No more office hours
Giving time a purpose instead of a place.
The church that I serve is the first church that I have ever served.
One of the first things that I did when I started serving this church was set office hours. There were other times when I was at the church, and I was always available via phone and email and other channels, but there were two sets of hours when I was all but guaranteed to be at the office in case anyone wanted to drop in. I was in the office on Tuesdays from 2 to 6 (and often later) and on Thursdays from 9 to 1.
I figured that was a morning, and afternoon, and an evening. And that would work.
And I can probably count on one hand the number of times that someone stopped by the office to see me. Or, for that matter, made an appointment during office hours.
So one of the things that I did when I changed how I pastor was get rid of the office hours. And now I’m trying to take a different tack; I’m trying to give my time a purpose instead of a place.
Pastoral schedules are chaotic. A few things—like Sunday worship and committee meetings—are pretty well set. But many more things vary from day to day, week to week, and season to season. That makes setting a schedule difficult, but, in general, I am trying to replace my office hours with intentional time for congregational connection and community connection.
Congregational connection is a suite of things that I try to do to stay connected to members of the congregation. It includes visits to homebound members, phone calls, emails, cards, and other personal communications. It has also sometimes included lunch hours: just saying that I will be at this-particular-restaurant for lunch on this-particular-day and hoping that people will show up. But that usually means that I just eat lunch by myself.
Community connection is a suite of things that I try to do to be visible in the community. So far this has included showing up to school board meetings, some light volunteering, and community events like Autumnfest and Hometown Christmas. And I’d like to get it to the point where it includes city council meetings, legislative coffees, and school events, but those—especially school events—are a place where we run into the chaos of pastoral life and the demands of my personal life.
There is, of course, the asymmetry problem.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, when I had office hours, I could count on one hand the number of times that someone stopped by. Similarly, when I’ve had the lunch hours at a restaurant, I’ve usually eaten alone. And, really, even though I’ve publicized these things—and others—I’m not really sure how many people in my congregation know that I’ve done them.
And, of course, it goes beyond that: phone messages are unreturned, emails are receive no response, cards go unacknowledged, there’s not so much as a head nod when a congregation member—or, at least, certain congregation members—see me at events.
And that sometimes leaves be with the sense that I should be doing all of these things and more—that people expect me to be doing all of these things and more—but that no one wants me doing all of these things and more for them. It is, a little bit, another piece of the pattern of people wanting a ministry to be there in case they need it, but not actually needing it at the moment, and maybe never needing it.
What is strange about that is that I know pastors who seem to always have people come to their coffee hours or lunch hours or whatever. So I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s my congregation. Maybe it’s just the way things are right now.
But I do think that it’s important to recognize that.
The actual point is that ministry—all ministry, whether it’s being done by clergy or by lay people—is not about being in a place. It is about loving. And we can do that anywhere. We can do that in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning, or in an office on Tuesdays and Thursday, or at home, or in a hospital, or at a school board meeting, or in a restaurant, or anywhere else.
And I don’t want the legacy of my ministry to be that I held consistent office hours or that I regularly attended committee meetings. I want it to be that I loved no matter where I was. And, sometimes, that I loved where it was least expected.