I’m a pastor who is endeavoring to balance church, marriage, family, work, etc. How accessible should I be? Should I be accessible 24/7 to everyone? Who should know my cell phone number? My house number? What is a healthy balance? I’d like to hear how other pastors manage their accessibility and make sure the people are properly cared for.
Pastor Dean Hawk – Colorado Springs, CO
The KEY to balancing family time and the demands of the ministry is to empower your members and not make them so reliant upon you. The Bible refers to our role as a shepherd of the sheep. The biggest mistake I see pastors make is they believe it is their job to “tend to the sheep” nonstop. Too many pastors “feed off” the sheep versus feeding the sheep. They feed their emotional tanks and egos by placing themselves in a position of being needed and wanted by the members of their church. They tend to build a codependent attitude within their people, as do many of today’s Christian TV personalities. An emphasis is placed on the believer getting their prayer request or their need to the pastor or minister so he/she can pray…emphasizing a special anointing on their life and a divine connection to God that supersedes normal Christians. Too many ministers thrive off being needed and esteemed as the pipeline for answered prayer. This kind of leadership builds a dependency of the people upon the pastor and will wear you out!
When we began our church 11 years ago, I took the exact opposite approach. I began to teach my people about THEIR rights and authority as a believer. I regularly say, “God loves you just as much as He does me or Billy Graham. You are valuable to Him! God hears and answers your prayers with the same value as any other person on earth.” A vision statement I drill into our church family on a regular basis is, “Everyday ministry by every day believers.” The amazing fruit is my members are not “staff-dependent.” They don’t call me when their hang nail is hurting. They pray and release their authority in the Name of Jesus and they get a family member or friend to pray and agree with them.
Here is how I operate. My home number and address is publicly listed and accessible to all. Each month Kim and I host an open house for everyone who is new to the church and invite them into our home. Everyone in my church knows where I live. I freely give out my cell number and do not block my number when making phone calls to members. And here is the KEY: I regularly communicate my personal family values and priorities both publicly and personally. When you get my voicemail on my cell phone it states after the standard greeting, “…and if you are calling on Monday, it is my day out with my wife and family and I will return your call on Tuesday.” When I do get a phone call at home in the evening from someone who is just wanting to talk about their current problem I just simply say, “Todd I would be glad to discuss this with you by phone tomorrow when I am in the office or set a time for you to come into the office to meet in person. But this is my personal family time this evening, I’m sure you can appreciate that, and since this isn’t an emergency situation it would mean a lot to me if we could discuss this at another time.”
The fruit of this approach? My members function in life with a confidence in their own faith and believe their prayers make a difference. They respect and appreciate my high family values and honor that. I am completely accessible to over 2500 people and I only receive 3-4 phone calls per year at my home number from members in need. I rarely get a phone call or text after hours on my cell phone. People tend to only contact me or a staff member when a crisis happens. Last month I received a text from a member, “I have a family emergency can you call me?” I responded immediately. A father had just found out his son had committed suicide. In those times I don’t want them to jump through four hoops to reach their pastor. I’m glad he had my number saved in his phone. Set your personal boundaries and communicate them well and people will respect them.
When it comes to counseling and spiritual guidance, I have established that Thursday is my appointment day to meet with members, and I rarely fluctuate from that. I have found that most people who call in and say, “I need to meet with Pastor Dean as soon as possible,” are calling at the “peak heat moment” of their marital or family dispute and within 24 hours the situation has de-escalated and they no longer need or want to meet with me. Don’t allow people’s foolishness that created a momentary crisis to become your crisis. Otherwise we are like a fireman being called out on a lot of false alarms that take us away from our family time.
Pastor Jim Blanchard – Virginia Beach, VA
Unfortunately, pastors tend to find a healthy balance in accessibility to their congregations through trial and error. It is highly advisable to set healthy boundaries for your time, as some individuals are not respectful of the pastor’s time and will essentially waste your time. As you gain experience in ministry, you will find your primary ministry is to the Lord and your family and then your church family; in this order. If the order gets reversed and your time with the Lord and or your family is neglected, you will find that you are not of much help to your congregation anyway.
