The Places and Purposes of My Work

Yesterday afternoon, I was discussing with a few guys on Twitter how and where we spend our time working. When I came to Grace nearly three years ago, there was no “office” space for me at the church building, which meant that I was to do the majority of my work either at home or somewhere in the community.  For me, this was a huge win because I’ve always struggled with the idea that a pastor’s ministry is to be confined to an enclosed office space.  That’s not to say it is entirely wrong; it’s just not who I am and how I try to function.

Over the past three years, I have gone back and forth try to determine where is the best place to work for accomplishing certain tasks. With two young boys (3 and 1), my home office is not the ideal place to work, so I have ended up as a patron at various coffee shops and eventually landed at a local Panera Bread where I spend most of my “office” time.

I’ve ministered in churches which have a rather strict policy for where and when a pastor works (“office hours”).  Needless to say, the confinement approach was less than appealing and effective, and fortunately for me I have the privilege of working on a pastoral team with a high level of flexibility and trust.  In any case, I thought I’d post what my typical work week looks like, including the places, times, and purposes of each.

First, here’s the breakdown of  times and places of my work:

Panera Bread (or various coffee shops) – 25 hours
Home Office –  20 hours
Church Office – 10 hours
Public Library – 5 hours

Second, here’s the purposes of each workplace:

Panera Bread – administration, discipleship, counseling, coaching, communication, planning
Home Office – reading, writing, studying
Church Office – staff meeting, elders meeting, membership interviews, counseling, service planning
Public Library – sermon prep and teaching prep

Thirdly, the daily breakdown usually unfolds like this:

Panera Bread – Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 8-5
Home Office – Nightly 9-12
Church Office – Tuesday 9-5; Wednesday night 6-9
Public Library – Saturday morning 8-1PM

You may be wondering why I choose to work the majority of my time at Panera.  Here’s a few reasons:

1.  I want to live as a missionary. As I work, I want to be mindful that people around me are lost and need the gospel. I structure my work at Panera to encourage interruptions for everyday conversations and hear the stories of the employees.  I learn my community by hearing their questions and find myself able to stay somewhat connected to the 94% of my neighbors who are unchurched and unbelieving.  If I am exhorting our members to live evangelistically or missionally, then I should seek to live exemplary in that manner as well.

2.  I want to be considered a pastor of third places. I have come to know the stories of most of the employees at Panera.  J.J. is a young man who two months ago lost his brother in a tragic accident.  As far as I know, there was no other Christian to minister to him.  I was able to encourage him and pray for him during this time, which has in turn created an openness in him to the gospel.  Audrey is a lady whose husband is like me–Assyrian and Iranian, both of whom are believers.  Kyle is a mystic and seeker, being brought up with a New Age spirituality and almost weekly wants to engage in gospel conversations.  Then there are the other regular patrons, many of whom like me are looking to connect with folks in the community for various reasons.  I want to be on the frontline of pastoral ministry for the unchurched, and that means these people knowing that I care for them, living among them, and desire to minister to them (and not just be a drive-by Christian).

3.  I want to maximize time management. Usually, a pastor will burn 1-2 hours in transit from home to church office to lunch appointments or other meetings.  I take care of that all in one place.  I have a four-seater table where I spread out when I need to work and pack up when I need to meet with others.  Not having to drive to multiple locations allows me to utilize that time with greater efficiency.  It’s my office, counseling area, lunch table, and planning center.

4.  There are several other practical benefits. I get free refills on fountain drinks (including sweet tea!).  I have free wireless internet.  The ladies are always bringing me food they would ordinarily have to throw away, so I’m amply supplied. 🙂  I can counsel people in an environment that is both private and yet public (I don’t want anything I do to be unnecessarily hidden, so who I am and what I do is in full view).  My wife and boys join me for lunch on occasion, too.

Now, I am not as open in the public library.  In fact, I’m rather tunnel vision as I am there only to work in solitude to bring my teaching or sermon preparation to completion.  It is more focused and disciplined, recognizing the nature of the work requiring my full attention.  As you can see, the goal and functioning is completely different.

At home, I work in the evening time when my wife and kids have gone to bed, usually for 3-4 hours.  This is the best time for me to read and write in the comforts of my own home and study without distraction.

