A Day in the Life of the Rev Mr Joe Presbyterian

An HB Classic

Thomas ChalmersThe question came up on the PB whether pastors are overworked. Most people work hard but not everyone works in the same way the pastor does. Some compared the pastor’s work to physical labor. That’s a poor comparison. The labor of the pastor is not so much physical but psychic, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Nevertheless, two of my strongest memories of (pre-email and pre-cell phone and “wired”)  full-time pastoral ministry are driving and the phone. I was constantly in the car driving to see someone or pick up something. It was a year after left full-time ministry before I stopped jumping when the phone rang and that was before cell phones were ubiquitous. The number of calls is probably conservative. In truth, some weeks were much more busy and some were much slower. Some weeks I had a good lot of time to study and even to write but in those times I felt guilty because I wasn’t busier. In the very busy weeks I felt guilty because I didn’t pray or study enough. In the ordinary providence of God, contingency and emergency determined the pastor’s week.

Here’s a quick and somewhat idealized composite of life as the full-time pastor of a typical (50-100 member) NAPARC congregation.

Mon—Prayer and rest from Sunday. 5 phone calls regarding church (crisis brewing with an elder), 4 txt messages. One hospital call. Stayed away from email.

Tues—Prayer and start translating Greek for AM sermon and Hebrew for PM sermon. Read chapters before and after passages in ESV. Worked on bible software for an hour figuring out word usage. Answer 12 phone calls, 3 text messages, and 20 emails. One pastoral visit. Session meeting in the evening. One of the elders is really unhappy. Late: Fixed church webpage (our webmaster transferred to another city).

Wed—Prayer and finish translating passages and begin sermon outlines. Answer 10 phone calls. One house visit. One hospital visit. Squeeze in 30 minute run to the local seminary library. Answer 10 emails and 7 text messages. Lunch with a visitor to church. Prep for address to the Rotary Club next week. Work on bulletin. Convene church anniversary committee. Computer is acting up.

Thurs—Prayer and prep for evening Bible Study. Write church news letter. Go to Office Depot. Call repairman for that broken light switch in the narthex. Do tax forms for 501 c 3 status. Ask the grounds committee to get the lawn mowed before Sunday. Answer 6 phone calls and 3 text messages. Long lunch with a disgruntled elder. Committee work for Presbytery on the latest  theological problem in the conservative Presbyterian churches. Squeeze in a little sermon prep. Drive by local mega-church and ask God why, in his mysterious and perfect providence, he sends people there.

Fri—Prayer. Finish sermon outline. Read 6 commentaries (3 for each passage) to make sure I didn’t miss anything obvious. Started reading the latest  evangelical fad book so I could answer Mrs Jones’ question at Bible Study. Picked songs for worship. Sent the bulletin to the pianist. Took computer to repair shop. Only 5 emails (using old, slow PC) and 5 text messages today. 4 phone calls. No emergencies. One nursing home visit. One late night phone call.

Sat—Prayer. Not happy with sermon outline. Re-worked it. Catechism class. Lunch at home. Took a call from Mrs Henry. She’s upset with Mrs McElphatrick. Mowed the grass at church (the grounds committee didn’t show up). A homeless fellow showed up and the afternoon was spent connecting him with the shelter. 12 phone calls and 10 emails. One of our aging baby boomers wants a more contemporary service.

Sun—Prayer. Set up for catechism and church (communion). Adult Class. Bulletin was late for AM service. 5 guests for lunch (good day for visitors!). Reviewed notes for PM sermon. PM service—the pianist didn’t show. Calvin would have been proud of us. Emergency session meeting; the elder is really unhappy. Don’t know how many phone calls and text messages setting up the emergency session meeting.


[This post first appeared in 2008 on the HB]

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  1. And it’s sad to realize that pastors are under-appreciated, and very rarely prayed for. I think sometimes we parishioners think you guys are like “super-giants” or almost treat you like “super-apostles”, even though we don’t think there are apostles anymore.

    All I can say to you, Danny, and elder David, is thank you. I will try to pray for you guys more often. And I promise I will submit to your care and authority.

    Thank you!

