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How Available Should A Pastor Be?

A pastor can’t be available to everyone but he needs to be available to someone!

Here at Element Church, we just finished up a two-week sermon series called “You Choose Sunday”.  In those two weeks, we answered questions that were submitted by the congregation.  One of the questions I wanted to answer, but just didn’t have time was, “Do you feel the pastor should be available to the congregation?”

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Obviously, that is a loaded question.  What does available mean?  When should he be available?  How much should he be available?  As I said, this is a loaded question.  It got me thinking.  How available can I even be here at Element Church?

Here at Element, we have six people on staff who have the title “Pastor”.  Each of us is tasked with “pastorly” duties, including weddings, funerals, counseling, hospital visits and more.  We all share the load.  I don’t do every funeral, but I do some.  It’s the same with weddings, counseling appointments and more.  I don’t go to lunch or coffee with everyone, but I do go with some of the people.  I’m in a small group as well.  The same is true for each pastor on staff.

I don’t know if this question came from this perspective, but the way I read it, this person was wanting to know if I should be available to the entire congregation.  In some ways, I am.  I am in the lobby after every service on Sundays.  I try and rub shoulders with as many people as I can during our outreach events.  If you ever see me out in public, I may not know who you are, but you are more than welcome to come talk to me.  That’s the short answer and the easy one.  The longer and more difficult answer is “No”.  I should not be available to the entire congregation.  That’s not healthy for you or me, and it’s not even feasible.

Because I was curious, I started to do the math.  What if I met with 25% of our congregation every month for thirty minutes each.  Well, right now 25% of our congregation is 375 people.  If I met with 375 people for thirty minutes each month, that would be 187 hours of availability.  That is more than four and a half, forty hour work weeks each month…JUST meeting with people.

That doesn’t include the two full days I spend each week working on sermons, the full day I spend in meetings with our staff or the full day I spend preaching the sermons I worked on during a Sunday.  That’s just meeting with 25% of our people for thirty minutes each.

So I went smaller.  What if I met with 15% of our congregation for 30 minutes each month?  15% is 225 people.  That’s 112 hours a month or almost three (2.8), forty hour work weeks each month, on top of the other things I do here at the church in leadership and ministry.

So I went smaller.  What if I met with 5% of our congregation for 30 minutes each month.  5% is 75 people.  That comes to roughly one, forty hour work week each month simply meeting with people.  That’s still not really ideal, but it’s much more doable than the first.

Then I started thinking.  I wonder what the average size church is in America?  Do you know what it is?  75 people!  The average church in America averages 75 people in attendance.  I wonder if there is any correlation?  Many churches expect their pastor to be available to them at any time for any reason.  Even at 30 minutes per person, per month, you are spending an entire 40 hour work week just meeting with people in a church of 75.

No wonder so many pastors get burnt out!  They are asked to preach great sermons every week, lead volunteers and sometimes multiple staff.  They are asked to reach people, lead a small group and make visits to those in need.  On top of all that, they are expected to be available to the entire congregation. I’m not saying that a pastor shouldn’t be available, but he can only be available to so many people.

Andy Stanley has a great principle that I try to follow: “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.”  I wish I could be available to every person in our church who needed someone to talk to, but I can’t.  I wish I could do every funeral, every wedding and make every hospital visit, but I shouldn’t.

I guess I shouldn’t say “I can’t.”  What I should say is, I can do all those things, but we need to get rid of about 1225 people first, because 75 people are about all I can effectively manage in a month and still be great at the other parts of my ministry as well.  That was eye-opening for me.

Please hear me.  I’m not against being available, I just know it’s not healthy to be available to everyone.  Someone on our staff will be available for everyone in our church, it just may not be me.  We have an incredible team of staff and volunteers that are just as qualified, and honestly, more gifted than I am to meet your needs.

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