. About 20% of my reading happens on vacation and the rest tends to happen on the family room couch, later in the evening. I will often put the baseball or hockey game on in the background with the volume turned off while I read. This may seem odd, but it feels natural, relaxing and efficient to me. The only reading I do “on church time” is the reading typically associated with sermon crafting.

2. When do you do all your writing and blogging?

I didn’t mention anything in the original article about writing because I don’t typically reserve time for that in my weekly schedule. I tend to write in the cracks and margins. For example, I wrote the article A Sample Schedule For Pastors last Tuesday because our pastoral intern was preaching the sermon the following Sunday, leaving me a few hours of extra time. That’s fairly typical for me – I am an occasional writer as opposed to a scheduled writer.

Most of my “bible explainer” type articles are written early in the morning as the overflow of my personal devotions; most of my “thoughts for pastors” type articles are written in snips and bits as I have opportunity. I usually have a long list of articles I intend to write, and I will drop quotes or links into those documents for days, weeks or even months, until one day, an appointment cancels or a responsibility shifts and I can sit down for an hour or two to write.

That’s why there will sometimes be 5 weeks between articles and then following that, 3 articles in the space of 10 days. It just depends. If I were trying to be a professional blogger I would recommend against this rather haphazard approach, but because I am a pastor by passion and trade, it serves me well.

3. Can personal devotion time be counted as work time?

I suppose it could, but I don’t tend to categorize it that way and I wouldn’t advise you to do so either. In general, I try to follow the same advice I give to working people in my church. I tell young men in our congregation that they should be the first ones out of bed every morning so that they can read the Scriptures and pray for their families.

They don’t get paid to do that, so why should I?

I do my morning devotions at home, at my desk with a cup of coffee and some wicked bed head, just like I imagine most of the elders on our church board do. If they can do it merely out of love for God and concern for family, then so can I.

4. What about exercise?

I didn’t mention anything in the original article about exercise, other than my once or twice weekly walks in the forest. I was trying to provide a basic overview, but it is probably worth taking the time to intentionally commend regular exercise and personal fitness.

My own habits in this area have changed over the years. I gave up organized hockey and softball a number of years ago due to family needs. My kids were getting more involved in sports and other activities and there just wasn’t enough time to go around. I gave up martial arts a few years after that for similar reasons – plus it was hard on the body. I played league and recreational squash until COVID and now work out a few times a week at the local gym. I highly recommend being as active and fit as your family schedule and budget allow.

5. What about vacation and time off?

I didn’t say anything in the original article about vacation time because I was trying to give the sense of a typical week. That being said, the issue of vacation time should probably be addressed. I wasn’t always very good at taking my allotted holidays.

I don’t say that proudly, in fact, I consider it a mistake on my part. One of our Board members here finally had the courage to rebuke me and I’ve been careful to take my full vacation allotment each year since. I didn’t quite manage it during COVID, but that was a special circumstance, and the Board allowed me to defer my vacation time until the crisis was “over”. I do plan on taking all of my allotted time this year and highly recommend this policy to others.

When I began as a Lead Pastor in 2006 I was given an initial allotment of 4 weeks paid holidays. I’ve been given an additional week for each 5 years of service, up to a maximum of 7 weeks, as per our employment policies. I recommend that pastors negotiate a similar policy with their church leadership early on in their tenure.

Secondly, in response to a bit of friendly pushback:

Isn’t your schedule unnecessarily intense?

I had a few younger pastors push back on my sample schedule, suggesting that it might be a recipe for burnout. As I said in the original article, my intention was not to judge or pressure anyone. I don’t present my patterns as “the standard” but rather as “a sample”. How you put your own schedule together will depend upon a variety of factors:

  • Health
  • Stage of life
  • Marital situation
  • Energy level
  • Church situation
  • Gifts and natural wiring

If you have 3 little ones at home, you just started in ministry and your wife isn’t feeling very secure in this new situation then your schedule should look very different than the schedule of a 48-year-old man whose kids are a little older and whose wife has settled into her own role and calling alongside of him. Don’t feel any pressure to be anything other than who you are and where God has put you in this particular moment.

One thing I would say, however, is that “pace” is often a matter of perspective. My dad left the house every morning at 5:30 a.m. to drive to his office in downtown Toronto. He would typically get home at around 6 p.m. for dinner. He did that 5 days a week for my entire childhood. He also served for 20 consecutive years on the Board of Elders at our church. This meant at least one night out for Board activities, plus Wednesday night Bible Study and 1-2 services every weekend – all as an unpaid lay elder.

When I compare my schedule to his I feel like a bit of a slacker.

I sometimes worry that we have overreacted to the perceived imbalances of the Great Generation. My parents were the last of that generation and they had a work ethic that puts most of us to shame. I still hear the voice of my dad in my ear reminding me that to be a leader you have to be the first one in the building and the last one out. I often catch myself talking back, respectfully, to that imaginary voice and saying: “I hear you dad. But I want to make sure I’m doing a great job at home, not just a great job at work.” We usually arrive at a friendly compromise.

My point in sharing that is just to say that we should all be in conversation with previous generations to save ourselves from recency bias. The emphasis today is on balance, health and well-being – yes, yes and yes. But the Apostle Paul was pleased that he could say:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6–8 ESV)

There is nothing wrong with leaving it all on the field for Jesus.

There is nothing wrong with dying with no gas left in the tank.

There is nothing wrong with being motivated by the prospect of eternal reward.

The older generations may have something useful to say about those things and we younger folks should be willing to listen.

A Useful Practice – And A Closing Word

Every year on our anniversary my wife and I go out for dinner. Invariably, as part of that delightful ritual, I ask her some version of this question:

Am I doing a good job as a husband and a father? Am I caring for you the way I should be? Am I leading the children effectively? What can I do better?

She usually gives me my report card with her typical mixture of grace, honesty and charm. While she often provides some useful suggestions as to how I could be more supportive of her or how I could better connect with the children, she has never once said that I spend too much time at the church.

We’ve found a rhythm and a pattern that reflects the priorities and commitments we made to the Lord and to each other 26 years ago and while we are constantly trying to improve our service within each of our various spheres, their relative size and proportion does not, at this time, appear to be an issue.

My closing advice to anyone who has bothered to read this far would be to consult fairly widely when developing your own schedule template. Talk to older pastors, talk to brother pastors, talk to your wife and talk to the Lord.

And may God alone be glorified.

Pastor Paul Carter

You can find the original article, 'A Sample Schedule for Pastors' here.

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.