Monday, June 13, 2011

Overrated in Congregational Life: Office Space

Office space for a church is overrated. This has not always been the case.

There are several images of how a pastor invests time. The hub of those images is the "Pastor's Study." This is the room where you walk in and see shelf after shelf of biblical commentaries, theology, church history, congregational leadership, and pastoral care books. This is where the pastor swigs coffee and mines the Greek and Hebrew texts for preaching wisdom. The Pastor's Study is the place where people can stop by during office hours to ask the pastor any kind of question--a theological/relational/church pre-Google of sorts. The Pastor's Study is also a place where someone comes for pastoral counseling, a place where spiritual and emotional wounds discover a path to healing.

More recently, the Pastor's Study is the place for a computer. Congregations invested in a desktop computer. The computer helped the pastor access colleagues and information and produce publications for the congregation.

The Pastor's Study, depending on the size and scope of congregation, also serves as a nerve center for the education and fellowship life of the congregation. In a mid-sized church (150-250 in worship) Pastor's Study is where programs are planned with office or program staff and volunteers. In larger congregations, the Pastor's Study becomes a CEO-type office where collaboration, visioning, and community building with ministry specialists takes place.

Over the years, congregations have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor and money in facilities to house the concept of the Pastor's Study in its varying and evolving forms and functions. The problem that stems from this investment is usually one of two (possibly both).

1. The church invests much their history and money in their Pastor's Study, that with that investment carries an expectation that's where the pastor is supposed to be--at the beck and call of expectation of any congregation member. Whether this is true, I find that as a captive perception in congregational life.

2. In order to accommodate the expanding understanding of Pastor's Study, congregations often invest in larger facilities. That investment is financed by loads of debt, sometimes in the millions of dollars.

The problem with each of these investments is that with financial investment comes emotional investment. Each of these investments places an albatross on ministries, weighing down both pastor and congregation, choking ministry opportunities. This misappropriation of resources takes investment away from connection in the community and going where the people are and places it in maintaining unmanageable images of the Pastor's Study.

I am not a detractor of church buildings or the Pastor's Study. I am saying office space is overrated. Most of the time I spend in a Pastor's Study in this day and age can be better invested in the public square and learning about what God is doing in the community. In the church, we may hope that our church buildings are public, but they often aren't.

With all of this in mind, I'm looking to rent out my Pastor's Study. Some ministry partnership may be harvested there. I am learning how to travel light in ministry. I think Jesus taught something about that. The Pastor's Study is not dead, but it's preventing the church from traveling light in ministry.

I also wonder who holds the Pastor's Study sacred cow. Is it the congregation? Or the pastor? This is my food for my thought today, while i take in some food during study at the local bagel shop today--with free wi-fi.

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Location:91st St SW,Lakewood,United States


  1. Excellent! This is especially true if the congregation expects the pastor to engage in evangelism. It's almost impossible to do evangelism while seated behind your desk in an office guarded by a secretary.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Abbie. I hope you engage in this discussion in your congregation's life. In my experience, the words from a Presbyterian Elder on this topic (and many others) carries more weight to the congregation than from a pastor.

  3. "Pre-Google." That made me laugh.

    If there is one thing I've appreciated over the years it's NOT having to meet with the pastor "at the office." So thanks for that. :-)