  2. In terms of the demands of the office, much more could be said.

    Yet, for those reading Heidelblog who are preparing for ministry, you should also consider some of the other things the the LORD puts in the pastor’s week:

    – The privilege of sharing the gospel with a dying non-Christian in the hospital who listens to you simply because you are a pastor.
    – The e-mail you receive on Tuesday morning telling you how much your last two sermons impacted a person’s life.
    – The marriage you’ve seen transform as an unbelieving husband was converted to Christ.
    – The teenagers who not only stand boldly for the gospel in the face of a hostile culture, but who hug you and treat you like you were almost a second father to them.
    – The member of your congregation who calls for help on witnessing to her Jewish, Mormon, Atheist, or Roman Catholic friend.
    – The college students who, though at school many states away, call to share their struggles and ask for prayer.
    – The unspeakable privilege of publicly proclaiming Christ crucified and resurrected.

    Yes, pastoral ministry is extraordinarily demanding. It will humble you. No one is sufficient for this work. It will require you to keep dying to yourself in order to live for Christ. Ministers have a front row seat to the pains and miseries of this world, but we also have a front row seat to see the grace of God at work in the lives of His people; and God’s grace is sufficient – even for you.

  3. So for a larger, well-run church (where unrelated duties like updating the webpage, mowing the grass, fixing the light switch, serving the drop-in, etc are delegated to others, is life significantly easier, or does the empty space simply fill up with counseling duties from the larger congregation?

  4. How does a church of 50-100 members not have any deacons? Why would the pastor have to worry about light switches, grass, homeless people, ect? And when they’re done with that, tell them you need a conputer. Sure, the pastor may be the one who is initally made aware of some of these things, but still…

  5. Dear Mark,

    When I first came to the church where I serve as pastor, we had one Elder and no Deacons. So one of the things that can be added to the above “Day in the Life” is preparing and leading officers training for future Elders and Deacons.

    Raising up future ordained officers is one of the largely hidden tasks that Ministers and Ruling Elders share. To do this responsibly takes a significant commitment of time, energy, and prayer. I’m not familiar with how the URC does this, but I spent a year training a group of men in the theology, government and piety of the OPC as well as in the theology and practice of diaconal work before our congregation called two of the men to serve as Deacons.

    So yes, a church with more than 50 members will hopefully have Deacons – but they don’t just drop out of the sky.

    Best wishes,


    • Sure, agree with what you said. Would you agree that when you accepted that call there was obviously something lacking in the leadership of the church? For that matter, I know a NAPARC church with approximately 150 members with 17 elders (and 20+ deacons) that serve on a rotational basis irregularly, and rather more than half of them have never attended presbytery and many probably couldn’t tell you what WCF stood for. My point was that those types of situations shouldn’t be normal.

    • Hey Mark,
      If you arrive at a church (or a mission), and it has less than 40 people–men, women, and children–and they’ve barely even begun the road to Reformation, how could the situation NOT be “lacking in leadership?”

      You’re dropping a template on a lot of flocks, made up of lambs, and criticizing the church for not already being full-fledged. What’s up with that?

      A lot of Dutch still don’t know what it really is like to have to start church over from scratch, almost. The OPC has been like that from the beginning, because the faithful lost everything–literally everything–so they could keep the gospel. It wasn’t a split, it was a splinter.

      There are many URCs today, which are virtually unchanged since they left the CRC. Same multi-generational families, same nice church buildings, same budgets. The only thing that changed was the name on the sign, and how far the elder and minster had to travel to get to Classis.

      As much as I’d love to see OPC and URC come together in something like a beautiful marriage, I’m not sure it can happen happily, until the URC relearns the suffering of a church under the cross; and the OPC relearns…the Psalms, and catechism.

    • Bruce
      Why don’t you actually read the post and what I wrote. A mission church with less than 40 people total is not the subject under discussion, rather an established church with 50-100 members. Also, not “dropping a template”, merely expressing my hope that a church of that size would typically have leadership that approximates the Biblical and Confessional model rather than for it to be typical to lack an effective diaconate as laid out in the prof’s “idealized” scenario.

