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 Glory of God in a Season of Pain

“So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” John 11:20–27

The glory of God and the love of God are not in conflict with one another. Some theologians try to pit one against the other saying that the sovereignty of God (intimately tied to His glory) cannot override His love for humanity., and therefore the love of God willingly overrides His sovereignty so that God actually submits to the will of His creatures.

John 11 is an interesting test of this idea. In verses 4-6 it says, “But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”]

In these verses we have the glory of God shown in His sovereign decision to allow the life of Lazarus to be overcome by death, with the divine purpose of God being glorified through His resurrection of Lazarus. To some Christians and many unbelievers, this is unthinkable—even monstrous. But this is because the unregenerate mind and the immature Christian mind attribute all discomfort, pain, trial, and even death, as only evil and that the only good that comes is from the avoidance of these things.

But the pain and suffering that occurs in this world is only a small part of the much bigger picture. And not only this, but the pain and suffering as well as the joy unspeakable that are available to humanity either through grace or denial of the offer of salvation are infinite. The present world and its pains and joys are only a small sampling of a greater reality that all of humanity shall experience personally one day.

Jesus, looking beyond the suffering and eventual death of His friend Lazarus knows that a greater lesson needs to be grasped and through the truth He will bring glory to His Father.

So, instead of rushing to the scene to be at His friend’s side, Jesus stayed two days longer to assure His disciples that Lazarus was dead and buried by the time they reached Bethany.

This means that when we are tempted to cry out “Why?” In our trials, we must not push aside the glory of God and begin to question the love of God. The Lord’s mind is vast and His plans are more infinitely complex that we can know or imagine; therefore we must never doubt His love.

Mary and Martha were correct in placing all of their hope in Jesus’ power to heal their brother. The issue was simply timing. Jesus could have healed Lazarus while he was sick (Jn 11:21-27, 32); or immediately after he had died; or long after he died in the future Day of resurrection (v. 24).

The sisters had hoped that the healing would be before his death, but after he had died, they found some comfort in the future resurrection when he would be raised from the dead.

But Jesus gave them immediate resurrection while also pointing them to the reality of the greater day of resurrection that they would still need to look forward to and hope in. We too must cling to this very same hope even without our own personal experience with an immediate healing or resurrection. Jesus proved to Mary and Martha, and by extension to us as well, that He is able to raise the dead—because He raised Lazarus from the dead, and He rose from the grave by His own power.

So the next time you find yourself doubting God’s love or not understanding how such pain could bring God glory, remember Lazarus. You might never understand God’s reasoning, but you must know this—God desires to be glorified and His love for us is infinite. Both are true and both are never super versed by His perfect plans.

Practical Humility

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

(John 13:12–17, ESV)

Pride is an insidious thing, and it is easy to recognize in others while being blind to it in ourselves. A proud Christian leader is an exceptionally ugly thing.

The former slave-trader John Newton recognized that pride can even be manifest in holy things. He wrote with scathing accuracy what could have been written for the keyboard crusaders of our day:

I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

John Newton

Fighting pride is something all of us will need to do until the day we are made new. We might have correct doctrine and yet, be filled with such pride that we denigrate the God we wish to please. May the Scriptures that we prize have a deep impact upon our speech, our attitudes, and our lives so that whatever we do would bring glory to God.

Christ: No Less in the Storm as in the Sunshine

“I think it is a great lesson to learn in spiritual things, to believe in Christ and His finished salvation, quite as much as when you are down as when you are up, for Christ is not more Christ on the top of the mountain than He is in the bottom of the valley. And He is no less Christ in the storm at midnight than He is in the sunshine of the day. Do not begin to measure your safety by your comfort—but measure it by the eternal Word of God which you have believed and which you know to be true—and on which you rest, for still here, within the little world of our bosom, ‘He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap’ ” (Ecc 11:4).”

Charles H. Spurgeon (1892, Sermon 2264)

The Great Need for Courageous Leaders In the Church

“And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks. And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.”” (Joshua 10:24–25)

When you begin reading the book of Joshua, you can almost sense the fear and intimidation that Joshua was feeling. It starts with the announcement that Moses is dead. And then over and over again Joshua and the people of Israel are told to be strong and courageous.

After gaining some victories, assurance, and even a few tough lessons, Joshua has grown quite a bit as a leader by chapter 10. As five kings band together to try and stop the advancement of Israel into the Canaanite territory, it quickly becomes obvious that God is fighting for his people and they are unstoppable. The five kings in fear and desperation hide out in a cave, where they are discovered and sealed into the cave to await their fate.

After destroying the five kingdoms, Joshua returned to the sealed cave to deal with the kings. What he did next is worthy of note for leaders in the church today.

1. Joshua summoned all the men of Israel. The men were the leaders of the families and clans, as well as those who fought the battles. By Joshua summoning all the men so that they could be built up in courage, he was strengthening and stabilizing the whole nation. Similarly, when the pastoral leadership of the church strengthens and gives courage to the men in the church as a whole, they strengthen the whole church.

2. Joshua encouraged the chiefs of the men of war…[to] come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Joshua then turned to the leaders of the warriors—the commanders, and gave them the honor of this courageous symbolic act of victory. Not only did this act allow them to taste the victory for themselves, but it also strengthened their courage as the people saw not just Joshua as a mighty man whom God could use, but many mighty men God was using. Again, the local church should not be a place of pastor worship, but a place where the pastors are “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.” This means that we should be producing multiple warriors for Christ, and among them many will rise to the place of “chiefs of the men of war.” How encouraging to know that your local church is a fertile growing place for mighty men of God!

3. Joshua finally spoke God’s Word to them to both focus and humble them: “And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight”” (Joshua 10:25). These are very similar words to those that the Lord said to Joshua when he failed at Ai (Joshua 8:1). Joshua had absorbed those words and was now living by them. He knew that the Word of God is a powerful two-edged sword, and he wanted to equip his men with the same weapon that he had received. Those words were more than simply true—they contained reminders of humility and focus—don’t be afraid or discouraged, be strong and courageous. But don’t forget that the Lord will be fighting for you. It is not you who has won these victories.

Locker room pep talks are strongly associated with sports, and so many men are familiar with them. But that isn’t what Joshua gave them, and its not what our churches need. Leave the pop psychology to Oprah Winfrey and Joel Osteen. Real leaders need en-couragement, meaning they need courage from God himself. Hype only lasts so long. Courageous leaders need to point up and coming leaders beyond themselves to God himself. Preach the Word and let the lion out!