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.

The Danger of Cutting Off Our Doctrinal Roots

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:1–2 (ESV)

Set in a backdrop where the church in Corinth was filled with many Christians who had a strong taste for ear-pleasing speakers, Paul addresses his intentional plan to not be seeker sensitive in his preaching. The words “lofty speech” and “wisdom” (ESV) both reference the exalted form of rhetoric that the preferred speakers used in their addresses to the church.

When Paul came, however, he did not speak in this way. Paul isn’t embracing crude speech or speech that is intentionally dumbed down in order to sound less educated. Many seeker sensitive preachers do that today, and they are in the same vein as those that Paul is speaking against.

Paul’s comments instead are meant to point out to the Corinthian church that the focus of the message that Paul preached was not primarily focused upon the listener, but rather was focused upon the message. In saying this, Paul does not dismiss the need to be clear and doctrinal. What he is saying, though, is that the particular tastes and preferences of the listeners is not of primary importance, but rather getting the right message was of the highest importance.

This attitude toward communicating the gospel wasn’t something that Paul stumbled upon when he came into the city. In verse 2, Paul clearly says that he decided what his message would focus on instead. The Greek word ekrina comes from the root word krino and this root means to judge. Paul has selected, or set out as separate the way one chooses among many choices, his methodology. What did he decide? That of all the subjects, focal points, and sidebars that he could potentially run after, he would stay firmly planted upon the subject of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion.

Of course a simple reading of the Pauline Epistles shows that Paul didn’t only write or teach about the gospel. His range was deep and broad. But in Paul’s process of thinking through what the church needed, the gospel was his home base and starting point. Whereas the false teachers in Corinth had little concern for the ABC’s of the Christian faith, Paul built his theological superstructure upon these critical truths.

When we leave the fundamentals of the faith and become enamored by other ideas or doctrines where we leave the cross behind, we can not only expect that we will soon be lost in the weeds, but we will also find that we have lost our power. The gospel is the deep root from which all our preaching, teaching, discipleship, and faith come from. To cut ourselves off from this root is a fatal flaw. Paul wouldn’t mask it with big words and ideas. He put out his message in words and ideas that were plain and simple. And that was his plan.

Are You a Pastor with Bloody Hands?

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:26–30, ESV)

Why would the Apostle Paul consider himself “innocent of the blood of all?” Was it because he faithfully taught the whole counsel of God to the church in Ephesus? That is a worthy question to be answered. To Paul, spiritual oversight and teaching is a grave responsibility and if those responsibilities are not faithfully discharged, there is a very real danger.

Why would Paul use this kind of language? I think that it goes beyond just the serious nature of preaching and teaching. Paul connects the faithful teaching of the whole counsel of God (the fullness of Bible and doctrine) with the coming of fierce wolves. The wolves will come no matter what, Paul writes, but as their pastor, he has armed them with the Sword of the Spirit. His equipping would help them ward off the evil and blood-thirsty teachers that would try to invite the flock and drag away the naive and immature sheep among them. Was Paul being dramatic? I don’t think so. Which is worse, a murderer who kills our temporary body, or a false teacher that damns the eternal soul?

Paul knows that beyond the truth of Scripture taught, comprehended, and live out that the church is powerless in the face of the enemy. And he also knew that without the weapon of the Word, these wolves would “draw away the disciples after them.” To the elders who were now to be the primary protectors and overseers of the flock Paul is essentially saying, “My job is done. I equipped you with everything you need to ward off the enemy’s attacks and live a life pleasing to the Father. My hands are innocent if you fail to do your job. Stay vigilant!”

As we look at the big picture within our church’s programs and future plans, we cannot fail to see the equipping of the Saints with the whole counsel of God as a major and necessary component. Are we seeking to train up and equip the church with the necessary weapons to stand firm in the day of attack? Hobby horse doctrines, a regular diet of topical sermons, and picking and choosing to teach on the popular texts while avoiding controversial ones–all of these will produce an anemic church, and it will leave the pastor of that church with blood on his hands.