I only give my cell phone number to the elders and ministry leaders in our church and they are all respectful of my time and that it is my private phone number. I would advise considering which form of communication works well for you and your church; i.e., email or text messages, but boundaries are definitely a must as mutual respect is required to be effective as a pastor to your congregation over the long haul. May the Lord grant you wisdom and bless your family and ministry!
Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
I’m positive that as we read the different responses to this question that we’ll all encounter the opportunity to learn a few things. I know that I’ve needed to learn a lot in this arena as our church has grown over the years. I’ve always desired to be approachable and accessible to ANY and EVERY body. That’s hasn’t always been EASY or, necessarily, SMART.
I’ve had to learn that keeping the body healthy and cared for is a totally different issue from my remaining accessible and approachable. If you don’t disconnect the two separate issues, you’ll find yourself struggling to solve the two with a single solution. It is my belief that one solution doesn’t properly address the two separate challenges.
Keeping the body healthy and cared for is obviously very important. It requires the discovery and development of Timothy’s in the house—people who carry your heart and see your vision; individuals who are willing to represent you without ever attempting to replace you! The reality is, our calling cannot be fulfilled when we attempt to do it by ourselves. Together, We’re Better!
Leading a group of future ministers through Tony Cooke’s material (In Search of Timothy) is a great way to begin this process. However, after locating the right people to represent you and to provide real care for the congregation, you still must remain accessible…to the right degree.
My goal has been to equip others to do EVERYTHING, with only one exception. I’ve made a list of the things that ONLY I CAN DO. These are the things that I’ve given myself to accomplish. This actually liberates me to be much more accessible and has positioned myself to have a lot more time.
But, I’ve still grappled with the challenge of remaining accessible. I love my calling. I love people. So, I refuse to allow myself (or my staff) to “hide” from people. My office doors are ALWAYS OPEN to ANYBODY who chooses to swing by for a visit…ON TUESDAYS. The rest of the days are OFF LIMITS.
My HOME NUMBER is listed in the PUBLIC PHONE BOOK for the entire world to see and to dial. However, I NEVER ANSWER IT. These calls go directly to an answering machine where I screen the calls and return the ones which I deem relevant. I give the others to the individuals I’ve empowered and THEY represent me and follow up.
My desire to remain accessible requires me to also be practical. If I find an individual, for example, who is constantly wasting my time, I step up and educate them. It’s my job. I’m easy to reach and willing to connect with almost anybody, BUT my wife, children, and key staff members ALWAYS COME FIRST.
Lastly, I always try to remain brutally honest with myself. When I feel as if I’m the only one who can perform a specific task, I try to ask myself if that is because I’ve refused to train, equip and empower others. When my schedule is really full of meetings, counseling sessions, and entertaining congregation members – am I feeding my own self-importance or actually ministering to others and meeting needs?
I have actually learned that I get insanely busy when I think too highly of myself. It’s really horrible to hear myself admit that out loud…So if you tell anyone, I will swear I never said that!
Pastor Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia
I told our church on my first Sunday as pastor, that if I ever had to choose between them and my family, I would choose my family. They can always have a different pastor and I can have a different ministry assignment. One day both will happen. I plan on growing old and happy with my wife. Our kids are out of the house now, but were aged 10 and 8 when we started to pastor and needed a full-time Dad and Mom to raise them in the Lord. Before looking at the details of this issue, I encourage you to look at your priorities and place your family above your vocation.
In churches, we need to manage expectations. I try to do this from the pulpit and from our initial membership class. Some members have the idea that a pastor is like a parish priest in a small town, waiting for people to come and see him as he has nothing else to do. My wife and I find that the requirements to pastor a healthy, growing church are immense and keep us quite busy. I tell new members in that we want to help and minister to them, but it will not likely be from me personally. My job according to Ephesians 4 is to raise up people to do the work. I also tell them in membership about their financial stewardship and say, “so you pay me to get you to do the work.” They laugh, but it makes a point.