That pretty much sums up the way I work.  How do you work?  If you are a pastor or church planter, how and where do you spend your time?  I’d love to get your thoughts and experiences on this and how perhaps I might tweak the structure of my week with the wisdom you provide.

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33 Comments on “The Places and Purposes of My Work”

  1. joelandcharlotte Says:

    Thanks for your post. I am a missionary in Belem, Brazil. I am reaching the river people of the area. My life is complicated by rules also… My wife is working and studying to reach the required language level for our organization before we return to stateside assignment. Therefore, I am responsible for watching our children at home as well. The older 3 do pretty well, the younger 2, I have to keep away from Momma when she is having class at the house.
    I do have a home office. Which unfortunately can also be the entertainment area for children when needed, so it is not completely an office.
    I will be glad to put together my schedule for possible ideas for you. You have blessed me with your comments. Thanks! (wish this city of 2.5 million people had a library bigger than a Waffle House…)
    Thanks again! Joel

    • Joel,

      Thanks for the comment, and I’m excited to hear of where the Lord has you right now reaching the river people of Brazil! My first overseas mission trip was to Brazil, so my heart is warmed for the Brazilian people. If you desire to put together your schedule or possible ideas, that would be great.

  2. Chris Vinson Says:

    I love the info and the challenge to be externally focused.

    I’d be interested in seeing Tom’s approach as well. Some of us who have several preaching/teaching responsibilities per week may tackle our work a bit differently than you.

    My own internal struggle is to be faithful to the word in preaching (i.e., study hard and prepare well) while not neglecting my flock or my neighbors. The problem is my congregation doesn’t notice as much when I neglect people for sermon preparation. But they can easily tell when I neglect preparation for people.

    • Hey Chris!

      Great to hear from you brother. Tom’s approach is a little different than mine. He actually has an office at the church, and he uses it fairly regularly (though he has a home office as well). And he has more preaching/teaching responsibilities than me!

      I think your point about neglecting people for preparation or preparation for people is a really good one. Another factor that comes into play is when you as a pastor have a Facebook or Twitter account. 🙂

  3. Scott Leary Says:

    Hey Tim,
    Helpful reminder for Pastors being missionaries to third places also. I love how Pastors are leading by example and you as well as others are showing how third places can be used for “pastoral, shepherding” work. I would love insight on what a schedule might look like for a bi-vocational, pastor with a family. This would be a help for me. I’m trying to fill my lunch time each week for third place, discipleship work, church planning and sometimes sermon prep as I serve as a assistant in a church plant. The night does seem to be the best time for work at home when the kids go to bed, maybe not always the most profitable.

  4. kschaub Says:

    So, I would imagine you travel lite when it comes to camping out at Panera? Or, do you just spread out the books and get to work?

    When I go spend time at places like that, I usually take 1 thing to do. I’d be interested to know what your approach is. I assume you have a Kindle/iPad — that would help!

    I think changing the office-set-up in our situation would take some major getting used to!


    • Hey Kevin!

      Yeah, I travel a little light. I have my laptop bag and a backpack. When it is all unpacked, it is more than you think. I have a window ledge where I stack books or notebooks when not in use, and sometimes there can be several of those.

      I usually lay out an agenda for the day of what I hope to accomplish. Monday is usually training and coaching (morning with church planting apprentice and afternoon with Porterbrook training). Wednesday includes preaching/exegesis practicum and church administration. Thursday is usually preparing for Sunday and multi-tasking for various projects, including website, mentoring, counseling, PLNTD, etc.

  5. KBH Says:

    Thanks for sharing this, it was very interesting and helpful. We have some similar patterns.

    Question: In your context is their a lot of home visits to widows or visiting in the homes of recent visitors/prospect or do you do most all your meetings in these types of locations?


    • Kevin,

      There is *some* of that, but most of our widows are very regular in our church and are ministered to by a group of people along with the elders. There are also Bible Studies for widows and elderly in assisted senior living places. Our visitation of guests and prospects is delegated to our growth group leaders primarily. My usual visit/personal contact is a planned lunch or dinner either at our house or in a public eatery.

  6. Drew Hunter Says:


    Thanks for sharing this. I have a question about the time at Panera. I’m usually cautious about how much time I spend there because I wonder what they may think about me using one of their tables for such a long period of time, especially on multiple days of the week. It seems like the workers at your Panera don’t mind at all. Was this something you had to think through or ask them about?

