The Pastor and His Schedule

No matter where you serve the Lord, whether in a city or rural setting, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the many responsibilities that are required of a minister. For 12 of my 17 years as the pastor of a small church in an urban inner-city area of Los Angeles, I juggled two sets of responsibilites—leading our church in many of the main teaching responsibilities, which consisted of preaching for about 45 minutes three times a week from three different books of the Bible, along with men’s discipleship, and counseling. There were, of course, many other responsibilities which we could sprinkle in along with those, but those took up major chunks of my time.

Additionally, I taught pastoral ministry courses at a nearby seminary twice a week during the regular semesters. Because of Los Angeles traffic and the distance to the seminary, I would spend about 4 hours each day on congested freeways as I travelled to and from the school. That meant that on the days that I taught, I would spend most of my days either commuting to and from the seminary as well as teaching. When I returned I would most often drive straight to my office at church and pick up my duties there.

These two worlds, church pastor and seminary professor, required that I have a very good grasp of time management and discipline or else I knew that all those involved—my wife and children, my church, and my students—would suffer and I would not be able to faithfully discharge my duties.

Because of this, I understand the time constraints that are placed upon any servant of God as they seek to make the best use of their time to bring glory to God. To help those that might be working at doing this very thing, I’d like to share with you how I did this, even thought it was imperfect, in hopes that you might benefit from the lessons I learned.

I remember reading several years ago in a book by the famous productiviy guru Stephen Covey, the illustration of the big rocks and little rocks. It helped me to see the importance of prioritizing the big responsibilities in my life and ministries, and was a help in looking at the big picture.

In this illustration, Covey says he invited a seminar attendee to the front of the room to a table with a glass jar and several bowls with rocks, pea gravel, sand, and a glass of water. He asked the woman if she thought she could fit everything on the table into the jar. She said she’d try and made a few attempts, trying to put the sand and gravel in first. By doing this she found that the larger rocks wouldn’t fit. After a few more attempts she said that she didn’t think it was possible. Covey thanked her and then proceeded to take an empty jar and added in each element one at a time. He started with the larger rocks, then added the pea gravel, shaking the jar to settle in the gravel as much as possible. Then he added the sand. At each step he asked the women who had failed if she thought the jar was full. At first she said it was, then as she caught on, she answered that somehow she knew more would fit in. After the gravel and the sand, Covey once again shook the jar so the sand filled in all the spaces between the large rocks and the gravel. Finally, Covey added the water, which filled the microscopic spaces between the grains of sand, assuring his audience that the jar was now truly full.

Covey used this illustration to show that unless the large rocks, which represent the important things in our lives, are put into place first, we will never accomplish what matters most. And when what matters most is our families and our ministry to the Lord, we want to make sure that these things are placed in the most important place of priority in our life and limited time. The other stuff, the small stuff, can be added afterwards if we so desire.

So, for me, I set up a general day by day schedule that looked like this:

Mondays—Family Day. This was time that unless absolutely necessary due to a real emergency, I did not work or neglect the family. These focused days were filled with great joy and helped me to relax and spend time with my wife and children. I understood that if I lost my family, I lost my ministry.

Tuesdays—Seminary teaching in the day, church administration and counseling appointments in afternoons and the evenings.

Wednesday-Study and sermon preparation for Wednesday night, and teaching in the evenings.

Thursday– Seminary teaching in the day, study and sermon preparation for Sunday mornings.

Friday-Continue study and sermon prep for Sunday morning if not finished, study and sermon prep for Sunday evenings.

Saturday-Men’s Bible study and/or evangelism; finish sermon prep for Sunday nights if not done.

Sunday-Worship in the morning and evening, monthly leadership training and board meetings in between services.

This was my regular “big picture” schedule for most of my 17 years as pastor of my church. When the seminary had a break, then usually my involvement at church increased and I was able to divert my attention to other necessary needs at church.

And although I can’t say that I never struggled with being exhausted at times, or having too much on my plate, my schedule helped me to fit the big things into my days, and then the smaller “pebbles, and sand,” like phone calls, visitation to homes and hospitals, and pop-in-visits, fit in without losing sight of the important responsibilities that needed to happen.

Most people within your church will never have any idea how many hours and how much time you put into serving them—and that’s as it should be. We are servants after all. But the Lord knows, and we will all have to give an account for how we spent our time as ministers of the gospel. So, if you are a pastor of a church, take that seriously. The pastorate is no place for lazy men.

Holy Stubbornness

“Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.” (Acts 14:1-4)

The preaching of the gospel will always accomplish its intended purpose. Soemtimes the fields are slow to yield anything. We need to keep at it and trust the Lord for the growth. But sometimes the results are seen immediately, as in Acts 14 where a great number of Jews and Gentiles came to faith in Christ after the apostles proclaimed the gospel to them in Iconium. How exciting when this happens!

