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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - Time Keeps on Tickin' Edition

It is Spring, and many ministry candidates are looking toward internships and first calls. One of them offers the following question:

I will be moving into a solo pastorate call in the near future...first call. During my internship, my supervisor gave me a quick "formula" for daily planning:

-divide the day into three segments...morning, afternoon, evening

-work only two units each day

-if you have evening meetings etc...then compensate with not coming in till after lunch or take the afternoon off

Are there other tidbits of knowledge on how to navigate the daily tasks so that I do have time for myself?

Your editor can remember when the 3 blocks a day/21 blocks a week was a novel concept…and is feeling old this morning! Here’s what two of our sisters suggest with regard to time/self- management in the parish setting.

rector in hawai'i writes:

The three-unit day has been a mainstay of non-profit orgs for many years. We use it in this parish for our staff. If one works three units in one day, then a unit of comp time is taken at another time. The problem in a parish is that a pastor's work is not always that clean and segmented. We also don't punch a time clock. I would hesitate to make the three-unit format any part of a pastor's contract or even conversation with the parish. It can be too easily read in a literal sense and result in some unfortunate perceptions on the part of the parish (e.g., "her time off is more important than the needs of the parish"). The reality of this is not the issue; the perceptions of parishioners is their reality and that's what must be managed.

I'd suggest a pastor's Sabbath -- a 24 hour period each week that keeps the pastor away from the church. Don't answer the phone (that's why God made answering machines and voice mail), make sure the printed calendar says Pastor's Sabbath, and be otherwise unavailable. By using the word Sabbath instead of 'Day Off", there is a seriousness attached to this 24-hour period that will cause anyone to think twice before interrupting the pastor. Also encourage the office staff and lay leadership to support the pastor's need for this Sabbath. If you can't take the identified day as a Sabbath for some reason (like a funeral), make sure you identify a substitute Sabbath within a few days.

Limit yourself to no more than two evening meetings. This assumes you don't have to be at every meeting that takes place in the parish. Lay leaders are usually quite capable of running meetings with the presence of the clergy. But enable good communications by connecting with the leadership before and after meetings. No one likes surprises and the laity usually feel better if they have the support of the clergy when they're running meetings without the presence of clergy. (That's a bad sentence but I think you'll get the idea.)

Ann adds:

The church will eat you alive if you let it - filling every minute. I like the 3 work periods in a day and a 5 day week as a mental guide. I know many (most?) only take one day off but if you have in your mind that there are 21 work periods of a 7 day week and 15 in a 5 day week (what most people work) -- you can keep track to see if you are over-functioning. One day off should be a sacred day which can't be a Sunday. I like Mondays off as usually that gives me at least a day and a half (if you can count your Sunday nap as a day off). That sacred day should not be used for anything other than rest and renewal (whatever form that takes for you) except for dire emergencies - and must have a substitute day lest you burn up in the fires of your enthusiasm.

I echo "rector" and Ann's suggestions. Be sure that the Sabbath or sacred day you choose is not a day whose evening has meetings you need to attend. Do not settle for less than a 24-hour period each week, and once a month make it a 36-hour period. When a funeral or other crisis must interrupt your Sabbath, find another day very soon for it. And be sure to use your vacation time. Schedule it and use it!

Start these habits from day you begin the call. You will be tempted to say that, after a few months of getting familiar with everyone and everything, you'll set your Sabbath in place. Don't wait that long. You don't need to make a big deal about it or your calendaring of your blocks of time off. Simply label your time off in your calendar, and if someone wants to schedule a meeting or time with you, you can say, "I'm not available then; would this date and time work?"

Readers...please use the comment function to add your own suggestions.

May you live today and every day in God's amazing grace+



  1. One of the ways I have sought balance is to use the calendar program in my computer (I'm using iCal) and color code the activities. Home, Church, Self-Care, etc. Then I track my time - even if I am entering things at the end of the day.

    When I go to the week view, I can see easily whether there is balance. Most weeks there is way too much green (Church color). This allows this type-A overachiever to give herself permission to shut the computer down and find something else to do!

  2. I've pretty well mastered the days off at this point, but the no-more-than-two-evenings-a-week is definitely a problem here. Between session, committee nights, youth group, wednesday night adult ed, my small group, and the building expansion team, I'm often out 4-5 nights a week. which, for those keeping score at home, has meant a weight gain that brings me up two dress sizes from this time last year. I know that some of this is temporary (we have an interim senior pastor who doesn't teach adult ed, for instance) and some of the bad self care stems from the extra stress of transition, but here I am as living proof to tell you: take care of yourself, if for no other reason than that on your salary you probably won't be able to afford a new wardrobe!

  3. I am in my first call as well (about 8 months in). I would suggest that you give yourself some time to try out different rhythms. Make this clear to people, if need be but, you can try Monday Sabbath for awhile and then Friday Sabbath and then. . .
    Give yourself some time to feel your way into the rhythm that is right for you. Also, two helpful resources:
    1) In seminary, we had to read the Rule of St. Benedict and write our own "Rule of Life." It wouldn't be a bad idea to wonder about what disciplines/fun things sustain you and make room for them in your rule.
    2) I am reading Marva Dawn's book: The Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those who Serve God, the Church and the World. A must read for ALL!!!

    Blessings as you begin this new *exciting* adventure.

  4. I'm a United Methodist pastor and have a new district superintendent who began his work on my district last July. In his first meeting with each church, he stated clearly that he expected the district clergy to only be working 5 days a week! This was an astonishing concept to both the churches and the clergy, but he was adamant. He said there was nothing that could not be accomplished in 5 days, and if we worked more than that we were over-functioning! So, our "fearless leader" gave us permission to work "normal" hours. You might want to check with your hierarchy and see what their expectations are for your work time. It may save you from being "hung out to dry" by the church the first time they want you and you state you are unavailable.

  5. My struggle with time is that I am part-time, but required to be at certain "all call" events, which are NOT considered part of my hours "because volunteers are committed to attending them, so we should be, too."

    For instance, I supposed work a 15 hour work week (office/home/evenings) but there are tasks which are due the moment I walk in the office... so I "work at home" to get them ready (weekly reports, contacting lay leaders, etc.) Also, Sunday mornings (5 hours which includes pre/post services) doesn't count. Going to Saturday or Sunday evening all-church events doesn't count.

    My "15 hours" becomes 25 or 30. And I'm beginning to wonder if this is the reality of part-time ministry (double your hours to be realistic) or of ministry in general. And yes. I'm fulltime in school, a mom, etc.

    My Senior Pastor works 80 work weeks so my frustrations fall of deaf ears as he prides himself of his dedication.


  6. I find that there is sometimes a great disconnect between what we consider our "work" and what the congregation thinks of as "work".

    In many settings, depending on what your leaders do/did for a living, sitting in the church office and standing in the pulpit on Sunday morning are the only things that are interpreted as "the pastor is working hard at her job." Hospital visits, home visits, judicatory meetings, training, study, prayer, supporting/cheerleading the various small groups of the church, attending to my own spiritual growth--which are all things I vowed on my ordination day to do--are sometimes seen as things I should do "on my own time."

    It seems that a new call would be the perfect time to model healthy habits and realistic expectations about what it means to serve with "energy, intelligence, imagination, and love" as we are asked to do in our tradition.

    (And yes, I'm writing this as much to myself as to the questioner!)

  7. This hits home. Even now, going into 12 years I don't have excellent time skills. I spent a couple of months actually tracking my time, and it was depressing. My goal was 45 hours - it was often 55, even 60.

    And too many nights out, and too little me-time in whole day increments. I work on staff, and thought it would be easier, but it's not, because my work must dovetail with others.

    My problem with the 3-block theory is that it allows the time nibblers to eat up the edges and doesn't protect the number of hours possible.

    The day off can end up spread between 2 days. Does one count the day you get home at 7 p.m. as an evening worked, or not? How about spending 1/2 hour on the phone or computer at the beginning of the day off?

