What Do Pastors Do?

Every weekend, multitudes of preachers stand before congregations and faithfully preach God’s word to God’s people. For those 30-45 minutes, the preacher looks out from the pulpit and tells his congregation how God’s word applies to their lives. Then, he leaves the pulpit, walks off the stage, and goes home just like everyone else. Next Sunday, he’ll be back in the pulpit pouring his heart out before the church.

For many Christians, this is the main time that they see their pastor. Consequently, many Christians wonder what their pastor does during the week. I’ve personally had more than one person walk up to me and ask, “what do you do on Mondays?” Others have made the infamous comment: “You only work one day a week.” In response to those who wonder what pastors do during the week, the answer is that we do a lot!

Believe it or not, pastors work very hard doing many different jobs between sermons. According to a 2010 LifeWay survey, 65% of senior pastors work more than 50 hours a week![1] If you go to a church with a bi-vocational pastor, your pastor goes to work every day before coming home and putting in a few more hours of work on behalf of the church. No matter the size of the church, your pastor probably puts in many more hours than you might expect doing a wide variety of jobs.

Though it would be impossible to summarize everything a pastor does during the week, here are a few jobs that pastors attempt to accomplish each week.

1. Pastors pray

In the book of Acts, the apostles served as the pastors of the first church located in Jerusalem. When a problem arose within the church, the apostles respond by creating a ministry team of deacons to handle the problem. According to the apostles, they decided to get the deacons to handle the church’s food ministry so that they could give their “attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”[2]

Pastors fill a lot of roles in the local church; thus, there’s necessarily a hierarchy of jobs. According to the apostles who served as the pastors of the first church, pastors should spend time praying, even if it means that they have to delegate other important, worthwhile responsibilities.

2. Pastors study the Bible

Along with prayer, the apostles say that, as pastors, they will devote themselves to the “ministry of the word.”[3] The Greek word the apostles use for ministry is διακονια, from which we get our English word “deacon.” Whereas the deacon team that the apostles created to handle the problem took the food and administered the food to the widows, the apostles said that, as pastors, they would take God’s word and administer it to the people who needed it most.

To rightly administer God’s word to the people who need it, pastors must know the Bible; thus, pastors have to spend time continually studying the Bible in order to keep their knowledge of this large book up-to-date. Protestant Bibles have 66 books written in 3 languages over a couple thousand years. Though there are differences between translations, English Bibles have over 700,000 words spread throughout over 31,000 verses.[4] The size of the Bible notwithstanding, if you walk up to the pastor of your local church and tell him that you’re struggling with temptation, he’ll almost certainly be able to give you five verses that apply to your situation off the top of his head. Having that kind of recall of the Bible takes a lot of time. Thus, for your pastor to fulfill the pastoral responsibility of administering the word of God, he needs to spend serious amounts of time around a Bible.

3. Pastors study theology

The person who knows the Bible does not necessarily know theology. Though knowing the Bible and knowing theology should go hand in hand, theology is a different field entirely. In theology, we reflect on what the Bible says so that we can gain a greater understanding of the nuances of God’s revelation while also applying God’s revelation to modern situations. Knowing the Bible is important to Christian theology; however, theology goes a step beyond the Bible by reflecting on and synthesizing what all of the Bible says regarding a specific topic.

In 1 Timothy 4:16, one of Paul’s famous pastoral epistles, Paul tells Timothy to watch his “doctrine closely.”[5] If a pastor isn’t spending at least some time thinking theologically, then he isn’t watching his doctrine. According to 1 Timothy 4:17, a pastor who doesn’t keep a tight rein on his theology is dangerous both to himself and to his church. When you go see your medical doctor, you expect her to be aware of the basics of her field; similarly, you should expect your preacher to know the basics of theology. Anything less violates the commands of scripture and poses a threat to the wellbeing of the local church.