May every man who has been called by God to lead God’s people take this task seriously.

Work at Clarity in Your Preaching (weekend repost)

I don’t have any doubt that we live in a time when people clamor for mindless entertainment, where it seems that the more outlandish and stupid, the better. How else will history be able to understand pop cultural trends like the current infatuation with “poop emojis”and YouTube videos of people eating Tide laundry detergent pods

Read there rest here: Work at Clarity in Your Preaching

Work at Clarity in Your Preaching

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV) 

I don’t have any doubt that we live in a time when people clamor for mindless entertainment, where it seems that the more outlandish and stupid, the better. How else will history be able to understand pop cultural trends like the current infatuation with “poop emojis”and YouTube videos of people eating Tide laundry detergent pods

However, as a pastor, I am troubled that the mindset that some people have had is that since this empty-mindedness is not going away, that people cannot handle the preaching of the Word of God with any depth. The argument usually is that people just don’t know their Bibles today, and so we must shorten the length of our sermons and simplify our messages—with some even saying that the church will need to abandon preaching altogether and instead should just have “talks.”

What is particularly dismaying is that theological liberalism often chooses to move away from the Bible, stating that Scripture cannot be accepted as it is given because it is intellectually untenable. A person could not believe in the Bible as it is presented in its grammatical, historical and literal setting andalso believe in science!

But that isn’t what we have all too often in Bible churches. Instead, there is a movement away from the Bible because even though we Bible-believing Christians can all affirm its truthfulness, we don’t want to dig too deep—it makes our heads hurt with all that history and geography and cultural stuff. And don’t get us started on theology! We have Bible churches that are often filled with people who prefer Bible-lite sermons that tell good stories and have lots of moralizing, but woe to the pastor who would dare to go deeper!

At least that is what a lot of pastors I have spoken to seem to think…

What I have found out is something quite different. Yes, many Christians are against boring sermons, and overly-long sermons. They sleep through sermons that have no point but are simply data-dumps and half-baked sermons that meander nowhere slowly. They leave churches where the pastor seems to want to talk about only his hobby horse doctrines or wants to flaunt his ability to use Greek grammar. Yes, it’s true, people don’t want  that.

But we seem to confuse simplicity with simple-mindedness. We think that because they don’t want to hear a 45-minute sermon on the history of Tiglath-Pileser that they can’t stand real Bible preaching! So, in frustration, some pastors go back to vapid sermons. Stories, jokes, cutesy alliterations, we dress up like John the Baptist or the angel Gabriel. Why? Because we have not worked hard at going deep and wide. We have not prepared our biblical meal for everyone at the table to be able to digest the truth.

We can’t forget that people are at all sorts of different levels spiritually. Every church is like this. Some are unbelievers, some are babes in Christ, some are plateaued in their walk, some are maturing and others are going through a spiritual growth spurt. Don’t get frustrated by that man who wants you to go deeper every Sunday! Put a nugget or two in the sermon for him to chew on. Don’t scoff when that young couple ask the simplest questions—they are hungry! Feed them some application alongside your explanation of the text! Don’t chuckle at the hard-headed fellow who never seem to get it. Speak at his level and give him clear illustrations to cause that light to go on for him. We preach to real people, and so our sermons need to speak to real people!

My experience has shown that committed Christians don’t want shorter, watered down sermons. They don’t want a bunch of silly stories or jokes. They want the Bible! They want theology! They want to go deeper! And those “millennials” that so many people like taking jabs at, they thrive in churches where the Word of God is preached with conviction and depth.  

Our sermons can’t be empty. But they can’t be boring either. We need to present the meat of the Word in the most pleasing way we know how. We need to break it down for the young in Christ and give those who are more mature something to continue to work out in their own personal study. By doing this, we will raise the bar of our churches—they will all grow in depth and breadth of their knowledge of the Word and their learning will, Lord willing, blossom into changed lives.