The Relationship between Hours Worked and Energy Spent (And How There Isn’t One)

As a pastor, my schedule is pretty fluid. There are some fixed points: worship is at 9:30am on Sundays, confirmation is at 6pm on Wednesdays, office hours are from 9am to 1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and so on. And there are things that need to be done, but can fit in wherever there is space. For example, I write sermons on Mondays; but if they spill over into sometime on Wednesday, that’s okay.

That leaves a lot of time that is open and unpredictable. Hospital visits happen. Funerals — though I haven’t had one yet — happen on relatively short notice. And, of course, there are endless administrative tasks that need to be dealt with and plans that need to be made. This is not a job with nice, clean, stable hours.

And one of the things that I’ve notices is that there’s no relationship between the quantity of hours I work and how much energy I use. What might look like a short day can leave be exhausted. What might look like a long day can feel like nothing at all.

Some of that is driven by my personality. On the one hand, I’m a personal introvert. I replenish my energy by being alone or hanging out with a few close personal friends. On the other hand, I’m a professional extrovert. I can go to events and work a room and hit meeting after meeting. But that comes at a cost: at a reasonably slow pace, I use up that energy that I got from my introverted activities.

But some of it is also driven by the nature of the work. It’s easy to not realize that leading worship is, in many respects, a performance… and performances are work, even if the performer loves doing it. Similarly, moving from group to group during coffee hour is work. And talking through a deep-seated personal problem with a parishioner is work. And committee meetings are work. And that’s true no matter how much I enjoy all of those things and how much I am called to all of this work.

And that leads me to two thoughts.

First, for pastors. Pastors have a habit of humble-bragging about the quantity of hours we work. And I know too many pastors who work — including their time in the wider church and wider community — every day of the week. And even those who work six days a week are often trying to cram an entire personal life into a single day. I know that there is a lot to do, but we need to give ourselves permission to rest and recharge so that we can be effective at doing all those things.

Second, for parishioners. I know that a lot of what your pastor does is invisible. And every pastor I know is working furiously for their congregation. It is important for you to remember that a few hours on Sunday morning can wipe someone out, that there was probably at least an hour of research and writing for every minute of the sermon you hear, and that your pastor is facing the same struggles that you are outside of work. So I invite you to get to know your pastor, how they replenish their energy, and what wears them out… and then make room for them.

And if we all do our part, we can have stronger and healthier pastors… and stronger and healthier congregations.

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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