But along with this immediate burst of growth came an immediate response from the enemy. Spiritual warfare in the shape of stirring up strife and the poisoning of minds is said to have been the tactic used here. This probably means that lies and jealous striving were used to incite the Gentiles against the new Christians. It’s interesting that the non-believing Jews who would normally have nothing to do with Gentiles were now willing to feign concern for the Gentiles so long as they could accomplish their desire of persecution.

What I want to point out is what verse 3 says, “so they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord.” The “they” of verse three refers to the apostles Paul and Barnabas (13:50). In response to the attack against the new church in Iconium, the apostles did what any mother would do when her baby is attacked—they stayed longer to defend and care for her.

This “holy stubbornness” is a response of love and courage. Paul and Barnabas weren’t willing to proclaim the gospel, see people receive Christ, and then move on. The goal wasn’t to impress their buddies with evangelistic growth statistics. Their goal was to make disciples of Christ, and that meant that they needed to stay as long as necessary in order to ensure that their brothers and sisters in Iconium were protected from the wolves there.

Accompanying the apostles’ stay was the presence of God who gave to them bold speech that was empowered by Christ. It was Christ working through the apostles who bore witness to the word of His grace. This along with signs and wonders that accompanied the powerful Word confirmed the gospel and these messengers as being from God. This would go a long way to both strengthen the Church and warn the enemy.

Sometimes we think of evangelism in rosy, romantic terms that ignores what it really is—an incursion behind enemy lines to snatch away from the devil those who once were his, but now belong to Christ. And the enemy will not stand by idly and allow this to happen. We can expect him to fight back.

And this is where holy stubbornness is needed. Since we belong to Christ, we do not need to fear the enemy. Christ is for us, so who can be against us? But that truth does not remove the reality of spiritual attack, hardship, and persecution. We might feel the heat of warfare increase as the battle rages in our community and all around us.

Be encouraged. The devil doesn’t mess with the sleepers. He doesn’t want to rouse a church that is deep in apathy. But once you begin raiding the smoldering sticks from his fires, he will rage and seek to stop you. This might come as discouragement, personal attacks, division, distraction, or many other of his numerous schemes. Don’t give up! Don’t stop making disciples. Don’t become distracted. Don’t move on.

Dig in. Be stubborn. Refuse to relent. God is with us. We have the victory!

Spirit Empowered Church Planting

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Rom 1:16 ESV

It would seem that some people who are all for church planting are unaware of Romans 1:16, so I have reproduced it here for the benefit of those who think that a church is best planted by human invention.

What do I mean by ‘human invention?’ How about slick marketing programs that blanket the city? Or freebies, raffles, and give-aways that are meant to be a spiritual bait-and-switch? There are surveys meant to find out what unbelieving pagans want in a church so that a church can be tailored for them, and there are those ‘church planters’ who blanket Christian radio, Christian bookstores and encourage their core team to invite their friends over to their cool, new church that is so much better than the one they’re in now. There are other so-called church planting and church growth gimmicks I could mention, but I think that you probably know of one or two places like this.

Then there is Holy Spirit power that converts a soul from being a prisoner of darkness into a light-reflecting child of the Kingdom. Those churches that seek to grow from preaching a gospel that leads to Spirit-regeneration of the souls of men are true church plants. And those who plant churches by the power of the gospel do so in the methodology that gives all glory to God and cannot be conjured up by Madison Avenue methods.

To all my brothers out there who are holding forth the truth in faithfulness, keep it up. For those growing weary of doing good, email me and I’ll join you in prayer so that you won’t be tempted to give in to powerless quick fixes that yield a crowd, but not gospel growth.

What Is the Church?

A few days ago I wrote about the regulative principle and the way that the pandemic has forced many pastors and church leaders to think seriously about their ecclesiology. Today I’d like to address a simple question that perhaps isn’t so simple: What is the church?

Before I point to several definitions from systematic theology books, I want to point out the practicality of this question. If you took the time to look at any given church website, you would more than likely find that many of them feature photographs of their buildings, and many of those same websites would not show you the people but the structure. I find that telling. What does a website like that say about their unintentional definition of the church? I have even seen church websites that give a history of the church—laying out the expansion of their church buildings!

Even as I picked the photograph of the cross on a church steeple for this post, I knew that there would be some that don’t equate the church with the building, but that many Christians do. The church is not the gathering place, but the gathered. But this requires greater defining.