    The model suggested to me, many years ago, was 14 units of the 21 unit week. That is essentially what you have been told. That is too demanding. Think about it - this is the equivalent of working 6 (if your blocks are 3 hours) to 10 (if your blocks are 5 hours) hours/day every day of the week. (42 to 70 hours). It's really easy to have 10 or even 12 hour days in parish ministry and still not have worked in the evening.

    So, I would quickly drop that expectation. Know yourself. Breathe. Ask yourself what is your healthy pattern - are you someone who needs to meet up with people in the morning, because it makes you energetic? Do you need to start slowly and alone? Do you benefit to take that afternoon nap or walk or drive? Dance the dance between what feeds you and the demands of the parish. Don't forget your family or your avocation - whatever it is.

    And use the planner - mark out your time every month and learn to say no. As a new pastor that's hard because the church will say 'this is the only night we can meet' or lay the guilt trip on you to do home visits at night. Jesus went away alone to pray - you can too!

    Blessings, Blessings, Blessings!

  8. I am in my second call, but first as a solo pastor. I've been here just over a year now, and I feel like just in the last few weeks I have finally been establishing a rhythm that is working. It was harder than I thought it would be.

    Ditto what the matriarchs already said about scheduling time to really be away - sabbath, day off. I love the way you all said those things and might incorporate some of that language ("Pastor's Sabbath")

    I am pretty good about not going to too many meetings, putting the committees on a rotating basis of when they "get me" at their meeting. Of course they can always ask for a visit earlier if they need me for something specific. I'm not great at taking comp time if I am here more than I hope to be, but I think it's OK and working for me, especially since I take Friday and Saturday off almost every single week, and I rarely have Sunday afternoon commitments. It's working for us.

    What I am working on now in my call is establishing a good rhythm for my week so that I don't have to work as much from home on the laptop in the evenings or during kids' naptimes on the days I'm truly trying to be off. I was having trouble getting some of the basic "tasks" done and have been bringing a lot home to work on and that I don't like.

    Trying to find a checklist system that works for me seems to have been part of the issue. Even though some things are weekly tasks I was forgetting them until Thursday afternoon as I was walking out the door and, therefore, they came home with me. Lately I've been using the google calendar function and it seems to finally be the trick that's working. A PDA, Outlook, old fashion pen and paper, whatever works. For me establishing a rhythm about what tasks get done on what day has been crucial, setting and keeping my own deadlines is important.

    Also, not being afraid to shut the door to my office has helped. A lot of folks stop in for various reasons during the week and I have liked to keep my door open for those random conversations. It still is 75% of the time, but sometimes, if my list is getting backed up, it's just gotta get shut. Folks who need something will still stop and knock to chat, which is fine, but the casual conversations I overhear and participate in are reduced greatly and it helps.

    Recently my usual computer had some problems so it is out being repaired. Since that happened I have not been using Outlook for my e-mail, and just been going straight to the web-based service. It has been WONDERFUL! I am so distracted by e-mails because I let myself go read them right as I receive them. The time lost in jumping back and forth from things I'm doing to see what e-mail is coming in is ridiculous. I don't think I'll be using Outlook anymore when my computer comes back. The temptation is too strong. I've gotten to read this week and I think it's because of all the time I've saved by just designating time to do e-mail in my days.

    All in all I think finding a constructive flow to my week has been wonderful for me. It frees me up for things I haven't been getting done (reading, pastoral visits and phone calls). I have brought home a LOT less work in the evenings, and don't have that fear that if someone dies and funeral comes up this week I will be screwed.

    Ultimately I'd like to get to the point where I am not longer writing sermons at home on Saturday night/Sunday morning. However, that's about more than just time management. There's a creative process piece to that "problem" that I need to work out. I'm considering adding a "working away" day to my week, Wednesday or Thursday probably - - so I would be in the office 3 days a week and working, but not here one day a week. That would give me a writing day. Not sure about that, but we'll see.

    Whew! Sorry so long! For me making sure I get to take my Sabbath or day off is totally dependent on how my work gets done!

