Clergy Formation—Preparing for Ministry in Today’s World, or Yesterday’s? (Part 2)

New Clergy Priorities and Time Use

Like other people with challenging jobs, Christian pastors and priests are typically pulled in a variety of directions. Attending meetings, leading worship services, making pastoral care visits, organizing community outreach efforts … time management is a critical skill for ministers determining their daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly plans. So how do ministers prioritize?

Clergy don’t spend equal amounts of time on all of their areas of responsibility, of course. A solo pastor at a small rural parish needs to set different priorities than someone at a big church with a 1,000+ membership and a large staff.

It seems valid, however, to ask whether ordained ministers invest enough time in the areas that would benefit their congregations the most. If not, they might need to consider adjusting or re-balancing their priorities.

As part of the Clergy Into Action Study, we asked alumni of Transition into Ministry (TiM) programs to estimate how many hours they spent on 13 areas of ministry in an average week.

The results indicate that congregational ministers tend to spend the most time on the tasks in which they are the most confident and have received the most formal training, particularly preparing and delivering sermons.

Our survey respondents reported spending by far the most time in a typical week on the area of preaching and proclamation:

  • 58% spend seven or more hours a week;
  • 27% spend ten or more hours a week.


This may simply reflect the priorities of many congregations. In churches that emphasize the centrality of preaching and the Word, a compelling sermon is often the main thing that the pastor is expected to deliver on Sunday. Yet clergy who find themselves devoting 15% to 25% of their work hours to their sermons may need to reflect on whether that much time is really necessary or beneficial.

The next-highest rated area was being a role model, with 25% reporting that they spend ten or more hours a week on it. In contrast, 12% said they spend zero hours acting as a role model on average. One possible explanation for these extremes could be that different survey respondents interpreted the question very differently. Some may have estimated the weekly number of hours they acted as role models as part of performing other responsibilities (such as teaching Sunday school or making pastoral care visits), which would yield fairly high numbers; others may have counted just the hours in which being a role model was their main activity—in which case it makes sense that 47% would pick either “0 hours” or “1–3 hours.”

Also rated highly for time use were pastoral care, with 29% spending seven or more hours a week, and communications, with 26% spending seven or more hours a week.

Click on image for larger view

Click on image for larger view

Areas receiving the least time and attention were lay ministry development, self-development, supervision, sacramental ministries, community outreach, and objective-setting.

The ratings for supervising others and work are worth examining. More than 10% of survey respondents reported spending 7 hours a week or more on supervision. At the other end of the scale, 26% said they spend zero hours on it in an average week. This is understandable given the wide variety of church situations in which new clergy serve; associate pastors and solo pastors most likely don’t have anyone to supervise.

Yet if those associate pastors and solo pastors later accept positions in larger churches, they may find themselves responsible for the supervision of others … with minimal training or experience. At what stage in the process can clergy and future clergy learn how to be good supervisors?

Also, a skilled supervisor may not need to spend many hours each week overseeing others; conversely, a poor supervisor who spends a lot of time on supervision may cause more harm than good. So hours spent on supervision may not be a good indicator of confidence and skill.

Overall, however, the results of this part of the Clergy Into Action Study are fairly consistent with the group’s reports of their levels of self-confidence in the same 13 areas of ministry. The correlation suggests that, like most people, clergy weight their time use somewhat in favor of the areas in which they feel most confident.

There are exceptions. Our survey respondents rated sacramental and liturgical ministries as their third-highest area of self-confidence. Yet approximately 67% reported that this area received their attention for 3 hours or less per week. Possible reasons might include the lay leadership of the church, not ordained ministers, being traditionally responsible for the preparation and planning of worship services, or the congregation resisting clergy’s ideas for innovation or creativity in its worship.

But generally the picture is again of ordained religious leaders devoting their time and efforts to core role-functions (especially preaching and pastoral care), but not to the building, strengthening, or expanding of mission and of their congregations’ capacities for effective mission.

The “FACTs on Growth: 2010” report, published in 2011 by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP), concluded that some key factors affecting whether a church grows or declines include

  • whether the congregation has a clear mission and purpose;
  • the presence or absence of serious conflict;
  • the extent to which the congregation is involved in evangelism or recruitment; and
  • the amount of time the leader of the congregation spends doing evangelism or recruitment.


Priests and pastors who hesitate to invest their time in tasks such as developing lay leadership, nurturing healthy group dynamics, reaching out to potential members, and building involvement in the wider community may contribute to their churches’ decline or lack of growth.

For Your Consideration

  • During your most recent work week, roughly how much time did you spend inside your comfort zone, doing tasks that come naturally to you? How much time did you spend on tasks that you find challenging or stressful?
  • How do you make decisions about how to prioritize your time? How much of a factor is the level of difficulty or stress of various tasks? The amount of impact your work will have? What about others’ expectations?

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