I also make it clear that God places various gifts in the body and there are people on staff and who volunteer who are far more gifted than me to help them. It is not an attempt at humility, it is true. We guide people to make appointments to get the help they need and many do. I receive weekly updates on all cases and give guidance and coaching where needed. We have teams of volunteers to pray for people at the end of each service and who visit those who may be sick or troubled. We also assign small groups in the area to provide love and care in situations. We have specialty small groups that deal with other needs and where healing and restoration can take place. Our church has an after-hours cell number that members can call in cases of emergencies. I made it clear that this number was only for members to call and some who were visiting got mad and said they would never come back. I was OK with their decision.
My wife and I, along with our pastors, are very accessible after Sunday services. We mingle, chat, and deal with small issues. Hopefully, this lets people feel that they can connect with us. As a pastor with a role to shepherd, I do not feel that my anointing needs to be protected before or after our services. I believe that the anointing is for the people.
I also guard, quite rigidly, my time with my family and my time to sit at home, do nothing and unwind. My energy is limited and it needs recharging. I find that recharging happens as I connect to friends, play sports, do stuff with my wife and unplug from ministry. When people ask me if I can come to functions in the evenings or on the weekends, I regularly tell them, “I am so sorry, but I am already booked.” That booking may be that I am at home watching reruns of Law and Order. That is simply more important to me than attending their kid’s birthday party.
When people ask me for my cell number or email address, I don’t tell them “no.” I direct them to the phone and email for the church. I tell them the best way to reach me is through my personal assistant. Then we decide who will be the best one to deal with their situation.
My wife and I love to host our leaders at our home. We have meals, soccer nights, small groups and a variety of activities. We bought our house with that in mind and with the space to be able to do that. But we are also selective about who we invite over. So far, this has been positive and our members have not abused having access to us. Similarly, only our leaders have our cell numbers and personal email addresses.
I hope that you will finish your race and ministry with joy—enjoying rich relationships with God, your family and friends.
Pastor John Lowe – Warsaw, IN
I have two days a week where I schedule appointments. I try not to do or set them anywhere except when I’m in the office. I just say I don’t have my calendar with me.
I train our people to respect my privacy. I explain a couple times a year that if I don’t protect my marriage and family time, then it will make Jesus look bad. I say if you are divorced, you won’t lose your job, or if your child goes to jail, we will rally around you. However, I would lose respect.
I ask them not to call me for information that we make available all the time in announcements or bulletins. I also ask them to give my family as much grace as they demand I give their family.
No one calls my home or cell unless it is life and death or hell just showed up. People respect it because we respect theirs as well.
Love is the deciding point for everything. Love hints time; love does not abuse other’s time.
Pastor Bill Anzevino – Industry, PA
Jesus, the Chief Shepherd of the sheep, modeled what true accessibility looks like. He was so accessible that a woman of questionable character could wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. A leper could approach Him and cry out for mercy and healing. A blood-issue woman was able to touch the hem of His garment and testify before the crowd. Even when Jesus tried to slip away for rest, He ended up healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. In short, Jesus was accessible and more interested in helping hurting, broken-hearted people than anything else.
That being said, a true shepherd must be as accessible as he can possibly be without neglecting his spiritual life, his marriage, or his children. This means cultivating accessibility is of utmost importance.
- Accessibility doesn’t mean we over-commit ourselves, unbalance our time, and burn ourselves out. It means we maintain a genuine approachable spirit and are always open to helping people when we can.
- Recognize those who only want to monopolize your time and come up with an effective way to minister to them and minimize the time you give them without being offensive. In 36 years of ministry, I’ve found the majority of the people respect my time and very few try to abuse it.
- It’s important to have Godly assistants who can help with the shepherding responsibilities. The ministry involves more than one man. We can’t possibly disciple and counsel every person without overloading ourselves.
- Be personable and be certain to develop the proper people skills. Be kindhearted and gracious. Greet people after all services.
- Personally, my address and phone number are both listed in our church directory. No one has ever taken advantage of this information.
- Matthew 8:1-17 reveals how accommodating Jesus was. He was willing to go to the Centurion’s home and minister to his servant, and He welcomed with open arms those who were demonized and diseased at Peter’s house.
- Cultivating accessibility is a matter of prayer and practice.
May God bless your efforts as you endeavor to fulfill the call of God on your life and ministry.