    • Hey Drew,

      I certainly can relate to your cautious concern about being at a table for a long time. The thing about Panera is–they want people to hang out there. It’s part of their advertisement. Everyone knows what it looks and feels like to come into a restaurant when you are the only one there. It communicates that it is either going out of business or no one likes the food. I think Panera realizes this and encourages regular patrons to hang so long as they understand it is a business too.

      Having said that, there have been 8-10 times when I have packed up and left when there are no empty tables available for patrons. The times I have done this, the management of Panera have recognized it as I communicate to them I am sensitive to their business and don’t want to take away from customer’s experience there. But if there empty tables and booths there, I don’t see how I am taking away from there business.

      Having done this for two years, I have been there longer than most of their employees, including managers! Those who I don’t know very well are cordial, but I have had the opportunity of getting to know several of the employees rather well. I tried to engage them early on, and I think it has paid off. I have at other times tried to assist the workers when it appears they are overwhelmed by wiping down a table or taking up plates and bowls people leave behind. Little gestures of service to them have gone a long way.

      • James Says:

        Drew’s thoughts were similar to mine, but your answer really makes sense, especially if the employees understand who you are and are even bringing you scraps of food.

        Do you feel obliged to buy a coffee/fountain drink/snack each of the three days you spend all day at Panera? Do you ever bring your lunch? I would frequent coffee shops several days a week a few years ago, but found myself just spending more money than I thought was wise on their products. I could fill my thermos full of Starbucks brewed from home for 3 weeks for the price of one day’s sitting in Starbucks all day. Public libraries are now the places for me and my preparation.

        • James:

          I don’t feel obligated to drink or eat, but I do. I want to support Panera and desire to see their business succeed. I see it as making investment in my mission field. Rarely is there a day where I come in and done buy a meal. I also plan family lunches with my wife and two boys who will join me about every 2 weeks on Thursdays for lunch as well. They are big fans of Panera grilled cheese, yogurt, and fruit cups. 🙂

      • Gale Says:

        You are right about Panera Bread, they want people to hang out there. I have two Panera Bread’s and a Border’s within three miles of my house, and I spend three hours every afternoon at one of them. They are big and always have plenty of room. They always get a coffee cup ready for me when I come in. There are several people who are regulars every day to do work, but I doubt they spend 8 hours a day there.

      • Drew Hunter Says:

        Hey Timmy,

        You replied over a month ago, but I never did thank you. Your thoughts here really did help me think through this. I think you’re right about their desire to want people there.

        Also, thanks for all the planning that you did recently for the Band of Bloggers meeting. I have no idea what goes into preparing that, but I have enough of an idea to know that it’s no small thing. Thank you. I was actually just reading from two of the free books today.

        – Drew

  7. Eric Says:

    Thanks for the very interesting, practical post. I like the missional focus of your work time at the coffee shop. Think I might just try something like that. May the Lord bless ya!


  8. Tim,

    This is a really practical and helpful post. It is encouraging to see how you a living alongside your community to be a witness, and you’ve given me some food to chew over.

    It’s good to read you have the support of your church. May the Lord bless your endeavors.

  9. A question: How would you respond to someone who held the opinion that sermon preparation and study was too solemn of a task to be done in a common / public place?

    • Hey Nathan,

      That’s an interesting question. I have not thought about a solemn place for the solemn task. What makes a place suitable for sermon preparation? Quietness, bookshelves, classical music, and mahogany desk? I’m not trying to sound sarcastic, but I just don’t know what that looks like, so someone who asks me for a solemn place to do sermon preparation would first have to tell me what that looks like. And then they would have to show me how that is not simply a personal preference but a necessity for sermon preparation and study. Does that make sense?

      • Tim:

        I share your thoughts. I do think it comes down to preference. What works for one may not work for another. The questions you suggest asking an individual who may raise this ‘objection’ are helpful too, so thanks. 🙂

  10. One thing I want to mention about the value of studying and working in public. Preaching and teaching is applying text to context. No matter how good you are at exegeting a text, if you don’t know how to apply it to the context you are living in, it will not be true gospel preaching. I encourage preachers to spend 15-20 hours in text preparation and 10-15 hours in context prep. A preacher who spends all of his time in an office and study apart from his context and community seems to me to preaching to an artificial or at best superficial context. There is something about dwelling deep (incarnationally) in a community and with particular people that makes your preaching “earthy” that I find pretty important.

