Preparing to Become a Pastor
Q: I’m thinking about becoming a pastor. How many hours do pastors work? What is the salary range? What exactly does a pastor have to do? Lastly, what schooling is required?
A: “The saying is trustworthy: ‘If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.’ (1 Timothy 3:1)”
Please note a few things. First, I answer as a Lutheran pastor, a member of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. I don’t know your church affiliation, so you might have to adjust some of the things I say to fit your church. However, much of this is the same among all churches with a specially trained clergy.
Second, being a pastor does not mean the same thing as “having a job.” When congregations act according to Scripture and to the Church’s teaching, this is not a position where the pastor is “hired” or “fired.” We speak of pastors having a “calling,” an “office,” or a “vocation.” Our congregations are to recognize their pastors as set there by Christ through his Holy Spirit. We are not “employees” of a certain group of people but are servants of Christ who then serve Christian congregations through Word and Sacrament.
Pastors may have slow weeks, but if one is dedicated to his work, a forty hour week is a rare luxury. Besides the time spent with people (preaching and teaching, visiting shut-ins, and the like), a pastor is constantly preparing by reading and studying Scripture and various religious writings. Some spend upwards of fifteen hours each week in crafting their sermons. Many have multiple Bible studies each week — and each study requires preparation.
While being able to balance your time is important, if you have a week where five or six parishioners are hospitalized in two or three different hospitals, the hours can quickly climb. So also other emergencies, plus the working in of weddings, funerals, seasonal services and the like make for a full schedule before it seems that you’ve even gotten busy doing what you’ve planned to do. This connects with your question on what we do: We preach, teach, baptize, absolve (forgive sins) on Christ’s behalf, give Holy Communion, visit the sick and the hurting, marry, and bury. There may be other things that certain pastors also do, but these are central to our calling.
For all of this, the “salary” varies widely. Among Lutheran pastors, we prefer to not treat what we receive as salary, but as “compensation.” As I mentioned earlier, this is because we are not considered as “employees” of a congregation but as workers called by the Holy Spirit through the working of a congregation. We are called to “give away” the gifts Christ has given his Church, such as his Word, his forgiveness, his Baptism, and his Supper. We are then compensated so that we don’t have to take employment which removes us from our flocks for extended periods of time.
Some churches recognize the work and the stress that can accompany it and are generous in financial compensation, vacation time, and the like. Some realize also that their pastor will be better equipped if he continues in life-long learning and both encourage and financially support continuing education. Others are trapped by their own financial circumstances, wanting to do more than they can (or not realizing that they could do better). Sadly, a few don’t fully appreciate the gift of a pastor they’ve been given and treat him accordingly.
Finally, a few words about education: In my church, the normal route is to attend college, gain a bachelor’s degree, then study for at least four years at one of our seminaries. This includes a year of internship, which we call “vicarage.” Since knowledge of the Biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew) is required and Latin and German are quite helpful, studying in one of our pre-seminary programs can help with these, as well as teach you some of the basic courses in Scripture and Lutheran doctrine. As with the previous sections, these comments on education generally apply for most churches that have a specially trained pastorate.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.