  9. This question touches on a challenging issue for almost all pastors, no matter how many years under your belt! In my first call, I worked with a senior pastor who worked insane hours, and openly sacrificed his family for his ministry at the church. He felt this was how you were truly faithful to your calling. So creating balance was challenging for me, with his intense expectations. I ended up creating a tracking record, so I knew exactly how much time I was spending doing what...which helped me be intentional about carving out time off, and time with my family.

    Now that I'm a part-time solo pastor, there are whole new issues to deal with. But again, the key has been to be very aware of how I am allotting my time, and very intentionally making time for everything. Which easier said than done many days!

    This is an on-going process. It's not like you ever get it perfected, and then no worries. Changes in personal life, changes in the parish all impact it. So stay flexible, and learn how to forgive yourself!

  10. A few good time tips I heard in seminary have helped me out. First, the day you take as sabbath day will depend a great deal on your work style. I would never want Monday off - Sunday mornings usually meant a pile of notes from the previous morning to follow up on, and I like getting back into my work while I'm fresh from worship. BUT... I'm a serious extrovert, and while I love sunday clergy coma (what we call naptime in my house), I'm not dead to the world on Mondays. I ended up with Thursday as my regular day off - it started as a family schedule thing, but worked really well for me. I could enjoy my day off, knowing that if I wasn't done with everything for the week, I still had another day to get it done, so I (almost) never spent Thursdays finishing things up. I found Fridays too hard, what with diocesan events, youth lockins, wedding rehearsals... there were just too many interuptions.

    Another thing someone told me was that you don't need to explain every minute. If someone wants to get coffee or have a meeting or whatever on your day off, its really ok to just say "I'm sorry, I'm not available then, lets find another time." The end. No need for a lengthy explanation of how you're getting your nails done or going ot a movie or whatever you do with time off. You're committed elsewhere, even if elsewhere is your couch :)

    Finally - there's an Episcopal priest who designed a time-keeping spreadsheet thing specifically for ministry, and its a free download. Its called Keep It Collared, and you can find it here:

    blessings in the new position!

  11. I am dealing with a lot of these time-management issues now. I'm on 30 hours per week and trying to transform some old (bad) habits.

    The first "Anonymous" in the comments quite simply shocked me with the notion that "Sundays don't count" in her 15 hour week. Sorry Anonymous, but whoever sold you this is being extremely unfair. Would these people (whoever they are) work a full day/evening for nothing? I doubt it.

    Saying that Sunday - the day when pastors give the MOST of themselves and their God-given gifts "doesn't count" - well, it makes my blood boil. It's just wrong and you need to change that practice immediately.

    Sorry, I'm sounding preachy here, but I'm just gob-smacked at the very idea.

    In my denomination, Sunday is considered a full day (8 hours) of work regardless of the number of hours we are at the church building. That's how important Sunday is - the cost to the preacher/pastor (spiritually and personally) on that day is taken seriously. To say that it doesn't count is beyond insulting.

    Again - just my opinion. And that of my denomination. What I've learned over the past year or so is that the church no longer reveres martyrs. If you put your health and life on the line for your congregation, chances are no one will notice.

    Only *you* can take care of you - no one else will (though I do like that district supervisor who is into the 5 day week!).

    long comment.....sorry.

  12. The best way I've found to keep myself accountable is to simply tally up the number of hours worked per week. At the monthly meeting of my personnel /mutual ministry cmte, I simply give them the number, along with a report of other things I have been working on. Why? I've simply found that the biggest barrier to my self care is...myself. I want to do more. For me, it took the sincere "pressure" of others in leadership to, for example, if I worked my day off, find a comp day. You can do it. Find a graceful balance between rigid and accomodating, get some others in on your work habits (this is the scary part), and don't, don't, don't apologize. You will work smarter, not harder in the end, I promise.

  13. As a pastor currently working part-time, I totally agree with Sue about the Sunday not counting thing. What the heck?!

    I don't have anything to add to these great suggestions except a data point: I remember reading a book by Roy Oswald of the Alban Institute about clergy self-care. After studying the issue extensively he found that pastors can consistently work about 50 hours a week, tops; more than that and they would start to suffer mentally, physically, spiritually and so forth.

    He's not advocating punching a time clock, and there are some weeks (or months) when you just have to pull down more than that, but sooner or later you've got to rein that in.

