Saturday, July 6, 2013

Do pastors lie when surveyed about work habits?

Just asking, my fellow soldiers of the Lord, just asking.

Thom Ranier did an informal survey of two measures of pastor work habits recently. Here are the results:

How many hours weekly does a pastor work?

2013 Twitter Poll(Full-time Pastors)
Less than 40 hours

40-49 hours

50-59 hours

60-69 hours

70 hours or more
My observations on this.

  • No full time pastor will ever admit to working less than a 40 hour week. He will figure out a way to rationalize 40+ even if he has to count "quiet, meditative time" in a boat fishing.
  • Laypeople may underestimate the time their pastor works but laypeople I know well all speak of how church offices are always empty of clergy staff on Fridays. And then there's golf.
  • Most SBC churches are single staff and while many do not need a full time pastor, they have one anyway. In those churches pastors have lots of time for reading, hunting, fishing, and running errands. But I'd bet few would ever admit to "working" less than 40 hours because that is the minimum the church expects.
  • Some of Ranier's respondents gave a range, say 40-80 hours, and he took the midpoint. I suspect that   a pastor who has a series of crises one week and puts in 80 hours would use that figure, thereby skewing the average.
  • Ranier said the midpoint was around 50 hours and that sounds about right. 
  • Oh, when I would lead mission trips, I would report about a 120 hour work week but, alas, wouldn't be able to take the next two weeks as comp time. 

1 to 3 hours — 1%
4 to 6 hours — 9%
7 to 9 hours — 15%
10 to 12 hours — 22%
13 to 15 hours — 24%
16 to 18 hours — 23%
19 to 21 hours — 2%
22 to 24 hours — 0%
25 to 27 hours — 1%
28 to 30 hours — 2%
31 to 33 hours — 1%

My observations:

  • These two surveys cannot coexist. Half of pastors can't work a 50 hour week and spend 26-36 hours of that in sermon preparation and pastor a church. If only 14-24 hours is left for visiting, counseling, office work, meetings, Sunday non-pulpit work, minister's conferences, etc then he's either not pastoring the church or is fudging the numbers.
  • I've done many sermons in 1-3 hours, some of those may be repeats. Plodder offers the wild conjecture than many of the brethren dust off an old sermon, spend 30 minutes on it and then let it rip on Sunday.
  • I've spent 35 years preparing a number of sermons. How does that skew things?
  • Most weeks I had four times of preaching/teaching but would only count Sunday AM and PM as sermons.
  • As I have visited other churches and church websites and have listened and read sermons, I'm seeing a lot of familiar sermon outlines as pastors use online resources. While a pastor might use someone else's outline and flesh it out with his original stuff, I suspect that many are taking someone else's prep work and winging it from there. I always cringe a bit when I see the same outlines from several different pastors.
I think pastors are like other folks. When asked a question that is personal, it's tough to get the whole truth. 

Is that lying? Sometimes.

The better way to get the true facts is to observe, but then who wants someone looking over their shoulder all week?

These are interesting things to think about and Thom Ranier does a good job with anecdotal and informal if not scientific writing on such.


OldCottonPicker said...

Maybe some sermons look familiar because the pastor uses the title of another pastors sermon only, them applies his own thoughts to that. I bought a book of sermons outlines years ago, I really don't know why I bought it for I don't care about using someone else's sermon & I brought it home & stuck it in my bookcase. One day I was thinking about what my next Sunday's sermon would be & seemed to come up blank. I looked over at my bookshelf & that book of outlines stood out. I reached for it thumbing though it, I saw a sermon title that hit me just right. And I went with it but never looked at the outline that followed it.

With that said I agree, as a pastor myself I feel many pastors stretch their hours out. Yet some are humble & put in more hours than they claim & never complain. Jesus sure needs many more of the latter.

R. L. Vaughn said...

The answer to your topic question is "yes," at least for some of them.

When I saw Thom Rainer's post on the length of sermon preparation, some red flags went up for me. I asked myself, for example, "If a preacher takes 13 hours to prepare one sermon, does he take 39 hours to prepare three sermons?" "Or does the prep time for other sermons decrease in length and importance?" And of course, yours is the final follow-up question!

When I asked about this, a friend told me this story you might enjoy. "Your question about length of preparation reminds me of our local association meeting a few years back. The speaker said he had studied and prepared all year long for his sermon and then proceeded to preach a watered down, empty, milquetoast sermon which consisted basically of 'ain't Gawd good' and didn't even get too specific about that. As we left an old deacon brother leaned over and said something to the effect of, 'If he studied all year for that, I'd hate to have heard it if he'd only spent a little time on it.'"

Anonymous said...

Nearly 30% typically spend 16 hours or more preparing for one sermon? I am not buying it for now, especially given the moderate quality of preaching in most baptist churches.

I would like to see a crosstab consisting of church size, fulltime ministerial staff, and sermon preparation time.

And if the 20+ and 30+ are in the larger churches with staff, why the larger (i.e., way disproportionately larger) salary when most of the ministerial and administrative work is done by other ministerial staff?

Question: same sermon, same delivery, similar churches, well-known minister, not well-known minister. Evaluation of sermon?

Does $300K mean we will like it more ... to justify our prior judgment?