Why I Don’t Require Office Hours for Ministry Staff

Sam Rainer

July 24, 2016


I’ve never liked the idea of requiring office hours for pastors and ministry staff. Ministry demands a “go” mentality. It’s hard to go when you have to sit at a desk all day. Assuming you have at least one person in a support role to answer phones and greet walk-ins, then you likely don’t need to require staff to have office hours. Here are a few reasons why I don’t require office hours for ministry staff.

The church bubble is often the church building. I love our church building. I love being in our church building. It’s comforting. Church buildings should be strategic tools for discipleship. However, when the bulk of your ministry is spent in the church building, then the building becomes a bubble. The actual walls start to be spiritual barriers. All pastors and church leaders must do ministry outside the church building. Requiring office hours incentivizes staff to create a church bubble around the church building.

Ministry does not happen on a set schedule. This week our staff dealt with demon possession, child abuse, and sexual sins. Let’s just say these sorts of things don’t happen on a 9-to-5 schedule. Requiring office hours can potentially create a culture where staff no longer feel obligated to take that 2am phone call. Sometimes the best ministry occurs in the middle of the night.

I’m selfish. I’m a lead pastor. I’ll just speak for myself. I can be selfish. The church staff does not exist for me. The staff exists for the church and community. It’s much easier as a lead pastor if I have everyone on campus at the same time so I can access them whenever I like. But that’s not why the church has a staff. It’s better for my soul that I don’t require office hours.

People are more accessible because of technology. Smart phones and laptops mean your staff is more accessible than a generation ago. My staff uses the GroupMe app to communicate throughout the day.

Trust. If you must have ministry staff present in the office all the time, then you don’t trust them. Or you’re a control freak. Neither are good ways to lead. If your set office hours are an old rule, and you’re simply operating out of what’s been done in the past, then it’s time to change.

Fewer walk-ins. Our culture is changing. Fewer people walk in to see a particular staff person without an appointment. I still have many people pop in my office and say “hello,” but not nearly as many people randomly want an hour of my time without an appointment. This change is partly due to the culture shifting, but it’s also partly due to the fact that the church understands the staff is not sitting at desks waiting on ministry.

Creating a culture of going. Requiring office time propagates a culture of “ministry must come to me” rather than “I go to people.” Every hour someone is sitting behind a desk is an hour not spent discipling or evangelizing. You create ministry. You don’t wait on ministry to happen. The Bible doesn’t call pastors to office hours, but rather to equip the saints.

Our staff meets every Tuesday morning until lunch, and then we often go to lunch together after our meeting. This time helps us coordinate schedules and align church operations. It’s necessary to have a dedicated, weekly time when staff are together. But these few hours are the only times ministry staff are required to be onsite. Otherwise, I want them out fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Jesus didn’t say “stay in the church building.” He said “go.”


22 comments on “Why I Don’t Require Office Hours for Ministry Staff”

  1. John says:

    Bro Bob Allen would spend a lot of time in the office studying for sermons, praying, and practising sermons.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Love brother Bob! Great pastor.

    2. A Pastors Wife says:

      As a Pastor’s wife I must say, I couldn’t agree more!!! My husband and I have 4 children ages 7 and under. We have always engaged in what we call “family ministry”. He is the Pastor. He is ultimately responsible, but we are a team! At our previous church he didn’t have set hours. He did spend time in the office, because as you all know there is office work to be done. Having the freedom to set his own hours allowed him to take care of the most important ministry in his life, his family! The 2am phone calls didn’t bother me cause I knew he wasn’t required to report to the office the next day at 9am and be away from us all day. I NEVER felt as if I was in a competition for my husband’s time. Fastforward 2 years and we are in a new church with strict set hours. Honestly, it’s horrible. The “ministry” that takes place here is skin deep. And it’s because the ministers don’t have the time to put towards genuine hard core ministry! Our church is the church that does it this way because it’s always been done this way and unfortunately, I believe, the Lead Pastor is scared to change it. I pray for our Church, our Pastor and my husband daily! I guess unless you have lived both side of this, you don’t truly understand the damage that can happen when you require your Pastor’s to work a “9-5 job” instead of doing the ministry God called him to do.