  11. gloria Dyet Says:

    My husband loved for the office to be in our home. We pastored when the parsonage was our home. Never had a church think he had to be at the church. Panera Bread did not exist. We love Panera Bread especially the Green Iced Tea.

  12. Michael Says:


    Thanks for discussing your schedule with your readers. My third place is a local coffee shop and I have been amazed at the opportunities for gospel conversation that have opened up over the past 2 years. I know the people that work there and many of the customers which has opened the door for me to speak into their lives.

    I am curious, though, about your schedule and how you juggle family time and any type of recreation or exercise. I try to set aside the evenings and Saturdays for family time and time with my wife (after the kids are in bed). I noticed that you are working in your home office every evening (9-12am) and every Saturday at the library (8-1pm). Do you feel this is a good balance? Do you feel that you need to work or there is an expectation to work 60 hours each week? Do you take a day off for Sabbath?

    Sorry for all the questions! I was just thinking through some things as I read!

    • Michael:

      I am blessed to serve on a pastoral team where our families are a priority not only in theory but also in practice. I have the flexibility, if necessary, to work from home when my wife is sick and needs a hand with the kids. I also will work from home on days when my wife needs to take on of the boys to a doctor’s appointment, and I will keep the other one with me. There are also times when I have left where I am working to go home and deal with some disciplinary issues when the boys are not responding to their mother. So I am grateful and enjoy the freedom to care for my family in that flexible schedule.

      Having said that, I am usually home by 5PM and do nothing ministry wise until around 9PM (there are exceptions of course). My typical evening with the family looks like this:

      5PM Dinner and family conversations
      5:45PM Play time with the kids
      6:30PM Give kids baths
      7:00PM Family worship
      7:30PM Bed time
      8PM Conversations with my wife

      As far as exercise, I am unfortunately not as disciplined as I’d like to be. My desire/goal is to exercise in the mornings around 6:30AM which includes bike riding and/or running (I’m an amateur triathlete).

      My day off is Friday, and that is my sabbath. Everything is off on that day, and the evening is either a family night or date night with my wife.

      As far as working 60 hours a week, I realize that may sound like a lot, but most of the men I pastor in my church work that or more. I don’t feel pressured to do that, but I also have other responsibilities outside my role as pastor, including being director of PLNTD (a national church planting network) and things like Band of Bloggers among others. So there is a need for me to work those hours in one sense, and there is a desire to spend and be spent with an understanding that I am dispensable, weak, and needy for God’s grace and strength.

  13. […] enjoyed the feedback and discussion my recent post on the the places and purposes of my work.  I hope it was helpful for you.  Several of the questions were related to my work experience and […]

  14. […] Great post about places and ministry. […]

  15. Brian Metz Says:

    This is so helpful. Thanks Tim.

  16. Eric Says:

    Just curious, but what is your morning schedule like before you leave?

    • Eric:

      My morning schedule varies on different mornings. There are some mornings that start rather early with mentoring and discipleship (7AM), and there are other mornings where I will sleep in a little after a previous heavy night of work. I typically mentor guys on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so they are early for me, and my Monday and Wednesday are a little later.

      The later mornings include more extended time of meditation and study/reading in the morning as well as exercise. The early mornings can be brief but study time is made up mid-morning. I am not a morning person at all and find the early morning period to be my biggest struggle, so I try to work within my limitations and maximize my usefulness within a reasonable manner.

  17. Thanks for sharing the practice and reason behind it – it confirmed a lot of my own thoughts about being in public spaces! On a different note, I was looking at your schedule and with the times that you start work at locations, and the evening study running to midnight, how much sleep do you get? Is the schedule taking its toll on you or have you found ways (other than copious amounts of caffeine) to handle the stress on your body?

  18. […] The Places and Purposes of My Work – Timmy Brister shares where he works during his week and why. He shares some interesting ministry philosophy throughout the article. […]

  19. […] couple of months ago, I explained the purposes and places of my work and basically how I try to intentionally steward my time and places for the work I’ve been […]

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