    I find it a good rule of thumb. (Well, I did when I was full-time.)

  14. here the written-in-the-CIF expectation is 50 hours...which is probably why I have so many evenings. But then again, I only work Sunday and Tuesday mornings; on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday it's rare to see me before 1pm. (Though I do check my email at home sometimes, and you would think I'd have learned my lesson about that by now! Let's just say: it's a good thing I can't SEND email from my church account anywhere but at church. It has saved me from many an angry reply that should not involve the "send" button.)

    I can't believe Sundays wouldn't count--that's INSANE TROLL LOGIC, as the Buffy line goes...

  15. Not counting Sunday? I find that shocking, too. Anonymous, does your Senior Pastor who works 80 hours a week not count Sunday in those 80? My heart goes out to you.
    I've gotten much better about taking a proper day off; one thing that helped in my current job was changing the bulletin production day to Thursday, so the office wasn't chasing me down on Friday *and* I wasn't waiting until 6 a.m. on Friday to email it...
    But the biggest change in my self care strategizing came when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and realized I had no choice. None. I could take care of myself and feel good, or not and feel awful. I'm sure this was already true on a psycho-spiritual level, and it's not a coincidence that I feel better in all ways now. The trick will be keeping it up when I change jobs again.

  16. Yes, insane Senior Pastor does not count his Sunday hours.
    No, I do not plan to stay here after I finish seminary. And I may not make it until I graduate (4 more terms!)
    "Ministry experience" for my resume, but not at the expense of my kids or my hubby.

    Our denomination doesn't care about the work ethos (it's an independent fellowship of bible churches) and since it's all run by guys, do they understand the issues of a mom/female pastor? nope.

    I want to be doing what God wants... thanks for the reminder that I don't serve my Senior Pastor but God!!!

  17. Hello -
    Count me among those who don't get Sunday as "counting"... it is the same policy at my church. SO.. maybe this is something in the independent, entrepreneurial churches who don't have true overseers? I wonder.

    RevGals are awesome. I truly appreciate your wisdom!


  18. So, let's do the math. 80 hours a week spread over only 6 days = 13+ hours per day, 6 days per week, and then there's Sunday. I would like to know how these pastors will find time for their heart attacks?
    And more seriously, who is tending to their families, if they have spouses and/or children?
    And finally, even Jesus took a nap. I highly recommend the book "Rest in the Storm," by Kirk Byron Jones, as a lovely parting gift to the over-working pastor. Note I said "parting." :-)

  19. I'll second Songbird's recommendation of "Rest in the Storm." It has helped me immensely and I've already passed it along to a colleague.

    I'm still shaking my head at this whole "Sunday's not counting" crap. You've GOT to be kidding me. Really. That's downright abusive.

  20. LOL...
    I love you guys.

    I'm learning in this what a lack of self care (and respect for others) does to a team, to a pastor and to a family. I'm almost crazed about being there for my girls. And that's as it should be.

    The rest will shake out in the end.

  21. Digressing a bit...SheRev, it is possible to set Outlook so that it does NOT notify you every time an email comes in. We switched to it from another system about a year ago and I thought I'd go mad until I figured out how to get it to keep its trap shut!

  22. As a layperson who burned out working for a non-profit I would strongly echo those who suggest being protective of your time off. When one works for an organization that is part of a 'cause' it can be all to easy to let the number of hours you work creep up (for no more pay). Figure out how many hours your being paid for then work out what tasks require your specific skills and how long they take. Just like putting together a financial budget, having a time-budget that is worked out in advance will help you keep from over-spending yourself.

    There will be times that "overtime" is required-- but plan your time so that it is only an occasional event. If you find yourself working more hours than you contracted for on a regular basis then it is time to talk to the vestry (or relevant governing body) about getting you some help or letting go of some tasks that are 'expected' of the pastor.

    Being in this for the long-haul means taking care of yourself or burning out and burn out can take years to recover from...