Pastor Kevin Berry – Lansing, MI
Wonderful question! The other day after one of the Sunday services, a precious lady approached me. With tears in her eyes she said, “I’ve spent a lot of years in churches and around pastors, but I have never met anyone as approachable as you and it means so very much to me. Thank you.”
I had only talked with her for a couple minutes that day. I’m not sure what it was that stood out to her as being so approachable, but I do know this—it mattered to her deeply! We live in the day of phone trees, church security, voicemail…all things that keep us at a distance from the very people God has called us to pastor.
Should you be accessible 24/7 to everyone? No. Your wife and family need to know that there are times when you won’t take a phone call. Back in the day before everyone had a cell phone, I remember hearing the phone ring at home on my day off and telling my wife and daughter, “Don’t answer it. I don’t know who it is, but I know they are not more important than you.” I think that was good for my family. I would encourage you to set aside certain times of the day when you are not accessible to everyone. I used to put a sign on my door that said, “If you don’t have anything to do, don’t do it here.” I needed time when I would not be interrupted. You need time to pray, plan, and prepare, and that requires that you are not accessible to everyone, all the time.
I give out my cell phone number and email address. Just last Sunday I wrote down my email address and handed it to a first time guest that I wanted to hear back from. I don’t want people to think that I’m not approachable or too busy for them…no way. Two weeks ago, a young man came forward to be born again. A little over a year ago his mother passed away and I know he is struggling. I wrote down my cell phone number and told him if he ever needs someone just to talk to, or to hang with—call me. I want to be that guy.
You cannot do that for everyone—but you can do for one, what you cannot do for everyone, and that will go a long way in making you a very approachable pastor.
I also have a Life Group that meets in my home—and they have my address. And I think it is good for the entire church to know that there are members that go to Pastor Kev’s house on a regular basis. However, not just anyone is in my Life Group. I prayerfully select who that will be. You want to be accessible, but you have to guard your home and guard your privacy.
There are some people that I will not be accessible with. They have proven to suck the life right out of me, so I stay away. Others are professional time wasters. It will do no good to be accessible to them. If they have needs, I make sure that a staff member is helping them, but I do not give them access to my life.
Pastor Tommy FiGart – Vinton, VA
Over the years I’ve recognized that accessibility is a question many pastors struggle with—and it doesn’t matter what size a church may be. In smaller churches, where a pastor may have to be bi-vocational, time is limited; and in larger churches, there are increasing areas of responsibility and more people than a single pastor can touch—time is strapped as well. This is compounded by many in the body of Christ that think the pastor has to be the one that always addresses every issue.
I believe, whether a church is large or small, whether the pastor is full-time or bi-vocational, and even if church members have wrong expectations of a pastor’s accessibility, that a biblical answer to accessibility of the pastor is available.
We see that Jesus, as His ministry increased on the earth, ordained others to go out and touch the needs of the people. In the book of Acts, we see the early apostles designating individuals to carry out various duties to relieve them from the senior leadership. And in James we read, “Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14 NLT). I believe this model of delegated authority can help solve the problem of accessibility for any pastor.
At Grace, we’ve designed a process in which any member of the congregation can be trained to handle initial prayer requests of the congregation. When an individual in our congregation has a need, there is a process one follows to submit a prayer request that will notify me and dispatch one of our trained ministry workers. This allows me, as the pastor, to be aware of the needs of my congregation and prayerfully consider which ones the Holy Spirit would have me personally address. It also affords me the opportunity to defer to our trained team members to address the need. I found that 90% of the requests can be addressed by capably trained team members rather than me.
Of course, this does not address the wrong expectation of anyone that believes the pastor should always be the one to address all issues or visit all church members when there is a need. So we have to constantly educate our congregation on the process we have in place to model, what we believe, to be the Biblical way of addressing needs within a congregation. Most embrace the process gladly once they see it revealed in the Scriptures.
We’ve found this to truly be a method of empowering our church to understand that the anointing of God resides within every believer. We’ve seen many miracles received through this process and many wonderful supportive relationships developed out of it. And I’ve seen this free up my time to focus on some of the other things that God would have me do as the leader of the congregation.