  2. This is a great post Sam — thanks my friend.

  3. Kyle says:

    I understand the point of the article. I do think it misses a major point, however. Many staff people keep office hours because that is what is expected of them by the congregation. Pastors often encourage staff to keep office hours because it protects the staff from criticism by the congregation. I pastor a small church in the South. The running joke is that pastors work two days a week. I don’t require staff to be in the office all the time, but we do keep loose office hours. It sure helps on my days off. It stinks to have to go open up the church so someone can get their SS book, make copies, set up their classroom, etc. I’m glad my associate is at the office on my days off. I appreciate the article and think it’s great if you can get by with it. I also wonder how you go about having days off. Does your staff have specific days off during the week?

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Kyle – Thanks for the comment. Our staff does have days off. And they can be in the office if they like. I simply don’t require it of them.

  4. Travis says:

    Do you feel this takes heavy toll on the families of the ministers involved? Being called at 2am in the morning and having to wake your wife as you lean over and answer the phone? Is there a line that has to be drawn where ministers can begin to feel exploited?

    I love being a part of ministry, but I also watched the family life of many ministers fall apart over the years because of the toll that “being available” took on them. I’m definitely about moving with the Spirit of God as it calls us too, but I also like protecting our ministers spiritual health as well.

    Just curious. Thanks for the article Sam!

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Thanks Travis. You certainly have to set up boundaries. However, most 2am phone calls I’ve received are true emergencies. I’ve only had to block two numbers in my 11 years of ministry.

    2. Steve Gambrell says:

      The second most difficult occupation in the world, must be that of the minister’s wife. I’ve known a bunch’o’preachers in my life, and when speaking personally, one-on-one, with me, invariably the phrase, “and naturally, it woke my wife up..” Just as I believe that ministers are called by God, I believe that God gives a burden to his wife, as well.

      And for the record, I am a divorced man, so I can’t be a deacon, much less a minister, in most churches. I could, however, be elected President of the U.S.

    3. Rose says:

      I agree that if you are to have longevity in the ministry you need to have good boundaries. I am best friends with the pastors wife. They are great people and just recently her husband passed away from a heart attack. Its been devastating. The younger ministry leaders get calls even on their day off. I don’t think that the congregation should feel that they own ministers. There is always a crisis and I need to build my relationship on God and not on human leadership. Im grateful for them but they are people just trying to make it to heaven like us.

  5. Jason Lohorn says:

    The staff has to be disciplined to not have set hours. I’m a pastor and I have been full time for 17 years. Often times pastoral staff fit into two categories – hard workers and lazy people.

    1. Ron Johnson says:

      Then only hire hard workers. Hiring is key. Hire entrepreneurs. Ask what they have started. Don’t only ask what would they do. Ask what have you done to . . . .

  6. Anthony says:

    Good insights. I’ve been on staff at four different churches and I don’t think I have ever had office hours required but I have definitely had expectations. Most often, these expectations were unspoken but used as a Litmus test of sorts. My advice , especially to senior pastors, do the things at Church that are most effectively done in that environment (perhaps studying, admin, phone calls, and yes, letters!) Whatever hours you decide for you and your staff to spend in the office, try to make them as regular as possible. Also, schedule regular time out of the office on purpose. Study at a restaurant or coffee shop. An open bible is a great conversation starter! If there is an expectation for your staff, communicate that.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Great advice Anthony.

  7. Travis Kaiser says:

    Good word Sam! I’ve seen required office hours for a friend limit their ability to expand their ministry and it burned them out.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      So sad. Office hours are more likely, not less likely, to contribute to burnout.