  23. Anyone who knows me will be aware this is a recurring issue for me. I suspect it's made harder by the fact that boundaries are really blurry when you work from home, & both my Bishop & mt training incumbent have a tendency to manic overwork. I'm quite good at managing the day off generally but working 2 out of 3 sessions is very rare indeed. We're asked to remember too that the parishioners who are also part of interminable evening meetings have probably worked at least a 40 hour week, before they give time to the church - and not to plan to give less ourselves. planning at all is a novel concept for ENFPs ;-)

  24. I am seriously showing this to hubby.

  25. this has been very helpful to me! thanks for asking the question!

    one thing that i might suggest--depending on your setting and your personality--is to just say upfront that this is new to you and you need their patience as you try out different schedules to see what works best. more than likely whatever works best for you will also work best for the church (sorta like when mamma's happy, everybody's happy).

    i've been in my first pastorate only for 7 or 8 months. i'm still enjoying everyone's advice. however, it was probably my 3rd "pastoral letter" in the newslestter when i shared that i was having difficultly balancing parenting, church, and life. it wasn't whiny but it was honest. i recieved 3 or 4 phone calls from people i had never talked to before telling me how they appreciated my letter! it opened up new relationships and helped to better form others. i had no idea it would be such a big deal.

    i don't know that this would work in every context. i'm blessed to serve in 2 very gracious churches. we're still honeymooning but i'm very optimistic for our future!

    blessings and thank you to everyone--you've offered great ideas.

  26. Hello dear friends,
    This 'time' issue is one that never goes away.

    We women clergy are pioneers; we are not and will never be like male pastors in skirts. And I don't want to be... we need to courageously model new forms of living and serving, especially when it comes to how time is spent in ministry.

    That old model of the pastor sacrificing his family for the parish, and working himself to death 24/7 is simply patriarchy at its worst, and as hard as it is to break, we must face it. Heck, I'm married to a pastor who tried to follow his pastor/father's footsteps, and tried to be the best pastor in the world by doing everything for everyone every moment of every living day.. and what floated to a surface? His coping mechanism was an addiction... and the whole family is living with that daily. But I digress.. that's fodder for another conversation.

    I worked in one parish for five years that had an incredible puritan work ethic: they expected me to work the usual 9 to 5 business model, and then everything else 'off hours' was considered 'my own time,' so meetings, classes, worship, visits had to be tacked on.. no comp time at all. Do you serve the Lord? Then you do as we say. And day off? Sure, exhausted.

    Ridiculous. When I left for another parish, most folks didn't get it. "We love you! Why are you leaving?"

    While I appreciate the notion of "Pastor's Sabbath" many lay folk don't understand; they connect 'Sabbath' with Sunday, and they expect that you'd be in church on Sunday too, so why should it be connected with work?
    Sadly most people don't understand that worship and the associated duties with Sunday are very demanding. Even with laid back pastors, there's still an expectation.

    This is a difficult nut to crack, and I think we need to be mindful not only of our own needs, and the needs of our families, but also the individual congregations. This is a conversation that need to continue between clergy, their governing boards, and personnel committees.

    By the grace of God, I'm in a parish that is very sensitive to my needs, and they always remind me to take it easy.. and not do too much. Thanks be to God!

  27. Again, tho, the reason they support you is because YOU TOLD THEM. Honesty is not just the best policy here--it's the only one, THE antidote to slow descent into burnout. Perhaps that is what the patriarchy liked best--it kept everyone in a conspiracy of silence? Well too bad--it's a new day, and God help us, it can be a better one for all ministers, male and female, their spouses, partners, children, etc. One can be honest and firm and still strike a balance.

  28. Greetings,

    This is my first time reading the blog. I am expanding my reading to include those that are not typically in my "circle." I am a pastor in LCC and woudl be considered a "conservative." :-) However, I just wanted to drop a note and state that I whole heartedly agree with the idea of a 24 hour period off (or sabbath). I have been blessed with a parish that has respected my "day off" on Saturdays. Of course there have been times when a funeral or wedding or some other event has been held on a Saturday - so a little flexibility is necessary. I also do not go to my study at the church on Monday mornings and instead stay at home and study. The parish also supports this. One shoudl not feel guilty about taking a day off!


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