  6. Mrs McElphatrick thinks that singing the Psalms acappella is just a preference & her revival hymns aren’t!

  7. Good post and thoughtful comments. My own heart’s desire is to take my family from our eclectic evangelical sub-megachurch (maybe 500, good size but doesn’t meet “mega” standards) to a Reformed church. We have a URC and an OPC not far from us; I’ve only visited the URC and I like it a lot despite (because of?) its small size of 50 or so.

    Honestly though, there’s a serious learning curve to embracing Reformed doctrine. Within the church I’d gather there is some reinforcement and help, but coming from outside of it I’m on my own. Even though I’m academically inclined, it’s still a challenge and tough to go it alone.

  8. Hi Dan,

    I’m glad that you are in the process of trying to move your family to a Confessionally Reformed church. Three thoughts:

    1. First, the good news is that you don’t need to “go it alone” as you move through the learning curve to embrace Reformed doctrine. I’m sure that the pastor of either the URC or the OPC church in your area would be happy to assist you.

    2. One of the things you will appreciate about Reformed churches is that we are very self-conscious about confessing what we believe. We are also committed to helping every member of the congregation grow in his or her understanding of God’s word. This means that we write things down in ways that are easily accessible to those who are learning these truths for the first time. Here are some resources for you to consider:

    (a) First, you will want to read through either the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Shorter Catechism (and preferably both). These are official teaching documents that reflect what Reformed churches believe. They will provide you with the hooks you need to organize the rest of the Reformed teaching that you are hearing. Please don’t skip this step. Both of these catechisms are tremendously helpful.

    You can access the Heidelberg Catechism with scripture proofs here: https://www.service-life.com/sysfiles/member/custom_public/custom.cfm?memberid=303&customid=2643

    You can access the Shorter Catechism here: http://opc.org/sc.html A version with scripture proofs is also available on the OPC.org website.

    (b) I would also encourage you to read Danny Hyde’s book “Welcome to a Reformed Church.” This book is written precisely to help people coming from the broader evangelical world to transition with understanding and joy to being members of a Reformed church.

    As you talk with one of the Reformed pastors in your area, and he gets to know you better, he will be able to recommend further materials.

    3. Don’t put off making the move. Reformed theology is not an abstract set of doctrines floating around on the Internet. Reformed theology is the outgrowth of the Bible being taken seriously on its own terms by Christians who confess and embody those truths within Reformed churches.

    Best wishes,


  9. Hi David,

    I appreciate your encouragement.

    Last year for me was a self-guided shotgun course on creeds and confessions, both in terms of content and books arguing in their favor; in principle my own individual response is “Where do I sign up?”.

    The catch is, it’s a family decision–that is, the husband and wife–and not an individual one. I will say no more! I’m trying to work that, I really am.

    Thanks also for your mention of Danny Hyde – I appreciate his “outsider’s” lens into the Reformed faith and have several of his books. He’s been a great help to me through his written works over the past year or so, though I’ve not read all the ones I own. But I love his passion to teach.

    • Hi Dan,

      Your comments are very encouraging. I’m glad to see you moving in this direction. As David says, you’re not alone. Here’s an essay that might help on Pilgrims and Their Hosts in Tabletalk.

      Recovering the Reformed Confession might also be useful at some point.

      Helping pilgrims find their way to Geneva, as it were, or to Heidelberg, is one of the reasons for the HB.

      Check out the categories for more stuff that might be helpful.

      Blessings on your journey and your family’s.

  10. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for responding! I first heard you on (ding!) WSC’s “Office Hours” podcast as you interviewed several WSC faculty members. I’ve listened to a number of those.

    Now I know why I keep those old issues of Tabletalk (subscribed in ’08), and I appreciate the link to your article. Also, as I was waiting in line to vote in Nov 2012, I listened to an interview of you by Scott Oakland (ReformedCast) that fired me up. I recall the terms “QIRC” and “QIRE”, and a phrase you used “soft pentecostalism” also stuck as I believe to some extent it describes my own church. But I recall nodding in agreement with much that you said. A very helpful gentleman in a nearby reformed bookstore had told me about your book last summer or fall, so I’d heard of it. Probably was not long after I read the Three Forms as I was sniffing my way in that direction.