There are those that misuse Matthew 18:20 (“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”) to say that a small gathering of at least two Christians is an expression of the Church. So, in this thinking, a Christian concert is a gathering of the church. Now I’ve been a part of small churches, but there was more than just Christians that made us a church. Does a church social in someone’s backyard make that group a church? And when I was in high school and our youth group went to an amusement park, were we actually going to church—so long as two or more of us were in line for the log-ride? 😂

So, what is the church if it isn’t a building or a random group of Christians in the same room? Below I give six answers from six systematic theology books, and then I will add my own. I’m not seeking to give an in-depth, all inclusive answer, but rather hope to spark your thinking and try to give what I consider a biblical answer to this question. If you like, add your own definition to the comments.

Wayne Grudem: “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.”[1]

MacArthur and Mayhue: “The church of God refers to the community of those who have been called out by God from their slavery to sin through faith in Jesus Christ.”[2]

James Montgomery Boice: “The church is (1) founded on the Lord Jesus Christ, (2) is called into being by the Holy Spirit, and (3) is to contain people of all races who thereby become one new people in the sight of God.”[3]

Robert Reymond: “The church in Scripture is composed of all the redeemed in every age who are saved by grace through personal faith in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ, “the seed of the woman” (Ge. 3:15) and suffering Messiah (Isa. 53:5-10).”[4]

Karl Barth: “The Real Church is the assembly which called, united, held together and governed by the Word of her Lord, or she is not the Real Church.”[5]

Charles Ryrie: ““I will build My church,” the Lord said, and that is His special work today. Those words of Christ indicate specific distinctions about the church: (a) it was a work future to His earthly life; (b) it was not the same as the kingdom about which He also taught; (c) it must have been something different from the theocracy of Israel.””[6]

My attempt at defining the church:

The Church of Jesus Christ was established by Christ himself, and is the community of believers distinct from national Israel and the Kingdom of God, made up of all those who have been called out of darkness by the Holy Spirit, and have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, from the Day of Pentecost to the rapture of the Church. This gathering should be led by spiritually qualified leaders and should meet regularly for the proclamation of the Word, the ordinances, and if necessary church discipline.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 851.

[2] John F. MacArthur Jr, and Richard Mayhue, eds., Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 740.

[3] James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive & Readable Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 567.

[4] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 806.

[5] Karl Barth in Donald G. Bloesch, The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, Mission (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1997), 4.

[6] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, (Chicago, Moody, 1999), 458.

Church Planting Lessons from Thessalonica

The Church of Thessalonica was established during Paul’s second missionary journey. It is chronicled in Acts 15:36-18:22. In this post I want to walk through this journey and then apply a few lessons that can be applied to church planting.

Paul’s journey began in Antioch, were Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement over John Mark, as to whether he should join them on their trip or not. Apparently John Mark had abandoned them on a previous trip and Paul did not think it was a good idea to depend upon him. Barnabas took John Mark and went to the island of Cyprus while Paul took Silas as his partner (Acts 15:36-41).

Meanwhile Paul and Silas headed to the region of Galatia to encourage the churches that Paul and Barnabas had established in the first missionary journey (Acts 15:36). The first stop mentioned was in Derbe and then on to Lystra. At Lystra Paul took Timothy with him on his journey (Acts 16:1-5).”

From Galatia Paul traveled with Silas and Timothy through the region called Phrygia, moving in a Northwest direction, avoiding Asia Minor (modern Turkey) because the Holy Spirit had forbidden that Paul should go there (Acts 16:6).

Paul then decided to go above Asia Minor into a Roman province called Bithynia, but Paul and his party were once again forbidden by the Spirit from going into this region (16:7). That meant that North and South were out of bounds to travel in. They could go back or they could press on toward Mysia along the northern border of Asia and Mysia until they reached Troas, which they did (Acts 16:8).

It was while in Troas that the Lord revealed to Paul his mission. He was given a vision of a Macedonian man who called out to him to come over and help him. Paul would have recognized this man as Macedonian from his traditional hat and clothing that had been a mark of the Macedonian people for centuries before and carries on even to today.

Although Macedon is not as well known to most of us today outside of the biblical references to it, it is important for us to know a little about its history.

The Macedonian kingdom was the “greatest empire ever known to human history.” [1] It was the empire of Alexander III also known as Alexander the Great.

Before he died at the age of 33, Alexander had succeeded in extending his kingdom from Egypt in the south to the Indus River in India to the east. His father, Philip II conquered the Greek city states and taught his son well many strategies that served him well as he sought to conquer the rest of the world. Alexander conquered Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Palestine, Egypt, Babylonia and India.

