Christian Articles Archive

So Pastors Only Work on Sundays?

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

"Pastor, you're lucky," they'll say. "You only have to work on Sundays. What do you do for a living?"

I don't take it personally any more. Most people really don't know. Just what is a pastor anyway? What does a pastor do?


"Pastor" is a Latin word that means "shepherd." The ancient Hebrews--Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--were a sheep and goat herding people who moved from place to place to find fresh pasture. Consequently, the Israelites understood responsibility for sheep. They called their leaders "shepherds of the nation."

Shepherds are a flock's first line of defense against danger. David in the Bible once risked his life by taking on a lion and a bear single-handed to protect his sheep--and won. When a sheep gets lost, the shepherd will scour the hills to find it. Shepherds care for the injured, assist at lambing, and constantly watch for strays. Shepherds lead their flocks to fresh grasslands and water to keep them well nourished.

David, whom God promoted from hillside flocks to Israel's throne, applied this image to God himself.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want, He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.... Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, For You are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.[1]

Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."[2] That's what the cross is all about.

Local church pastors are under-shepherds of God's smaller flocks, but you can see they have pretty big shoes to fill. Just what do pastors do in today's world?


The most visible part of a pastor's job is leading the church in worship on Sunday mornings. Designing worship that lifts people towards God involves several hours each week. To give a provocative and helpful message entails another six to ten hours of careful preparation; if preaching looks easy it's due to long hours spent in study. The typical pastor is called on to preach or teach at least twice more each week, with several hours needed to prepare each time. Unlike school teachers who can reuse lesson plans year after year, a pastor's material has to be fresh, up-to-date, and tailored for the particular needs of people. No repeating.


You've seen pastors conduct weddings. While the service may last twenty minutes, the pre-marital counseling takes a minimum of four to six hours. Funerals often involve lots of time in comforting and counseling the bereaved.

Pastors are no strangers to hospital rooms and intensive care units. We spend a good deal of time with those facing surgery or serious illnesses. Pastors are representatives of the God who says, "I will never leave your or forsake you."

Pastors are sometimes called the "poor man's psychiatrist." Counseling is part of our professional training, and we get plenty of practice, though we don't charge $60 to $90 per fifty minutes. In fact, we don't charge at all. We're called on to help wives and husbands patch together troubled marriages, and to counsel families whose children are in trouble. We do a good bit of career and job counseling for people between positions and we're often used as a sounding board when people are trying to sort through a particularly tough decision.


Pastors are organizers, too, especially when a new church starts from scratch. We're entrepreneurs for God, if you will. If you've ever managed a business or been president of an organization, you have some idea of what's involved. Groups accomplish a lot more with a structure of tasks and responsibilities--and careful planning. Pastors attend lots of team meetings.

But our role doesn't stop at organizational management. Pastors seek to discover the unique and special gifts of each member, and then endeavor to help that person recognize and develop these gifts. We see you as God's minister; it's as if we're working ourselves out of a job. Teaching, coaching, modeling, and on-the- job training are all part of this. Corporations call it human resources development.

As churches grow, they add staff--both volunteer and paid--to meet the increasing needs of the congregation: custodians, secretaries, youth ministers, music directors, childcare workers. Then we're involved in the personnel functions of interviewing, hiring, supervising, etc.


In some churches a pastor will wear a few more hats still, until members of the congregation step up to assume their own ministries. Writing, editing, typing, copying, labeling, bundling, and mailing a church newsletter, for example, takes hours and hours. Then there's a bulletin to prepare each week, numerous letters to send, and correspondence to answer. Since a church is a corporation, there are legal and tax forms to file. Though there's a treasurer, the pastor may have to help decide which bills to pay and which to hold until enough money comes in. Fund raising usually falls on our shoulders, too. Administration is invisible but indispensable.

Called To Serve

High-living televangelists to the contrary, pastors aren't in it for the money. Not hardly. Many pastors start by paying off the debts of four years of college and three years of graduate school. With the kind of education and the skills pastors possess, in secular work they might double or triple the salary they earn in a church. Yet many choose to take second and third jobs to subsidize their salary so they can continue to follow God's call--to care for His sheep, for you. Pastors typically put in 60 to 70 hours per week. For money? No. Because God has called them to serve.

Spiritual Leader

I've left the most important until last: a pastor's primary role is as a "spiritual coach" to help each member to develop a personal relationship with God and learn how to serve God in his or her own personal ministry.

All this takes place behind the scenes--in living rooms and restaurants, at workplaces and backyard BBQs--amidst life's routines and its most grueling crises. "Why did this happen to me, pastor?" "I'm afraid, what should I do?" "How can I become a real Christian?" "How can Justin and I stay together after this?"

We pray for you, for each member of our flock, and God answers us.

Pastors are not off in some ivory tower. We are with you on the front lines of life, grappling with the core issues of our common existence.

I know that Hollywood depicts pastors as wimps, as losers. But I can tell you we partake of a satisfaction and joy that far outweighs the glitz and glitter of an executive suite or a red Porsche in the driveway.

What do pastors do on days other than Sunday? Look for sheep who are wandering. Sheep who live as if to say, "Our family is too busy for God." Sheep who are too dull to know that God is for real and that life only comes by once. Sheep who don't know that the Good Shepherd poured out his lifeblood to rescue them. Sheep who are lying lost and hurting, waiting for someone to care, to notice, to bring them wholeness, to find them before they die alone.

That's what pastors do. Care for sheep.

[1] Psalm 23:1-4 (NIV). [2] John 10:11 (NIV).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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