With a stethoscope over his heart, the doctor inquired, “What’s a typical week for a pastor?” He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“You see Doc, ‘typical’ doesn’t exist for the pastor. It’s a myth, a dream, and a mirage in the desert of my so-called busyness.”
His rant was not finished, so he continued: “Some folks think I work for less than an hour on Sunday while others think I work 169 hours every week. There are large gaps of time where it seems I’m free and others where I couldn’t possibly squeeze in another second of productivity. Don’t even get me started about the perceived expectations that trickledown from conference speaker types, and pastors with large cadres of interns.”
The poor doctor replied with nothing more than a “Hmm, that’s interesting—you should probably take some time off.”
“Time, doctor? What is this thing you call ‘time’?”
Maybe the above scene sounds familiar. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked, “What do you do all week?” The question is usually innocent but it strikes nerves and chords all the same. Sometimes the implication is that you twiddle your thumbs, yet some just want to know what ministry looks like in the day-to-day.
The pastor’s week doesn’t begin with the first item on your to-do list; it begins at the heart level. Here are a few reflections I have come to believe, followed by some suggestions aimed at encouraging the pastor’s heart during the week.
- My Week Reflects My Theology
The pastor’s week reflects, in a tangible way, what you really believe. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth which means that “God rules his world not only from above but also from below” (John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, 18). Jesus is Lord over the details and is working in everything that happens, so that you are conformed to Him, and He is glorified (Rom 8:28–30). If you’re like me, then you need continual reminders to this end. If God is on His sovereign throne (and He is), then how I approach the workweek has importance, meaning, and joy (Psalm 90).
Additionally, our theology is reflected in our philosophy of ministry. Biblical ministry is and should be shared ministry. It is shared with a plurality of leaders (1Tim 3; Titus 1:5–9; 1 Pet 5) and with the flock that is being trained to make disciples, thus doing the work of ministry (Eph 4:12).
If your ecclesiology is one in which you are at the top of all things, always in control, then let me encourage you to test such ideas against the Scripture. Without a shared approach to ministry, the pastor’s week is unsustainable and subject to rapid burnout. Train your team, cultivate leaders, and instruct your new members to this end. Your church will be healthier for it, and your weeks will be more productive.
- My Week Reflects My Priorities
This principle is simple: You will devote the weight of your week to what is most important to you. Many pastors are geared either toward reclusiveness or to being extroverted. The biblical balance, I believe, is somewhere in the middle— we should seek to be loving pastors and skilled teachers of the Word (see “pastor-teachers” in Eph 4:11).
We all trend in one direction or the other. It might be helpful to examine regularly your week to ensure that you are keeping up with your responsibilities of pastoral oversight, but also devoting uninterrupted time to sermon and teaching preparation.
Are you growing closer to the sheep or avoiding them? Are you spending enough time in the study? Are you spending too much time on the internet “researching”? What are the priorities of your week, and how will you tangibly accomplish them? Write it down, and make a plan, and don’t worry about crossing everything off your list. Be lovingly flexible and not a schedule Pharisee.
- My Week Reflects on My Family
I have suffered from daddy guilt and husband guilt; most pastors feel this strain. Though I have always enjoyed the support of a loving wife and four great kids, there are still times where I feel like I should be with them and not somewhere else tending to a matter of ministry.
This is a matter of serious importance, because family life is the first qualification for those who lead the church (1 Tim 3:2, 4; Titus 2:6). I also believe it is where most pastors become disqualified through neglect or moral failure. I’ve watched too many pastors neglect their families while building their ministries. I’m not here to tell you how many hours you need to spend with your children, but I’m sure they will appreciate the extra effort and love.
Pastor, love your wife deeply and drink water from your own cistern so that your fountain will be blessed (Prov 5:15–19). A wife that knows she is not an addendum to your ministry will be a source of rejoicing and encouragement through the hard weeks. Your marriage and your church will be stronger for it.
But wait, there’s more!
Here are a few suggestions to jump-start your thinking about your week, in no particular order:
- Spend one day a month or quarter doing nothing but prayerfully reading Scripture.
- Unplug your week; look for times or days where you can turn off phones, computers or anything that lights up.
- Defrag your desk and files, and de-clutter your schedule and life.
- Connect with others every week. Go to lunch with fellow leaders and church members. Listen and encourage them in their love for Christ.
- Learn to lovingly say “no” or to delegate to someone who can say “yes.”
- Try to keep a reasonable routine, but remain flexible without becoming dogmatic.
- Cultivate a shared approach to ministry in your church. This takes time. If it is new, go slowly.
- Read broadly, so you don’t sound like a seminary curriculum whenever you speak.
- Go somewhere like a park or quiet corner to regularly read and pray. My garage is my man-cave prayer retreat, which, until now, was mostly a secret.
- Go home and play, read, or wrestle with your kids.
- Spend appointed time with your wife and talk about her week, not yours.
- Redeem the commute with good sermons, or audio Bibles, or even silence.
- Go to sleep, take a nap, and stop trying to keep the schedule of your heroes. That “giant of the faith” who sleeps two hours every night will not give account for your sheep.
- Take up a trade or skill. For me, working on cars has become an occasional ministry, a time of discipleship, and an opportunity for theological reflection.
- Read and challenge your thinking well beyond your comfort zone, or even pursue an avenue of continuing education.
Paul Lamey is one of our eleven TES campus pastors, having served as pastor of preaching and leadership development at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL since 2002.