Alexander’s armies are pictured in Daniel 7:6 as a swift leopard with four wings. It says, “After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it.” The speed of the army was represented by the leopard’s speed amplified by four wings. The four heads refer to what happened after Alexander’s death. Since he died so young, possibly by poisoning, no plan of succession was in place.

After much turmoil, the kingdom was divided among his four generals into four kingdoms, with Antipater receiving the former Macedonian kingdom and Greece. At Antipater’s death, Cassander had the opportunity to take control and he solidified his position by marrying Alexander’s half-sister, the daughter of King Philip II. Her name? Thessaloniki.

In 316 BC Cassander founded a new city by consolidating 26 towns into the new city he called Thessalonica. This prestigious city would go through many more changes and wars by the time Paul would enter into it. When Paul came, it was a jewel to the Romans and had a population of about 200,000, which was quite large for a city in its day.

Let’s go back to Acts 16. Now we can see God’s purpose in not allowing Paul to go to Mysia or Asia or Bithynia! He wanted them to go to Macedon to bring the gospel message to the Gentiles!

Notice in verse 10 that it says “we” (cp. v.8 says “they”). What we find here is that in Troas Paul picked up another traveling companion—the author of Acts and the Gospel named for him—Luke! Paul went from Troas (in Mysia) across the island of Samothrace to the mainland of Macedonia and the city of Neapolis (16:11).

From Neapolis Paul and his friends went to the Roman colony of Philippi, named after Alexander the Great’s father King Philip II (16:12). In this city, Paul and his company met Lydia and led her to Christ. Later they were beaten with rods and thrown into jail after casting the demon out of a slave girl. (16:13-24) Welcome to Macedonia!

While in jail, God intervened and a jailer and his family were saved (16:25-40). From Lydia and the jailer’s family and any other’s saved on that trip to Philippi Paul established the first church in Europe. The letter we call Philippians was written to them.

Acts 17:1-9 tells us about the establishment of the Thessalonian church. Leaving Philippi, Paul passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, probably because they were so small (17:1) and moved to the city of Thessalonica, where a synagogue had been established by the Jewish population.”

In these 9 verses, I’d like to make three observations about the work that Paul did in planting this church and make some applications for our lives.

1. Paul “reasoned from the Scriptures with a Purpose (vv. 2-4).

Paul’s time in Thessalonica was short—he knew that. He was not on a vacation or sight seeing trip. He was literally on a mission. Because of that purpose, Paul’s time was focused, purposeful and methodical.

Verse 2 says he“reasoned”with the Jews. This word in Greek is dilegomai and it is where we get our word “dialogue.” Paul “dialogued” with them. He had deep, meaningful conversations with them about the Scriptures and their meaning. But it had a purpose and an aim. they didn’t argue about Jonah’s whale or who the Nephilim in Genesis 6 are. Paul made a bee-line to the cross and Jesus.”

Paul wanted to show them from the Old Testament that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah (v. 3). And Paul was seeking to change the hearts and minds of his listeners (v.4)! His mission had a purpose. Remember the way that Paul talked to King Agrippa? Acts 26:24-29. Paul preached for change!”

Studying the Bible and going to church is good. Listening to sermons and reading Christian books is good. But to what end do we do these things? Is it to seek holiness in our lives? It is to grow in Christ? Why do we share Christ? Is it to see people saved?”

2. Faithful gospel proclamation will also attract opposition from our enemy and those blinded by sin (vv. 5-9).

In a sense, these gospel preachers were turning the “world upside down” by preaching their message about King Jesus. We need to be honest. Most people like the status quo. We don’t like it when people rock the boat. And we love our sin. Listen to John 3:19-20. It says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

Paul was trying to build a lighthouse in the darkness of Thessalonica. But the darkness wasn’t about to just roll over and let that happen. It fought back. So, we must wage war!” We too need to fight like Paul—reasoning, preaching the gospel, and persuading with the truth.

Second Corinthians 10:3-6 says,“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. “

3. Finally, Jesus must be trusted to build his own church (Matt 16:18).

It is easy to give up and be discouraged by adversity and the roadblocks that we encounter. To see all the failures and not the victories. Afterall, Paul followed Jesus’ commands and went to Macedonia, just as he said. Yet in Philippi he was beaten then jailed. Next in Thessalonica a mob formed and attacked their friend Jason in his home. When Paul left Thessalonica, he was probably only there from 3-6 months, but they had to move on!”

But a church was planted in Thessalonica. And it grew and matured…even with the absence of Paul! God gave life to that seed of a church and although Paul left when it was a weak little seedling, God would cause it to grow.”We certainly can learn from this. We need to work hard, and work smart, but we must learn as well to trust Jesus with the results. After all, it is HIS church.

[1] Green, Gene L. The Letters to the Thessalonians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002; p. 9.