Within the course of a normal day I wear several hats: resident theologian, primary preacher, chief administrator, counselor, hospital chaplain, bereavement specialist, and most importantly husband and father. These responsibilities alone are more than the responsibilities of the Executive Director of a local non-profit or the CEO of a corporation. Even after all these responsibilities are fulfilled, the executive of any other organization does not have the sacred task of “hearing from Heaven.” That same executive is not tasked with faithfully, creatively, and compellingly conveying—to the same group of people each and every week—what “thus says the Lord.” When the last visit is made and the last sick parishioner prayed for, the tasks of completing investigative work, shaping the claim, arriving at a proposition, developing an outline, composing a manuscript, inserting illustrations—all the while praying for God to guide in the study as well as sanctuary—must be done. When all of these duties are collectively considered they make for a particularly exhausting life if the pastor is to rise to meet those expectations.
It is my conviction that preaching is a fundamentally important duty among the other duties of a pastor. A couple of months ago I had the wonderful opportunity to hear my dear friend Dr. Charlie Dates share his burden to expound upon Acts 6:4 at a church growth conference. With great conviction he reminded all preachers present that the pastor should not forsake prayer because that is where power in the pulpit comes from. And of equally vital importance, preachers should not forsake the responsibility of being both student and servant of the Word. I wholeheartedly agree that these “Twin Towers” of the pastoral ministry can not be minimized or marginalized in the daily and weekly routines of the pastor. With all of these things considered, the looming question for all pastors is, “How can a faithful pastor balance the pastoral responsibilities with the responsibility of preaching?”
First, knowing the primacy of preaching, a preacher should give their best hours of energy to thinking, reading and writing to prepare for pulpit proclamation. In order for this to happen, these times must be treated as sacred and incorporated into ones weekly routine. The weight of the preaching ministry is too great for any preacher to “fit in” or “steal” time for preparation. If one functions in such a way it places the preacher and the congregation they serve at great risk which may result in the preacher arriving at Saturday night or early Sunday morning with nothing to proclaim. What I have realized is that when it is time for the sermon on Sunday morning, no one in the pews will have an interest in how many visits or calls the preacher made within the week. Nor will they be interested in the multiple meetings with staff and laypersons that preacher conducted either. Those in the pews will be interested in the answer to one question that is inscribed in Jeremiah 37:17, “Is there a word from the Lord?”
At the same time, recognizing the demanding and expansive role of the pastor beyond the pulpit is of importance. As such, we ask the question, “How can a pastor make time to do these things?” I think it is as simple as “making time.” While we cannot control the emergencies of death and sickness, we can control how and when we plan and schedule those matters that do not rise to the level of an emergency. This may look like blocking time on your calendar which you will be available for meetings. Or it may be setting aside a couple of hours weekly or bi-weekly to visit members who are in the hospital or who have been unable to come to worship due to health issues. When all else fails, rely on trusted, faithful laypersons to join in the work of ministry beyond your capacity.
To achieve balance between pastoral duties, one’s home must receive the time and attention necessary to maintain the home as a peaceful sanctuary. This is true even though we believe that preaching is one of the primary responsibilities of the pastor. Just as there is time guarded for preaching preparation and for making time for other pastoral responsibilities, there must be an intentional, deliberate effort to guard time with one’s family. It is difficult to be a faithful preacher and pastor while there unmet needs at home. In order to accomplish this, it will take a great deal of discipline. But, if the preacher is diligent with their other duties throughout the week, they will have time to create memories with their families at home.
Lastly, the reality is that there is no such thing as a perfect pastor. We cannot do it all. But it is in those moments where we recognize our limitations we must rest in the sufficiency of the Gospel and the grace of God that we proclaim. The Gospel and its effects reminds us in the face of disgruntled, critical parishioners who expect us to do the impossible (be all things to all people) that we have been justified. Paul writes in Romans 8:33-34 (ESV), “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” In the course of pastoral ministry we must believe and receive the Gospel for ourselves and know that God has justified us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Ultimately all that we do is not for the approval of those whom we serve but for the glory of God. Do your best and leave the rest to God.