I will say that I do make myself available on Facebook and via email to any member of our church. This does create situations where people reach out directly to me, but I simply refer them back to either a department head if it’s a departmental issue, or to our above stated process for addressing prayer needs. The only situation where this would not be the case would be if the Spirit of God leads me to deal with the issue directly.
I also have an open door policy at our church in which anyone can request a meeting with me by calling the church to set up an appointment that fits within my schedule. I do reserve giving out my mobile phone number to only our core leadership, and I do keep my personal address and home phone number unlisted.
I hope this helps.
Pastor Larry Phalen – Dickinson, ND
I personally believe that, as a Pastor, I should be accessible to my people 24/7, especially for emergencies. But then again, it also depends on church size, staff size and the size of City you live in (plus your personality).
I lived in a rural town where everyone knew everyone and most times knew your dog also. Also, my personality had no problem with people having access to me, but always keeping in mind Proverbs 24:17, “Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbor’s house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee.” I had no problem helping someone find the door if they so needed to exit. As my dad used to say when neighbors overstayed their welcome, “Jean let’s go to bed so these people can go home.” People are saved through the foolishness of preaching all the gospel.
Today, I live in a larger town and very few people know my address, yet all have access to my phone number. I also have staff and the congregation uses our church office and staff, so the problem isn’t as large today as it once was.
So, in my opinion, a person’s accessibility should be determined by location, personality, and family needs. Don’t be ashamed to say “NO.” That word is much needed in today’s ministry leaders. People will attempt to take advantage of you if they are allowed to.
Pastor Jesse Zepeda – Pflugerville, TX
Good question about managing our priorities.
The first principal of stewardship is obedience (John 2:5). Mary said just do what Jesus tells you to do! I know it’s easier said than done; following instructions seems to be almost impossible for believers these days. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine, but more important, was the servant’s obedience to Jesus.
Managing our priorities will be a healthy balance when we seek Jesus’ advice on our own personal involvement in His Kingdom ministries. We are just stewards in His Kingdom. We have our personal cell phone number on the door to our buildings, (1) in case of an emergency, the officials know how to get ahold of us, and (2) if we missed someone with an emergency, and they have to get ahold of us, our number is available.
Our elders and deacons have our home number. We answer all the phones, all the time; that’s what I would like people to do when I call them.
I believe every Pastor should know the spiritual level of his church. When someone wants your time, (A) do they have to have it? (B) Do they need to have it? Or, (C) do they just want to have it? Discernment is so important in managing a healthy balance in our daily lives.
God bless. I trust this will help you make some new decisions.
Pastor John Larkam – Austin, TX
Great question, and one that every pastor must work through in order to be successful.
Your role as senior pastor is to give yourself continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). We pray so we can LEAD. We study so we can FEED.
Those are your two primary responsibilities: leading the church and feeding the sheep. You can’t delegate those.
What else can you NOT delegate?
- Your devotion to God (your relationship with Him)
- Your devotion to your wife (your relationship with her)
- Your devotion to your children (your relationship with them)
- Your physical fitness (staying healthy)
Next, delegate everything else that you possibly can so that you can give yourself to prayer and to the ministry of the Word so that you can excel in leading and feeding.
Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight, and in the beginning you may be doing most everything. But through faith and patience, God will send the people whom you can train and develop to do the work of the ministry, which includes pastoral care (Eph. 4:11-12).
Delegation looks like this:
- You do the work
- You do the work, your trainee observes
- You do the work, your trainee helps
- Your trainee does the work, you help
- Your trainee does the work, you observe
- Your trainee does the work
This may be an indirect answer to your question, but it’s what I believe will help you the most. Once in place, you will be accessible to your key leaders and you will pastor them. They in turn will help pastor the church.
Pastor Jim Graff – Victoria, TX
It depends on a variety of factors: the age of your church, size of your church, and the development of your care ministries and formation of ministry teams and life groups who God calls to most of the important interpersonal ministry in the church (Matthew 18:19-20).
Setting an example of how healthy people live should be first. Don’t become an emotionally unhealthy pastor. Then, exemplify healthy family structure. Finally, communicate a clear care strategy that is easy for your church family to understand and embrace.