What do vicars do all day?


This article appeared in our November parish magazine.

What the vicar did in September.

Have you ever wondered what a vicar does all day? It’s an obvious question, as there are no shop opening hours, no clocking-in or out, no office colleagues to make sure you are working as you are supposed to work (though we do at Holy Trinity for at least part of the week), no products at the end of a production line and no sales figures.

Since starting ministry, I have almost always tracked my time at work. I stopped doing this at Christmas last year and then started again in September. I keep a track using a really simple App on my tablet computer called “Time Recording.” I login when I start work, click a button when I change the type of work I am doing and logout when I take a break for lunch, tea, a nap or finish work.

If you are interested, I would like to share with you a rough idea of what September looked like so that you know what the vicar does month by month.

There were 30 days in September and I worked on 27 of them. That’s not great. My working agreement says I should have one full day of rest a week and take two days once a month. So, if I’d kept to plan, I’d have done 25 days work in September. My average length of working day is just under 9 hours. Sometimes I do over 12 hours in a day and sometimes just over 5, but mostly it’s 8 or 9. I average around 52 hours a week.

I also keep a track of time spent in different areas of work. I aim to prioritise prayer. I also need to keep close to God and so I need to study and read. After that I’ve learned that organisation and communication, which includes replying to emails and post and making phone calls as well as church meetings and planning, is vital. Next, I seek to develop other vine workers, including our MTs and members of the congregation. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:1-2: You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

Next comes preparation time for sermons, worship, small groups, youth group, courses and so on. Time spent doing bible teaching and worship follow preparation. Then I make sure I have time to do outreach; mission and evangelism and fellowship with church family. Youth and children’s work also takes time, as does the school, including governors. Then there’s the trellis work, which is my part in helping keep the church buildings and finance and statutory requirements in good order.

I need to visit people, including the sick and I combine that with counselling work. There are funerals and weddings to plan and deliver. I try to make time for acts of love and service to neighbours. I receive spontaneous interruptions, which are unplanned or unscheduled crises, or knocks on the door of the vicarage. These are important but they do eat into the planned flow of work so sometimes I don’t get done what I hope to do. There are also demands by people outside our parish, in the deanery or diocese and work with other churches. Finally, I record the time I spend travelling.

So what did the September breakdown look like? The Time Recording App spits out a report a percentages of time spent on the different areas of work.

21% – organisation and communication, including meetings and interviewing Simon.
16% – preparation to teach.
10% – fellowship time.
9% – teaching and leading worship.
7% – study and reading, including a marriage retreat and conference with Amanda.
6% – developing vine workers.
6% – trellis work (the church roof caused problems in September).
5% – visiting (the sick) and counselling.
4% – school assemblies and governance
3% – spontaneous interruptions (knocks at the door)
12% divided fairly equally between prayer, outreach, youth and children, funerals, acts of service, work outside the parish and travel.

On reflection, I do the work of a normal, busy vicar. There are so many different aspects to the work that I end up being spread thinly across many areas. Ideally, it would be better to spend more time in contact with people; teaching, counselling, praying and training. So, will you pray two things with me? First, that I would be wise and deliberate in my use of time. Pray that I would use the time recording software to reflect prayerfully on work patterns and change what I can to be more effective in the 52 hours a week I work. Pray that we would all be realistic about the work of our vicars at this time in the history of the church. Long-gone are the days when a vicar’s job was centred on providing a service to the church and community whilst everyone else went about their own business. The role of a vicar is still that, with the added and more important dimension of enabling mission and evangelism in an uninterested, unreceptive and complex multicultural society. And so, even with the wisest use of time, and the greatest ability as a pastor, one person with the capacity for 52 hours a week, the mission work I can do alone is very limited. The kingdom of God grows as vine workers are trained and released to do mission. That must be a priority and we can give thanks for everyone who seeks to serve the Lord in this way.

I hope you have found this analysis of what the vicar did in September helpful and that you will pray with me for the Lord to raise up even more workers for the harvest field.

With love

Neil

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