9 Time Management Tips for Pastors

A pastor is a professional juggler. Not the kind who belongs to a three-ring circus. Just your average guy who wears countless hats: student of the Word, spiritual caregiver, sermon writer, shut-in visitor, service planner, administrative coordinator. And the list goes on and on.

You can find time management tips anywhere, but the best advice for pastors comes from fellow brothers in the ministry who know your unique challenges.

Pastors, what are your time-tested tips? Please share!

  1. Digitize Your To-Do List

    By digitizing your to-dos, you’ll spend less time creating and maintaining paper lists—and more time doing what actually needs to be done. No more rewriting your to-do list a million times or burying yourself in sticky notes! However, if you’re not super tech-savvy, notebooks can still be the way to go.

    “Digitizing my to-do list has been a lifesaver. I use Google calendar for both my schedule and task list, and have it synced to my phone, tablet, work computer, and home computer. This way I only have one calendar and task list, but can access it from anywhere.”

    Rev. Pete Jurchen

  2. Work in Intervals (And Don’t Be a Slave to Email!)

    “If you have a difficult time concentrating on one thing for a long time without getting distracted by social media, try working in time intervals. Set a stop watch or an alarm on your computer (I use a half-hour glass on my desk), and commit to working on one task for that time. When the interval is up, move on to something different, even if that task isn’t complete. You can always set up another interval later to complete it, but this can keep you from getting stuck in a task.”

     —Rev. Jurchen

    (Also, checking your email every time a new one comes in easily disrupts your workflow and halts productivity. You may need to periodically turn off notifications on your phone or tablet!)

  3. Post Your Office Hours

    Make a habit of posting the hours you’ll be available in your office each week—share them on a sign outside your door, in the church newsletter, or in the bulletin. These may not be your only hours in the office, but these are the best times for you to meet with members and visitors. Emphasize that “drop-ins” are welcome during posted office hours!

  4. Meet Away from Your Desk

    Consider arranging a couple chairs for sitting and talking somewhere away from your usual area for working. This way, you’re creating a welcoming space to meet with your members and setting aside your desk as a personal spot for productivity.

  5. Plan for Peace and Quiet

    It’s okay (and really important) to reserve some “do not disturb” time in your weekly schedule to allow for focused study, sermon preparation, and the like. Interruptions are bound to happen, but is there a time during the day that usually has the least amount of interruptions? Also consider when you are naturally most focused.

    “Some of my routine tasks I can perform even with lots of background noise and activity going on, but the kinds of work (e.g., sermon and Bible class preparation) which require greater concentration I try to schedule (for myself) in the morning when I am more mentally fresh.”

    —Rev. Bradford Scott

  6. Train Office Help for Screening Calls

    “Having someone to field phone calls during office hours is helpful, and it is even more important that they know how to determine to whom a call (or its information) should be directed. Normally, sales calls and the like should not interrupt the pastor’s work, and an assistant who can pleasantly but firmly determine who (if anyone) should get the call or its information is a great blessing.”

    —Rev. Scott

  7. Create Job Descriptions

    If job descriptions don’t exist for the church office staff, collaborate to create them. It’s important to understand what needs to be done to match the right person to the right job. “Because we’ve always done it” might not be the best answer for why certain individuals do particular jobs. As the pastor, you’ll be able to delegate tasks that free up your plate and keep those that are pastor-specific.

    “When a pair of support staff positions changed a few years back, we discovered that their position descriptions were anemic or outdated. Beyond just the job descriptions, I have asked them to regularly update a position manual (key tasks with step-by-step directions). It proves invaluable for transitioning to new staff or when vacation has a volunteer sitting in for them.”

    Rev. Kevin Golden

  8. Establish Priorities

    “There is always more to be done, but when priorities are properly established, the central tasks to pastoral ministry will take precedence over other matters. Determine a means to gauge where something falls on your list of priorities.

    Here are some questions to ask when determining priorities: Is this central to my calling as pastor (preaching, teaching, care of the flock by visitation and prayer, etc.)? Is this critical to the life of the congregation? If this is not accomplished today/this week/ever, what will be the negative results? If this is accomplished today/this week/ever, what positive results will there be?”

    Rev. Golden

  9. Hold Weekly Staff Meetings

    Try hosting weekly ministry meetings that include both staff and key volunteers. Begin with time in the Word or a hymn. Then, start discussing short-term projects and goals, as well as potential long-term opportunities. Meeting once a week for purposeful discussions will decrease the amount of time you spend asking questions or relaying information to others.

    “We are blessed with a staff that works well together and with mutual respect and support. Having weekly staff meetings on Monday mornings allows us to coordinate work (they find out when I am in and out that week), look toward upcoming congregational events, and respond to specific challenges as they appear. Most importantly, we spend time in prayer for the needs of the staff, their families, and the congregation.”

    —Rev. Golden

Bonus Tip!

Find your unique “pastoral rhythm”

There is a rhythm within each week (sermon preparation progresses incrementally throughout the week, Bible study preparation on a given day of the week, outreach to visitors).

There is a rhythm within each month with each item taking place at a regular time within each month (homebound visitation, service planning for the next month, administrative tasks, planning).

There is also a rhythm for the greater year alongside the rhythm of the liturgical calendar (quarterly outreach to inactive members, continuing education at specific points in the year).

By observing and establishing a rhythm of what regularly happens during a given time, you not only ensure that various responsibilities are addressed, but also ensure that they do not stack up to become insurmountable. Likewise, it helps to make sure your scheduled time off (weekly day off, yearly vacations) is honored rather than given up in order to whittle down an accumulating pile of things to be done.

—Rev. Golden

Thanks to pastor friends in the parish for these great insights!

  • Rev. Pete Jurchen, Associate Pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Columbus, Nebraska
  • Rev. Bradford Scott, Pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Toledo, Ohio 
  • Rev. Dr. Kevin Golden, Pastor at Village Lutheran Church, Ladue, Missouri

And a few ideas were taken from responses to our professional church worker survey, as reported by Church360° Members in the free downloadable white paper 51 Ideas to Make Your Church Office Hum.

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