A relative said to me, “It must be great to only have to work one hour a week on Sundays.” I replied, “Do you know what’s better? Olympic sprinters only have to work for 9.6 seconds or so, every four years!”
Most congregants don’t realize the preparation that goes into a solid expository sermon. A common sigh among those in the fulltime teaching ministry– those who are faithful to prepare expository sermons– is how little time is left over for the variegated pastoral responsibilities clamoring for attention.
From counseling to corresponding, premarital sessions to divorce prevention, from house visits to hospital visits, from baptism to burials, the pastor is present in every facet of life from the cradle to the grave. What an honor. What a joy. And what a load to bear.
Somewhere in this milieu time must be carved our for preparation and teaching Bible studies, home groups, men’s breakfasts, elders’ meetings, classes and courses, and let’s not forget the central expectation that comes inevitably every week, in some cases twice a week: the Sunday sermons. That is before any personal time (what’s that) which most people enjoy.
Exercise habits, a healthy sleep quota, hobbies, entertainment, family time? What do you think is the first to get bumped when someone calls in tears asking for a visit? It’s not the ministry that can be batted to leg, it’s items on the personal time list that are expected to be expendable.
Think about when people can meet for the counseling they desperately need: at night. Think of when people get married: Saturdays. Think of when people die: unscheduled!
I’m not whining by the way. I love a career that is spent in the eternal work. I thrive on knowing what I’m doing has value in the lives of people I love and will leave echoes in eternity.
Vets don’t complain about being surrounded by animal smells all day, and pastors don’t bat an eye at being inundated with people’s problems all week. I’m just pointing out that if your pastor hasn’t invited you to coffee lately, it probably isn’t because he’s chilling at the beach all week working on his tan.
Sometimes a pastor has to say no to a plethora of good duties in order to make time for the better tasks.
Jesus told Martha that her sister Mary was not being a slacker by opting for the one necessary thing. It’s not that Martha’s service and hospitality was wicked or futile. It was a good deed through and through. But it wasn’t the best choice at that moment. Sometimes the best example your pastor can be to you is to say no to seeing you because he has more pressing duties to attend to.
On occasion, depending on how appointment heavy his week has been, that “more pressing duty” may simply be keeping his derrière in the chair and his nose in the books to prepare for the Sunday sermon.
The sermon is potentially the most effective moment of the pastor’s week; he needs to be prepared for it. To have the entire flock sitting expectantly for a word from the Lord, insights deeper than those their study Bible’s supply, and application more relevant than the Dr Phil show, is an intimidating thought.
And the thing about Sunday is that it is at most one week away, and coming closer. And it never stops coming.
Pastors live under the whip of their flock’s expectations, their own goals of productivity, and their Lord’s standard of excellence.
Unfortunately some folks don’t recognize this. If people don’t see the pastor in their lives, they assume he is “bookish” and unapproachable at best, lazy and unloving at worst.
If you are a pastor, I can only encourage you with these three nuggets my mentor bolstered me with:
1. you can’t please everyone all the time,
2. you only have one Boss, and
3. you can sleep when you’re dead!”