Hanging Out Isn’t Work

One of the oddest things about church planting is determining whether or not you’ve put in an honest day’s labor.

When Paul describes his church planting experiences, you don’t get the sense that he spent much time casually schmoozing with people over organic coffee or indulging in rarified theological discourse with the petite intelligentsia (did I just make up a new term?) at the corner cigar lounge. Instead, you get the sense that when he wasn’t being shipwrecked, run out of town, broken out of prison, or receiving lashes, he was working in his trade to support his evangelistic endeavors, pouring out his heart from house to house, or writing to ministry colleagues in similar circumstances.


I’m pretty sure it never crossed Paul’s mind that he ought to log his hours and make sure he wasn’t becoming distracted by superficialities and calling laziness ‘work’.

It’s easy to impress people in the community by all your personal connections. Yesterday I was meeting with a colleague in Amélie’s, our downtown bakery and coffee joint. He was floored by how many people I greeted during our one-hour meeting. “Who do you not know in this room?” Well, I hang out. It’s not exactly hard. It’s not work.

Two ‘not quite’ solutions

What’s the solution for the troubled conscience of a church planter who feels guilty trying to justify all the coffee refills as ‘networking’? Some would suggest arithmetic. If the average person in your congregation works 40 hours per week, and then is engaged in 10-15 hours of church activities—worship, community group, discipleship, mission, etc.—then a pastor/church planter ought to work for 50-55 hours each week, regardless of where that work happens or what kind of work it is.

On the other end of the spectrum are work-hackers like Timothy Ferris, whose NYT bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek suggests that 9-5 is completely arbitrary. Ferris declares that there ought to be no correlation between the value of one’s work and the amount of time spent getting it done. He cites Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Give yourself 10 hours to do 40 hours worth of work, and you’ll do 40 hours worth of work in that 10 hours. The Ferris hack shaves off time mostly by eliminating time-wasting interruptions and by avoiding human beings.

A working synthesis

Here’s my current conviction. I think church planters need to give themselves to…

  1. Working on the System. Carve out blocks of un-interruptable time and stay laser-focused on the non-urgent, hyper-important, high-leverage work that will make the biggest difference in your missional endeavor.
  2. Working the System. Set aside small intervals of time dedicated to delegating tasks to the appropriate people within your system, and completing the urgent, important tasks that you’ve assigned to yourself or that need your attention.
  3. ‘Working’ outside the System. Hang out and be the ‘regular’. Pastoral and church planting ministry is a relational calling. Ignore human beings like Tim Ferris while you’re doing #1 and #2 above, but ignore #1 and #2 above when you’re doing #3. Keep track of the people you meet. Learn their names. If possible, become their ‘chaplain’.

At the end of every week, we church planters should know that we moved the ball across each of these three important fields: the systemic, the maintenance of the system, and the relational. Some weeks this might occupy 75 hours, and other weeks it might only take 25 hours. No matter what week it is, it will be impossible to quantify our “hours” with any amount of precision. But the best barometer is actually our gut’s response to an honest look at your task list: at the end of the week, at the end of every day, did we move the ball?

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3 thoughts on “Hanging Out Isn’t Work

  1. Good thoughts, Andy—and I like your grid for the different areas that pastors and church planters need to make time and room for.

    As far as the “hanging out” time not being WORK, I’m not sure I’m totally with you. I remember a scene from the show West Wing (one of TV’s great dramas), when Rob Lowe’s character, Sam, was talking to a reporter at a White House event. She said something about how he needed to loosen up and enjoy the party—after all, he wasn’t WORKING. Sam responded (something to this effect, anyway), “I AM working. You look around and see people with martinis and ASSUME that no one is working.” Implication: in Sam’s job, the cocktail party is just as important to his work as what he does at his desk.

    So, too, pastoral ministry. You (as a pastor) could just as rightly say, “You look around and see people laughing over coffee, and assume that I’m not working because I’m drinking coffee too.” As you hit on above, the time with people (even, or maybe especially, those who are not in your congregation) is just as vital. Yes, you ARE working.

    And frankly, it’s the kind of work that comes easy (and thus doesn’t feel like work) to some, and is terribly hard to others. This is somewhat an introvert/extravert thing, and it’s also a factor of other gifts, skills, and experience. But some pastors feel about the reading, writing, and study in the same way that you do about your time at Amélie’s: “it’s not exactly hard. It’s not WORK.” Put them in the coffee shop and they’ll be exhausted in 45 minutes.

    [Affirming what you said already] Careful, too, about stretching it too far—and especially WHY it gets stretched too far. I remember vividly the words of one of my seminary professors, who spoke in a panel discussion about time management and the pastoral work ethic. He said, “There will be workaholic CEOs in your congregation who work 80–90 hours a week, and they will expect you to work 80–90 hours a week, too, in order to claim that you’ve put in a good week’s work. And they will be wrong.”

    Sometimes pastors work 75 hours because the calling requires it. And sometimes we work 75 hours a week to hide, to make ourselves feel important, to atone for the previous week’s laziness, or to feed our work addiction.

    • Ed, great thoughts, and I completely agree. Especially great insights re: workaholics and attempts at atonement for prior laziness.

      I have the feeling, though, that there are many like me whose struggle is to be good stewards of their odd calling. I am salaried, not hourly. But accountability is relatively low and putting up the appearance of hustle is relatively easy.

      And of course, yes, hanging out is work a lot of the time. But not all hanging out is work. Hanging out that is done with relational intentionality is work. The West Wingers (great analogy) are working at the cocktail party because they’re moving the relational ball forward very deliberately with every interaction.

  2. Pingback: Three Pastoral Challenges | Bridging the G&P

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