I’m addicted to seeking advice from older, wiser, spiritually-healthy pastors—those with godly attitudes and a long history of balance, healthy families, and personal fruit. Of the many questions I like to ask, this one is my favorite:
“How do you build your ‘normal’ weekly schedule?”
The first response is almost always laughter, followed by “what’s normal!?” From there I get a variety of answers.
The pastors I ask this question of are hard-working and passionate for preaching and people. They labor diligently, but live with a healthy balance while maintaining Biblical priorities. Their church understands the need for long-term sustainability amidst a consuming life of ministry.
The call to ministry is immersive—sort of like drinking the ocean. There’s always more to be done, more needs to meet and more people to serve. Without strategic and intentional decision-making, a weekly schedule will fly wildly out of control. As a result, a pastor’s life and family can deeply suffer.
How many needs did Jesus choose not to personally meet during his earthly ministry? He slept, ate, restored, worshipped, communed with friends, and stuck to doing the will of His Father. At every moment, multitudes remained close at hand yet did not get what they wanted. He healed many, but not all. Jesus ministered to many, but not all. He accepted the limits of life in a human body and stayed the course of the will of God. He allowed His Father to determine the priorities over the urgent demands of the immediate circumstances. He remained focused on the greater, eternal purpose! If I’m going to survive in ministry, I must learn to do the same.
After many conversations with Biblically balanced pastors with sustainable, healthy ministries, here are the common ways these pastors balance life and ministry through their schedule.
10 Ways Pastors Balance Life and Ministry in Their Schedules
1. A Day of Rest
Without fail, ALL of the faithful pastors I’ve dialogued with intentionally disconnect for at least one full day each week. Many also regularly take an extra day or half-day, due to the fact that most weeks find ministry demands bleeding into long 15+ hours days. One day off is consistent across the board. Many ministry leaders do not take a day off, thinking this to be noble or admirable. It’s not. It’s dangerous, destructive, and a bad example to others, which will lead to burnout.
2. A Couple Full Days of Study
While the placement of these days varies widely, I have yet to find a healthy church model where the pastor spends less than 15-20 hours each week studying and preparing. For many pastors, it’s more! Fruitful pastors take feeding the flock as their most serious responsibility, and their churches are typically thriving with health. They love the Word, engage their hearers, and do the hard work of delving into complex Biblical truth — creatively making it simple, applicable and actionable without dumbing it down or compromising its message.
3. A Full Day (or Two) of Administration and Appointments
Pastors balance life and ministry by maintaining a strategic role as both an engaged leader and an available shepherd. Regular staff meetings, responding to church family needs, and consistent attention to developing relationships happens on these days. Seasonally, this may increase or decrease, but it’s always held in check in order to avoid encroaching on the ministry of the Word.
4. A Half-Day (or More) of Outreach
Fruitful pastors never get too far from “the last time they shared the Gospel with someone.” While the times and ways of doing this vary from church to church, region to region, season to season—all of them do it intentionally. They engage people, build relationships, set appointments, and share Jesus. To these pastors, sharing the Gospel personally with others is not merely the fulfillment of a church program or a Christian duty, it’s the heart-beat of their lives and the central focus of their ministry.
5. A Full Day of Worship and Ministry on Sunday
Pastors should deliberately make Sunday as effective and encouraging as they possibly can. They are Biblicists and optimists! They see the gospel and God’s Word as truly GOOD NEWS! They anticipate and love expending themselves for the encouragement of God’s people. They want church to be refreshing — not discouraging or exhausting. They labor so that God’s people might leave Sunday edified and equipped.
6. Acknowledgement That No Week is the Same
This is universally consistent—no week is like the last. This is the reason the days above total more than seven days. Some weeks are study heavy. Others are administration heavy. Yet others are emergency heavy. No two weeks are the same. The ideal week exists in the mind more than reality, but having a target serves as an “anchor point” for remaining in balance. Planning for the unknown helps pastors balance life and ministry.
7. Deliberate Solitude and Balance
Every wise pastor I’ve spoken with emphasizes the importance of soul health—personal solitude with God and flexibility to avoid burnout. They all emphasize the values of family time, marriage time, and personal rest—frankly because many of them have been to the edge and back. They’ve learned to avoid the “red zone” of personal exhaustion and spiritual depletion. They’ve learned “the hard way” and don’t want history to repeat itself.
8. Deliberate Seasons of Extended Study, Prayer, Planning, and Vision Development
Without fail, every one of these pastors can point to annual places on their calendar when they pull away from the fray for a season. It may be five days, a couple weeks, or a longer sabbatical. It may be annual or longer every few years. It may be a day a month for focused prayer. The spouse usually participates, as well.
Every one of these pastors encourages planned “working withdrawal”—not vacation or time off, but time invested into long-range leadership, preparation and study. Often these pastors have other leaders in their lives, like deacons, elders, or a leadership coach, who ask the hard questions and support this kind of restoration.
9. Regular Family Vacations
Sustainable ministry models always include a pastor that gets away with his family for two or three weeks (or more) annually. A lot of pastors struggle with this for fear of criticism. If I wasn’t a pastor, I would more likely be bothered if my pastor DID NOT do this. “Not taking family vacation time” is unhealthy. It’s a bad example for other families. Put family vacation on the calendar—take it, enjoy it, talk about it and encourage others to do the same! You won’t regret it after the kids are grown!
10. Regular Marital Refresh
Healthy pastors maintain happy marriages. A man who works too much is not a godly man. He’s a neglectful man. Wise pastors have always encouraged me to plan a couple of times during the year to get away for a night or two with my wife. Having just marked our 25th anniversary, I can testify that this is the best marriage advice I’ve been given.
While every week is different, and every pastor is different—the fruitful and healthy pastors I talk to urge me to pursue building a weekly schedule that maintains healthy balance in life and ministry, while keeping a sustainable pace in leadership.
Personally, I struggle with the balance between moving forward in God’s will without driving forward in my own! I want to do more in my own strength. I tend to overestimate my ability to output. I fight the temporal enjoyment and illegitimate identity that can be found in “over-achieving.” But I’ve also experienced the emptiness and futility of “life in the red-zone.” In recent years, God has given me some pretty clear “health indicators” that warn me to make adjustments, and He’s given me a godly wife that looks for those warning signs and encourages me to trust God and live with balance.
One pastor said to me, “Cary, if you study some of the great pastors in history, you will find that every single one of them had different schedules and different approaches to personal balance. Find what works for you, and do it faithfully.”
A loyal friend in my church family often sets me in my place with this question: ”Pastor, are you staying healthy?” As I assure him I am, he says something that always convicts me: “Good… because you’re no good to ANY of us if not!”
Healthy leaders are useful to God and others. They bless, encourage, edify, and serve. But, in the words of my friend, a burnt-out, self-destructive leader is “no good to any of us!”
Cary Schmidt serves as the Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Newington, Connecticut. He and his wife, Dana, have been blessed with three children and have enjoyed twenty-three years of marriage and ministry together. Cary’s passion is to love God, love his family, and point people to Jesus Christ through teaching, preaching, and writing. He has also written eleven books.
@caryschmidt | website