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!

Go Forth to Die

Robert Quinn, a leadership professor at University of Michigan, has joined others in pointing out that the origins of the word leader means to “go forth and die.” In his book Change the World, he writes: “Leadership authors do not understand that leadership means “Go forth to die.” If they did understand it, they would not be enticed to write about it—because people do not want to hear this message. Most people want to be told how to get extraordinary results with minimum risk. They want to know how to get out-of-the-box results with in-the-box courage.” True leaders are servants who die to themselves so others may flourish. True leaders go forth, not for themselves, but for others.

Geiger & Peck, Designed to Lead [1]

Many have noted that an alarming majority of our young people are not staying in the Church following high school. There are several contributing factors as to why this is, but one reason to add to that list is probably that we do not do well in developing in our young people a need to serve and grow into leaders.

That isn’t to say that many of this younger generation aren’t interested in serving and becoming leaders—we often are simply failing in taking them serious enough to develop them into leaders in our Bible Church movement. The results have been disastrous.

Not only do we find it more difficult for the younger people in our churches to stay in our churches, but those that do stay often move on to churches that they perceive are forward thinking and have a vision to win the world for Christ. They want to be involved in a living church. Although the millennial generation has been often lampooned as lazy, hyper-sensitive snowflakes that want everything handed to them, I don’t think that is a fair estimate of many, if not most of them (at least in the church).

As proof I can point to the revolutionary activities of several movements that have captivated the hearts and minds of our young people—from Bernie Sanders to Black Lives Matter to the LGBTQIA+ movement. That brings me back to the Geiger & Peck quote at the beginning of this post. Clearly these movements are driven and manned primarily by young people—the very same ones that are leaving many of our churches!

Maybe instead of youth pizza parties and volleyball we should be calling our young people to “Go forth and die.” BLM and other social issues have clearly demonstrated that many are willing to go out and do just that for causes that at best will only yield temporary answers, but at worst are soul-destroying at their core. Although I understand that those that leave the Church and run headlong into apostasy would not have been “fixed” or kept if they had served or trained to lead in our churches. I’m not saying that. But I also recognize that a shallow vision of a holistic church that ministers to every age of Christian as Christians, will lead to a departure of those dissatisfied with a church that has an appearance of life but is dead inside.

Ours is the most noble cause and our Leader went forth to die for us. And He calls us to do the same. Let’s stop soft-selling the gospel and stop coddling our youth. Let’s stop putting the bar so low and begin to raise it up again. Let us point them to the cross and then show them how to take it up and follow Jesus, dying if we must.

[1] Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck, Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development, B & H Bools, 2016, Kindle ed. Loc. 254-263.

God’s Mighty Men (weekend repost)

In the U.S. Memorial Day is a holiday which is normally celebrated with picnics and barbecues, a long way from the its intended purpose. Memorial Day was originally set aside as a day to remember or memorialize the men and women who have fought to defend our country in the armed services. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. currently has 58,272 names of those who died or remain missing in the Vietnam War.

Read the rest of the post here: God’s Mighty Men

Don’t Just Tell Them What to Do (weekend repost)

It’s no accident that the New Testament uses the term “pastors” because of the similarities of the duties of Christian leaders and the herdsmen of the time. The pastor or sheep-herder/shepherd was to constantly be among his sheep, tending them, feeding them, watching over them, leading them, and caring for them personally.

Read the rest of the post here: Don’t Just Tell Them What to Do