Are Clergy's Paid Hours Realistic?

Written by Rachel


A few years ago, Thom Rainer (a US pastor and researcher) conducted a survey to get an idea of what church members believed clergy ought to be doing with their time each week - and how many hours should be dedicated to each task. The results were fascinating.

He listed 20 areas which received the following answers:

Prayer at the church: 14 hours
Sermon preparation: 18 hours
Outreach and evangelism: 10 hours
Counseling: 10 hours
Hospital and home visits: 15 hours
Administrative functions: 18 hours
Community involvement: 5 hours
Denominational involvement: 5 hours
Church meetings: 5 hours
Worship services/preaching: 4 hours
Other: 10 hours

Total: 114 hours/week (minimum)

This works out to be about 16 hours a day/7 days a week, or 19 hours a day/6 days a week. This leaves 5 to 8 hours a day for sleeping, eating, socialising, self-care, and family time! Realistic?! I'm not so sure! But I know many clergy who do work much longer hours than
their contract suggests; some even working 70 hours per week when nearing retirement.
But I wasn't certain how ministry hours compared to the full time workload here in Australia. Maybe these hours are similar to other industries or close to the norm?

Turns out, according to the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman, while additional hours are reasonable to expect, a full-time employee is only permitted or expected to work 38 hours
per week - a third of the 114 hours expected to be dedicated to ministry tasks. (more info here).

Now, the seasons and hours of ministry don't exactly work to a consistent routine! Emergencies, after-hour meetings, pastoral care, they all require attention when the need arises, not necessarily when the clock says it's 5pm! And if you're a seasoned clergy worker or family member, you'll know that the hours on paper are often not enough to meet all the tasks required in ministry. 

So are the paid hours of ministry realistic? No. I don't think they are. I can't think of single church who could afford to pay a clergy for the hours that are often put in. And perhaps compensation is not the answer in these situations either.

Maybe there are more important questions to ask. Perhaps knowing how many hours are usually expected can help those entering ministry - this survey was definitely an eye-opener!

Or maybe it's more about expectations - from church members and clergy themselves. How much CAN be achieved in a single week? Are there tasks that clergy can delegate or prioritise? What things can just wait?

While writing this piece, a quote from writer, Karl Yaters, on Ephesians 4:11-12, kept coming to mind: "Pastors were never meant to do all the caretaking and shepherding of the flock. Our primary calling (alongside apostles, the prophets, the evangelists and teachers) is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry."

This isn't a question that can be solved in one article, but I wanted to leave you with some conversation starters for the next time you catch up with someone from your support network:

* How many hours do you work (on paper compared to day-to-day)?

* How do you manage differing expectations about your work hours from your employer,
your church, or even yourself?

* Do you think these are reasonable expectations?

* If not, what would you like to change?

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If you'd like to hear more about what people say about this subject, catch up on the conversation here.