    On a similar subject, I did read Carl Trueman’s book “The Creedal Imperative”. I completely get it because many positive arguments in favor of the confessions he mentioned-namely those that protect the congregation-are things that rang true to me, given the absence of any detailed written standards in my own church to which pastors and elders are held (mainly the latter in our particular case). Yet sadly, those who need to read the book most, will be least likely to do so. That is just the reality of it. Your book does seem to come up a lot in things that I read, so I’ll probably eventually buy it, although it’s difficult to set reading priorities with so much to learn. I know I started 2013 intending to read “Sacred Bond” (Brown/Keele), but haven’t gotten to it yet.

    Anyway, thanks again and blessings to you as well.

  11. Sorry this sounds harsh – and it relates only to an already established church with various elders and deacons – but what strikes me is that

    1. All work is spiritual and perhaps ministry more so. But we are in danger of super-spiritualizing the relationship issues that come up in ministry.

    2. Rev Joe is too reactive and does not seem to be prioritizing his time. We all have to do in any walk of life; nurses and well as CEOs all know this. [I know one minister who has no email (or at least none that he admits to), who has no mobile, and who never answers the phone but replies to those phone messages that he feels he needs to. We have happily learnt not to look to him to be a ‘super-apostle’. He has only just taken on a part-time administrator].

    3. For example, a weekly meeting with all the elders can save multiple time-consuming phone calls. The minister must realize that he is not there to keep the elders happy. It is never satisfactory when any employee primarily seeks to please his employer at the expense even of doing the job properly. He should seek to do his job; if his employers don’t like it they can sack him. The same with the flock.

    4. Surely Rev Joes’s ‘job’ ie his first priority must be preaching. It should also be hopefully his first love if indeed he has God’s calling rather than just his or the church’s calling to preach. Furthermore he alone has the time and hopefully the ability to do this; others (elders, deacons and flock) can do much of the rest.

    5. If, measured realistically ie not by idealistic standards, the preaching is poor, too difficult, or too time-consuming, then maybe he does not have that calling. We all have to learn to find other jobs if we cannot perform our desired one.

    6. Rev Joe needs to pray but time spent on one’s knees is not the same as quality. At busy times, he can ask others to pray for him; we all do that – I don’t think that is ‘ungodly’

    7. I agree that ministering to non-Christians at key moments (near death etc) can be vital, and I would also include addresses to the Rotary Club primarily both, in both cases, the non-Christian might well not listen to/invite an elder. But Rev Joe should never give the impression that he alone is equipped by God to be visiting so-and-so; that would impede the gospel message not facilitate it.

    8. Rev Joe does not need to go to endless, often rather self-indulgent, conferences, but he does need fellowship with others. But so do all of us, and we cannot take time out of a secular job to do this; we fit it in.

    9. Filling in a tax form should hardly be a weekly job; in any case that is something we all have to do in our own time. I think the guideline for Rev Joe’s job is that if secular workers have to do it in their own time, then he should too. A minister going to buy a light switch or bulb for where he lives should do so in his ‘own’ time, like the rest of us. (the church building would fall outside this).

    10. It is good that the church has weekly or fortnightly evening gatherings. Rev Joe might lead one to teach home group leaders who will then lead their own groups. Those home groups should then be the church’s principal support mechanism, hopefully overseen by a deacon, for eg hospital visits.

    11. There will still be some hospital visits that Rev Joe will want to do, just as we all visit the sick too in our own time. He may want to visit close friends and the elders, but should not be coerced by a shrill voice and a guilty conscience into too many such visits.

    12. If there is no pianist, no church website, no newsletter, and long grass, just let them be, until someone in the congregation comes forward to do them. If nobody does, then why was the minister so fussed about them?

    13. The homeless guy certainly needs help. I remember calling on the minister once (by appointment!) just as he was talking to a homeless guy at the door. He asked me (virtually told me – I didn’t mind) to help the guy. I didn’t want to and didn’t know how to, but as I talked to the guy, God took me way beyond my skill set and comfort zone to what might have been something that did help him. God works with clay vessels

    14. Deep down, the minister, and through the preaching the church, needs to realise that it is Jesus is the church’s chairman, not Joe. Joe is just a specialist employee; he must not make himself an indispensible intermediary/managing direct – otherwise the congregation will become observers not participants. He must have a fanatical desire to preach the gospel, and an equally fanatical desire to delegate God’s other work to others.

