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A Pastor’s Reflections: Your Work Ethic

February 11, 2014


During my days in seminary I had a number of summer internships where I learned a some invaluable lessons. One that stands out prominently in my mind was the importance of maintaining a strong work ethic. My ministerial supervisor taught me this lesson, unfortunately, by setting a bad example. The church had its mid-week services and so my boss used this as a reason for him not to come into work until after lunch—he took the morning off. The reason behind this decision was that since he had to work in the evening for the mid-week programs, he would take the morning off. In his mind, he was still putting in his eight-hour day. There was a big problem, however, with this type of decision. What about the many other people in the church who got up very early, went to work, and then after a long work day, would come to church and put in a lot of volunteer time? By my calculations, unpaid volunteers were putting in 12 hours days and my supervisor, who was paid to be present at church, was cutting his day short. The problem with my supervisor’s decision, moreover, was complicated by the fact that a number of people in the church knew that he would take the morning off and it didn’t sit well with them. Long-story short, my supervisor was eventually replaced, and it didn’t surprise me when it happened.

One of the biggest problems you’ll face is the impression that you only work one day a week. The lion’s share of your workweek is performed out of sight from the congregation, which means that some might think that you’re not working unless they see you work. Ok, fine, you work 12 hours on Sunday, but what about the rest of the workweek? If you give the impression that you’re not working, it will hamper your ministry, I promise you. So what are you to do?

You need to be mindful of the work habits and patterns of your congregation. If you live in a rural community, for example, one that has farmers that get up before dawn, you might want to consider doing the same. They will have more respect for you if they know you’re working hard too. If you meet them for breakfast, and you look and act like you just rolled out of bed, they might think you’re a slacker. But if you look alert and engaged, then they’ll know you’re working hard. If they rise early and still come to church for mid-week programs and stay late, you should do the same. Not only will you convey a strong work ethic, but you’ll gain important information. If you’ve been up since 6am you’ll know how they feel at 7pm at church, then you’ll know whether you should ask somebody to volunteer for extra work, for example, because you’ll think, “I’m tired, and if I’m tired, maybe Joe is tired too. Perhaps I should ask someone else.”

Most importantly, however, regardless of the schedule that you adopt, as the pastor, you should never have a weaker work ethic than anyone in your congregation. I encourage you always to run with the strongest pack in your church both to set a good example for them but also to remember you live coram Deo—you live and work in the presence of God, so work in such a manner.