Why do Anglican clergy spend five times as long on admin as on outreach?

A survey of clergy experience finds they're mainly optimistic.

There's a new survey that tells us how much time Anglican clergy spend doing what, among other things, and it makes very interesting reading.

The Experiences of Ministry Survey 2016 is a project of the clergy resourcing organisation Ministry Development. The project as a whole is described as a "five-year process of research and consultation that aims to build and share knowledge on what best supports and sustains the flourishing of priestly ministry". Previous surveys were conducted in 2011 and 2013.

The survey used findings from around 2,000 clergy. Among other things, it found that around 90 per cent of clergy agree that their role is intellectually, spiritually and emotionally demanding and that 58 per cent agree that their role is physically demanding.

However, it also finds that the vast majority of clergy feel "vigorous, dedicated and absorbed in ministry" and don't report high levels of burnout. They have a strong and clear sense of calling which helps "underpin many positive outcomes" and many of them report growth of various kinds – though numerical growth in weekly attendance is reported by only 49 per cent.

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They're also prepared to make many sacrifices for their ministry, which is "positively associated with the measures of clergy engagement in ministry and also in some of the reports of growth". However, high levels of sacrificial behaviour are also found to be related to "lower levels of clergy well being", which might mean it isn't sustainable in the long term.

Among the other interesting findings is that things like gender, hours "worked" a week, location and type of theological training don't really seem to make much difference in terms of outcomes. And overall: "The surveys have also presented a largely optimistic picture of the experiences of ministry, at least for the majority of clergy who took part."

Given these outcomes, it seems churlish to quibble over details. But returning to the statistics about how much time ministers spend doing what gives some food for thought. The table includes separate categories for different kinds of ministry, but it's interesting to see what 'incumbents' and 'priests in charge' – pastor-type ministries – do with their time.

They spend more than 15 hours a week on preaching and teaching, liturgical duties and prayer (corporate and individual), which doesn't seem unreasonable. Only around four and half hours is spent on pastoral ministry, though (crises and visiting people in their homes) which seems low. "Intentional outreach" (offering hospitality, hanging round the school gate) scores around two hours. The largest single item – and this is the one that provokes a sharp intake of breath – is administration and organisation, at nearly nine hours a week out of around 51 hours worked in total.

Is this too much? The instinctive reaction is, "Yes – these ministers ought to be out saving souls or doing something else religious, not filling in forms or arranging coffee rotas."

However, it's not as simple as that. The "administration and organisation" undertake very often requires a pastoral sensitivity that is quite properly within the minister's role. Congregations don't run themselves; they have to be made to work effectively as communities, and good organisation is the grease that keeps the wheels turning. Wise ministers relieve themselves of as much administration as they can, but a substantial amount is always going to fall to them.

The practice of ministry is so personal and so human that prescribing the amount of time people ought to be spending on this or that activity is very rarely appropriate. But what the CofE can hope for is that ministers gifted in particular areas are set free to minister in those areas, and that they're able to empower others to do what they can't. It is not, after all, up to the minister alone to be the Church. If she can't spend time in "intentional outreach", because she's too busy or isn't good at it, she can make sure someone else does it. If he doesn't visit people because he hates hospitals or is just too shy (it happens), he can still make sure people are visited.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing from this survey is that ministers seem to be fundamentally happy in their work. They should be; pastoral work can be grinding, painful and miserable sometimes, but it's also profoundly satisfying and a source of deep joy.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods