Balancing Preaching with Other Aspects of Pastoral Ministry

shepherd-sheepSince I was critical of Tim’s appeal to triperspectivalism in his analysis of the relationship between Reformed Christianity and broad evangelicalism it seems fair to note where Tim says something that is more helpful. Today’s post on his new blog discusses how pastors should balance sermon prep with “people time.” I’m not sure that I agree entirely with the number of hours he suggests (6-8 per week for solo pastors, 15 per week for mult-staff pastors) but I do agree that unless pastors are spending time with their people outside of services and other formal settings they are not going to be able to be as effective in their ministry. Preaching is an act of shepherding and one cannot shepherd sheep one does not know and a pastor will never really get to know his sheep by seeing them only on Sunday.

No one asked but I suspect that if a solo pastor (which is what 98% of NAPARC pastors are) is doing his job, all things being equal, (he didn’t spend the entire week in the hospital or on other emergency calls) he probably needs to spend more than 6-8 hours per week in sermon prep. It’s going to take a few hours to translate a text, to analyze the text, to outline the text, to outline the sermon, to read at least some relevant secondary lit (commentaries, articles etc), and to figure out how to communicate the main thrust of the text (through three points of course!) creatively and memorably. 6-8 hours is not exactly a “saturday night special” or preaching from “the barrel” but it’s not a very good plan for weekly preaching.

As a matter of priorities, the minister’s fundamental calling is to stand in the pulpit and graciously, winsomely, humbly, to announce God’s Word. Anything that threatens to unseat the priority of preaching over every other aspect of the pastoral vocation must be set aside or re-prioritized. Ask yourself, “can someone else do this?” No one else in the congregation is called by Christ to proclaim the Word but the minister. Elders are called to rule, deacons to minister to practical needs. Elders, deacons, and other members can make hospital calls, if needs be. Time with the flock should serve the message but if time with the flock makes it impossible to fulfill that fundamental vocation, then changes have to be made.

That said, I have seen instances where Reformed ministers become hermits. The truth is that some of our ministers (speaking broadly of the NAPARC world) are nerdy and prefer books to people. The goal is to balance a proper seriousness in handling God’s Word with pastoral sensitivity to the congregation. I’m not seeking balance for its own sake but for the sake of the ministry and the well-being of the churches, i.e. of Christ’s flock. I understand the temptation to spend more time with books than with people. Books don’t talk back. They don’t create new problems constantly. They don’t exhaust. They don’t do a lot of the unpleasant things that people do. When we’re tired of reading a book we simply re-shelve it. People can’t be “re-shelved,” at least not for long. If the people don’t receive the care they need, then one may find that, before long, there aren’t any sheep left in the flock to shepherd. Books may not talk back but they  also make a miserable congregation.

The goal here is to love the flock the way Christ loved his church. The outcome of that love and service belongs to the Holy Spirit. It’s not our business to manage the outcomes of ministry. We’re responsible for the process. For that reason I think we  really need simply to chuck most of the “church growth” nonsense about so-called “effective” time management. Yes, we have to be responsible for the way we use our time and no, we can’t justify being irresponsible with our time on the basis that “I’m being faithful” if that use of time leads us away from loving Christ’s people, spending time with them, counseling them etc. There’s a balance here. We preach in order to love the flock by fulfilling the vocation to which we’re called on the conviction that Christ instituted the foolishness of preaching. We cannot, however, neglect Christ’ lambs, in favor of books, on the grounds of fidelity to the vocation of preaching. It’s a difficult balance. Preaching comes first but without time with the flock, preaching will likely become disconnected from the life of the flock.

The answer is in the metaphors we use for ministry. This is why I am so resistant to the attempt by church-growth types to change the biblical metaphors of farming and shepherding to “ranching” or to the CEO model. Farmers and shepherds  know their herds and flocks. There are no CEO farmers but farmers today do have cell phones and satellite tracking systems. The CEO metaphor leads us away from fidelity to our calling. Ultimately the CEO metaphor makes the ministry about us and “success.” The “ranching” metaphor suggests a kind of unhealthy distance between flocks and shepherds. In some places ranching means seeing the flock once a week and even then in a helicopter. No, my grandpa and grandma used to check the cattle themselves. They went out every morning to count the cattle and to check the fences, to bring back strays, and to repair the fences that allowed some to get out. It had to be done daily or there would be no herd for which to care. Sometimes it meant being in the pasture at 3AM  in the snow making sure a calf was delivered safely. Sometimes it meant shooting a coyote.

I remember going out with grandma to check the pasture, fences, and cattle. The cattle knew our pickup. They knew that when we appeared that meant that they were going to be fed. Is that how your people see you, as a feeder, as a caregiver? Was Jesus a CEO Savior? Was he a “ranching” Savior or a “shepherding” Savior? To ask those questions is to answer them. As we are thankful for our Savior who made time for us but who also refused to allow the press of people and their needs to distract him from is most basic calling, so to let us, as redeemed people, imitate the balance in Christ’s ministry.

2 comments

  1. If a pastor’s work week is 60 hours long (I think most are that long) & he spends 15 hours on his preaching, that still leaves 45 hours. Or am I missing something?

  2. Does Mr. Keller spend regular time with “his people” outside of his staff? I find it hard to believe that he does. If he writes, speaks, etc. so much when does he visit the sick person or handle marriage problems and the like? As a solo pastor I’ve learned much from sitting on my butt listening to people and simply being with them on a regular basis. I think it’s harder to develop a personality cult when people see you as a simple servant of the people and God’s Word.

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