    15. If the church is in its infancy, then the minister must appoint and equip elders to help him. Many churches at this stage hold back on the second service, or the evening building.

    I now await a furor!

    • Richard,

      No furor but I do have the sense that you’ve never been a pastor in a small, impoverished, confessionally Reformed congregation. That’s the reality that many of us face in North America. Everything I described here came out of actual experience (mine or someone else’s). It’s what happens and what sometimes must happen. The point of the post is to help people appreciate the daily reality via a snapshot of an imperfect pastor in a tough situation.

      We probably disagree as to priorities and the nature of the ministerial vocation. His first priority is to preach the Word but he must as a solemn duty before God make hospital calls. He’s is a shepherd of a flock and not merely a voice in a pulpit.

      You assume much that may or may not be true. Finding elders is increasingly difficult. Society is increasingly mobile. People do not stay in one town or even in one job for years on end now. When candidates are found they must be prepared and all that takes time.

      I can’t and won’t respond to each point but your reply is a classic example of the fellow who thinks the other guy’s job can’t be that hard.

      • Thank you for your most gracious reply.

        Yes, I think we do have to disagree a bit on priorities – I do think the best pastoring is via preaching; and the best work is equipping and sending out others, rather than acting as a magnet. But I don’t want to seek cheap shots again.

        Now 61, but having spent much of my life as a high school teacher, delivering 30 different ‘talks’ a week, to a congregation of 30 who generally don’t want to be there, writing minutes/reports on each attendee (ie marking each evening), trying to get each one to an individual level of understanding by year’s end, counselling each and every one on a regular basis, let alone the disaster cases, without deacons or admin support, without any control of the quality of or access to a photocopier, with no time for a leisurely lunch with anyone, surrounded by noise and playground duties, with no free time to take or collect your car from the garage until the weekend or the holidays, no daytime time or permission to make personal phone calls, departmental meetings, parents evenings, often yearly syllabus changes (fortunately the bible doesn’t change!) – yes, you’re right, I am yet to be persuaded that a minster’s job is of that magnitude.

  12. I’m a sure in a few years this post will prove to be quite “prophetic” in Ryan’s and my life. (Especially the Psalms, if he has his way)
    A great sketch! Thank you for the post.

  13. I have read the last couple of comments between Richard and Dr Clark. It would be laughable at what is going on if the topic wasn’t so serious. What I mean is, it almost seems like Richard was in a competition to prove his job is worse.

    I felt that Dr Clark didn’t present his situation in that way, and he was not intending on showing off to people that the pastor’s job is so arduous, and oh, look at how holy he is for taking on such a hard life! He was simply trying to explain the “statistical mean” as he sees it from his experience. Of course, someone else’s “statistical mean” might be different.

    Every job has its difficulties (sacred and secular), and every church has different dynamics and its own unique headaches. Yes, some pastors are incompetent and they work 100 hours a week due to their own incompetence.. Others work 100 hours a week because of their particular situation (and they are not incompetent) and there are those that are in between.

    And, for us to simply compare jobs as if to say that I am somehow better than you because I put up with more stuff at work is missing the point behind God’s will for everyone to be in their particular place at their particular time.

    Everyone’s job is hard at certain points and easy at certain points. I think that Dr Clark did a good service in providing folks an understanding that there is more to a pastor’s job that most think..
    This is no way implies that other jobs are easier or somehow lesser in value in God’s foreordained will.

  14. Dr. Clark, I just read the Feb 2010 Tabletalk article you referred me to. Thematically it reminds me very much of D. G. Hart’s “The Lost Soul of American Protestantism”, which I read late last year; it emphasized the dissimilarity of confessional Reformed Christianity to both liberal/mainline and conservative/revivalist streams of American Christianity. I noticed that Scott Oakland’s ReformedCast interviews of you and Dr. Hart were just weeks apart, so I probably heard them right around the same time as I was catching up with his back episodes.

    Sorry if this is off the beaten path of Rev Joe Presbyterian! Just thought I’d follow up. Thanks again for your referrals and links.

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