 4. Pastors prepare to preach

In his final pastoral epistle, Paul told Timothy, a younger pastor whom he had mentored for years, to “preach the word.”[6] Preaching is one of the biggest parts of being a pastor. Until you pastor a church, you never understand the rhythm of pastoral ministry: Sunday is always right around the corner. When pastors lie in bed on Sunday nights after a full day of ministry, they know that they’ve got 6 days to prepare another insightful, convicting, interesting, engaging, biblically-based sermon to preach to their people. Sunday is always right around the corner in pastoral ministry.

Writing Sunday morning sermons takes up the bulk of a pastor’s time during the week. According to LifeWay research, 50% of pastors spend between five and 14 hours a week preparing to preach on Sunday. Some pastors even spend over 25 hours a week just preparing to deliver their Sunday sermons![7] Every time your pastor gets into the pulpit, you can safely assume he’s spent approximately 10 hours during the week preparing to teach you about God’s word for 30 minutes.

For most pastors, writing sermons for their people is a great privilege and an exhausting responsibility. Most pastors love the people in the pews as if they were their own flesh and blood, and most pastors genuinely desire the very best for their church members. Furthermore, theologically conservative pastors believe two things about the Bible: First, they believe that the Bible contains the answers to the problems that ruin the lives of their church members. Second, they believe that if their church members would follow the Bible’s teachings, they would find new life in Christ that surpasses their wildest dreams. Finally, pastors believe that the preaching of God’s word is one of the main tools that God uses to change the lives of the people whom they love most. That’s why pastors work so hard at preparing sermons: We really believe that God can and does use our feeble sermons to change lives for the better.

5. Pastors serve people

Before his crucifixion, Jesus meets with the disciples and does something quite shocking. During their final meal together, Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer garment, and kneels before each disciple. Jesus proceeds to wash and dry each disciple’s foot one at a time as an act of service. Imagine that: Jesus, who was about to be revealed to all as the Christ, took the time to serve his followers by washing their feet.[8]

Since pastors are the leaders of their churches, they follow biblical mandates and examples for leaders. According to the Bible, leaders in Christian circles are to be servants; thus, following the example of Jesus who washed his disciples’ feet, pastors serve the people in their churches.

Pastors serve people in many ways. If a couple in the church is having marital problems, the pastor will meet with the couple to give free, confidential, biblically based advice. If someone in the church is moving to a new home, pastors will go help carry couches. If a member of the congregation is in the hospital, pastors will go sit in the hospital room for a while to keep them company. Usually, the servant side of a pastor’s job remains out of the view of the church; however, make no mistake about it, most pastors are serious about serving their church members when the opportunity arises.

6. Pastors lead the church

Leading the church is the pastor’s main job: The pastor prays, prepare to preach, and studies so that he can lead the church competently. The pastor serves the people in the church so that he can earn the right to be their leader. Leading the church is what the pastor does; everything else is simply a subset of his role as leader.

In Acts 20, Paul speaks to the pastors of the church at Ephesus for the last time and gives them an important command. Paul says: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”[9]

Just like a shepherd leads his sheep to food and water while protecting them from predators, pastors carry the heavy burden of providing for and protecting the local church. Through performing his many jobs, the pastor feeds the church God’s word through Bible studies and sermons. The pastor also defends the church from those who would do it harm by recognizing and subtlety correcting theological errors in the congregation. Finally, pastors serve the church so that they can lead the church to accomplish its two missions: knowing Christ and making him known.

Notes & Sources

[1] https://lifewayresearch.com/2010/01/05/pastors-long-work-hours-come-at-expense-of-people-ministry/

[2] Acts 6:4, all scripture quotations are from the NIV.

[3] Acts 6:4.

[4] http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/bible-trivia-facts

[5] 1 Timothy 4:16.

[6] 2 Timothy 4:2.

[7] https://lifewayresearch.com/2010/01/05/pastors-long-work-hours-come-at-expense-of-people-ministry/

[8] John 13.1-17

[9] Acts 20:28

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