The pastor’s office is a time-honored tradition whose moment has come and gone for a lot of us.
Over the last 35-plus years of ministry, I have spent thousands of hours in my office. Joyful, frustrating, heartbreaking, boring, wonderful, life-changing hours. Hours spent studying, praying, counseling, crying, laughing, discipling, planning, organizing and so much more.
I wouldn’t give them up for anything.
But I have given up my church office. And I doubt I’ll ever go back to having one again.
Some of that is because I’m now the teaching pastor, not the lead pastor. But even if that change hadn’t been made recently, I would probably have given up my office anyway.
If you have a church office and it works for you and the church, by all means keep using it. This isn’t about convincing anyone to give it up. But if you don’t have one, or if you spend as little time in your office as I spent in mine in recent years, here are some reasons why you may not need one at all.
1. We’re More Mobile Now
Until very recently, whenever anyone started a business or planted a church, the first order of business was to buy or rent a building.
Even the local plumber, who spent all day driving from house to house, would rent an office, set up a phone line, hang a sign, and hire an employee to sit there. Why? Because someone had to answer the phone, bill clients, send receipts and so on.
Not any more. Most everything that plumber needs today, from answering calls to setting up appointments to running a credit card, and issuing a receipt can be done on a phone app from their truck.
Many of us don’t need an office, because we don’t need a desk. And we don’t need a desk because we don’t need to put a phone on it. Or a typewriter. Or a computer, a Rolodex, or a fax machine.
It’s been more than a decade since I used a desk to spread out an array of Bible translations, a lexicon, a Bible encyclopedia, a concordance and commentaries to prepare a sermon. All those tools are on my laptop now, which fits very efficiently on… my lap.
2. People Don’t Drop By As Much As They Used To
Our mobile devices have also changed what people expect of their pastor. Instead of walking into the church office, most people make their initial contact with a pastor by phone, email or social media.
Then, if they want to meet face-to-face (an important aspect of ministry that will always be needed) there are multiple options for that. Like a local coffee shop or a multi-function office at the church facility.
3. Offices Cost Too Much
Land is expensive. If your church is blessed to own or rent a building that you have 24/7 access to, you are in a dwindling group of churches – even in rural areas.
Because of the rising cost of real estate, we have a greater obligation than ever to use our buildings wisely and efficiently. In our church building, most of the rooms, including the offices have been or are being converted from person-specific to task-specific.
The main pastor’s office doesn’t even have a desk in it. Instead, it’s outfitted with a couch, armchairs and a coffee table, making it a more efficient space for staff and board meetings, and a more welcoming room for others to use when they need it.
Another office is open for anyone to use for private conversations, team projects or whatever need we may have.
Over the last several years, my office sat empty for most of the week, since most of my work doesn’t require me to be on site. That meant a lot of space wasted for much of the week.
And, even though others were always welcome to use it when I wasn’t there, they could never completely shake the feeling that they were intruding on my space when they used it.
Multiple-use rooms are here to stay. Including office space. Because of the price of land, good stewardship demands greater cost-efficiency.
4. An Office Can Reinforce A Punch-the-Clock Mentality
Some people need an office or designated room because their job requires their physical presence.
But if you don’t need to be in an office, yet you show up regularly anyway, it’s often the result of one of two things: habit, or control.
If it’s a good habit, keep doing it. If it’s a bad one, break it.
If it’s about control, that needs to be recognized and excised. If you don’t punch a clock, but show up in the office like you do punch a clock, you’re probably living under a mentality that ties your job performance to the hours you put in, rather than your effectiveness.
Sometimes that demand is put upon us by others, like congregation members or the church council. But in most cases, it’s a burden we’ve placed on our own shoulders. And it’s completely unnecessary.
5. An Office Can Stifle Creativity
The pastor’s calling is more about creativity than administration.
But, for most pastors (including me), a desk in an office is one of the least creative spaces imaginable.
If you are a church administrator whose well-organized office and desk increases your productivity and efficiency, by all means organize your heart out. We need you at your desk. Seriously. We really do.
But if your job is creative and personal, don’t use a work space that stifles creativity and connection.
6. An Office Can Isolate Us
A church office should never be used to separate us from the people we’re supposed to be ministering among. But sometimes it does – usually unintentionally.
The challenge for most pastors isn’t to spend more time in the office, but to spend more time out of the church building entirely. Living real life, with real people, meeting real needs.
Follow God’s Call – In Or Out Of The Office
Again, let me emphasize that I’m not suggesting anyone has to get rid of their office, their desk, or any other tool that works for them.
But if what I’ve written here registers with you in any way, if it nudges you to update or abandon any tools so you can do better ministry, use what you can and toss the rest.
There is no “right way” for everyone to use, or not use an office. But we should never let any tool become so important to us that it stifles the ministry God has given us.
Our tools should never define our ministry. Only Jesus does that. And he never had an office.
Come to think of it, he never had a mobile phone, either.
Jesus always put people and ministry first, tools and schedules second. May we always follow his example.
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