  8. I understand this post and I see the merits of being flexible, but there at least two problems I see:

    (1) Being at the church during specific times establishes a “ministry of presence.” Part of our job as pastors and staff is to be available to those who may walk in. Also, I have built many relationships simply by walking down the halls and engaging with staff and members who may stop in. I have three pastors on staff under me, as well as numerous part time people. We use Slack for our interoffice messaging system and it helps.

    But I feel strongly that pastors and staff need to have some sort of (2) accountability. While, it would be great to ‘trust’ pastors and staff to do their job off site, it’s not really my job to “trust” them. I don’t agree that making sure my pastors and myself are at the office for sufficient hours means I do not ‘trust’ them. It’s my primary job as their lead supervisor to lead them and provide some built in accountability so they’re not just watching Netflix in bed.

    Again, I understand full well that much ministry is not needed in the office, but to wholesale eliminate it or to not at least establish some parameters of expectations very often leads to a lazy and unaccountable church staff. And not having set times a pastor should be in the office also isolates him from other church members and staff.

  9. Ken boyer says:

    I actually like this concept. To me it allows pastors that aren’t doing a sermon the coming weekend to be out ministering to the community. Too many church leaders lack this concept of being in the community helping others and are to worried about the liability of every little thing. When church leaders start to worry about legal liability of everything it means they lose sight of spiritual liability.

    That’s one of my main problems with churches now a days. They are more concerned with what’s legal and not what’s godly. It’s why I won’t volunteer at a church anymore. Churches now a days fail to see how being rigid with things and not being flexible to help others is why attendance is down.
    I’ve seen our church get smaller and smaller over the last few years and a lot of it has to do with the people seeing the spiritual liability is gone from it in favor of legal liability and rigidity.

    I personally feel when the pastors are doing things in the community helping others and making those people feel welcome to try the church a church will grow. It’s rare to see a church form groups lead by pastors that go to poor neighborhoods and offer to help cut grass offer to fix a window or just say hey we were in the area and wanted to say God loves you if you need anything we are here. Things like this can’t be done from a 9-5 office at a church. The pastor who is preaching Sunday should be at the church working on his or her sermon but the rest of the pastors should be ministering in the field.

    And having the pastors in the field ministering to the local community does not make them un accessible. there are receptionist at church that can relay messages to them if someone from the church family has need of them be it a shoulder to cry on or a simple prayer request. Doing a weekly community mission like this would be uplifting to troubled people that feel the world is out to get them. Maybe one day God’s church will remember that God called us to go into the world and spread the good news of Gods love. And not to sit in a building listening to a man talk that doesn’t even walk out to a pulpit or carry a bible.
    And that’s another issue I have too many sermons not based in the bible but rely on touchy-feely nonsense. But that’s another rant for another time.

  10. Josh Greenslade says:

    As a pastor, I would add another number to the list. #8- The church office is not always the best place to study. This could be #1 on the list because the pastor’s primary job is to shepherd the flock, and the primary way that he “equips the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12)” is through the preaching of the Word. The shepherd must feed the flock. Throughout the epistles leaders are commanded or reminded to feed the flock through preaching (1 Tim 4:2-“Preach the word”; Col 1:28- “We proclaim (preach) Him (Christ), admonishing and teaching…)
    Whether it is weight loss groups, or Bible studies (ones that I’m not leading), or just the hustle and bustle of church life–people coming and going, packages arriving, etc–it is often difficult to do sermon prep in the church office.

    As one who is going to be judged more strictly for having been a preacher of the Word (James 3:1), there is (and should be for all preaching pastors) a sense of urgency to study the Word…not based on the number of hours in a work week (because you shouldn’t stop at 40 if you’re not done), but based on the weightiness of the call to preach. Pastors who are called to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ should not have the reputation of laziness… Sometimes, maybe it’s just a wrong perception… but hopefully, we can give an example of hard work (laboring diligently to understand and accurately handle the Word of God, “a workman that needs not be ashamed”).

    Pastors must learn to be disciplined with distractions that they can control… (like how much time I’m going to spend on this post 🙂 but in the church office, there are often unforeseen, uncontrollable things that come and can distract from study.

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