10 priorities for the busy pastor
A pastor’s true calling is to shepherd the souls of God’s people humbly, willingly, and eagerly.
Everyone is busy. This is the reality of our modern culture. There is work that needs to be done, a family to care for, a house and car to maintain, friendships to cultivate, doctors to visit. There are kid’s activities to schedule and guests to host. For those of us who are Christians, you can add to the normal busyness of life attendance at church, possibly volunteering once a week. Life in the twenty-first century feels like an unending rat race. We only slow down when crisis and sickness force us to take a break.
Those who pastor God’s people experience many of the same pulls, pressures, demands, and responsibilities as other Christians. And because a pastor is called to be involved in the lives of the people in his congregation, he must learn to juggle his own schedule with the busy and hectic schedules of his church members as well. Their busy lives create additional tension in ministry, setting many pastors up for failure—even before they begin.
Many pastors fall into two traps.
In some cases, a pastor quickly realizes that he cannot provide adequate care for his congregation, so he doesn’t. Even with a smaller congregation, it’s not possible to be at every surgery, ball game, funeral, doctor’s visit, home invitation, church work-day, and counseling request. Discouraged, some stop trying altogether. A pastor may choose to focus more broadly on administrating large activities, managing busy programs, and overseeing the general functioning of the local church, leaving the work of “ministry” to others—or neglecting it altogether.
On the other hand, some determined pastors recognize that they can’t do it all but they commit to pushing through the pain. They set an ambitious hand to the plow and hope that with enough effort they will at least please some people. This approach has its own dangers, though. The pastor is now enslaved to the demands and needs of his church. The congregation, whether directly or indirectly, largely determines how his time is spent. His ministry faithfulness and fruitfulness will be based on how happy his congregation is with his efforts, and while some will be pleased, there will always be people who can never be satisfied. Satisfying people becomes his way of measuring faithfulness, yet this will leave him feeling exhausted and empty.
His true calling
A pastor is not called to run programs for the masses. Nor is he called to do it all and try to please everyone. God is the one who calls pastors to ministry, and the specifics of that calling are clearly outlined in God’s Word. The only way a pastor can avoid these pitfalls and remain steadfast throughout his life and ministry is to know what God has truly called him to do—and to do it! The Apostle Peter exhorts elders/pastors to be shepherds—to care for God’s people. He writes:
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:2-4).
Peter’s exhortation to pastors can be summarized in a single sentence, “Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care until the Chief Shepherd appears.” And in case you missed it, Peter is pretty clear about the who, what, when, and how of a pastor’s biblical calling.
What: Be shepherds of God’s flock.
Who: The flock that is under your care.
How: Not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
When: Until the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, returns for his flock placed in your care.
A pastor’s true calling, then, is to shepherd the souls of God’s people humbly, willingly, and eagerly, and to do all of this on behalf of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. This has not changed from the time Peter wrote these words until today. Though our culture has changed and life is quite different today than it was in the first century, the basic responsibilities of pastoral ministry have not changed.
The word of God is sufficient to provide us with an outline of a pastor’s divine calling, and it is sufficient to instruct a pastor in how he should prioritize his daily schedule. God’s Word consistently highlights the priorities of faithful shepherds and affirms that these priorities revolve around the core calling—to “be shepherds of God’s flock under your care.” God’s Word has the power to cut through the demands, pressures, and expectations that crush a pastor’s spirit.
Ten priorities for ministry
In my book from a few years back, The Pastor’s Ministry, I set forth ten key priorities that should be at the heart of every pastor’s ministry. Here they are:
1. Guard the truth (2 Tim. 1:13-14)
A pastor must be committed to the Word of God and the apostles’ teachings and willing to preach, teach, and defend them when they are contrary to the culture.
2. Preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2)
A pastor must faithfully preach the whole counsel of God’s Word, carefully explaining the meaning of the text and applying it to the lives of those under his care.
3. Pray for the flock (Eph. 6:18)
A pastor should be an intercessor, bringing the needs of his church before God and modeling prayer both publically and privately.
4. Set an example (1 Tim. 4:12)
A pastor is an example to his flock and should always be aware that others are looking to him as a model. While a pastor should model righteous behavior, he must also model confession and repentance, acknowledging that he is also a sinner and teaching his people how to apply the gospel to life.
5. Visit the Sick (James 5:14)
Pastors should visit those who are sick and in need of care and encouragement, and they must train up others in the congregation to help care for others in need.
6. Comfort the grieving (1 Thess. 4:18)
In the face of death, a pastor should grieve with those who grieve and should sensitively remind those who are grieving of the hope and encouragement of the gospel. This involves preaching gospel-focused messages at funerals and graveside services.
7. Care for widows (1 Tim. 5:3)
A biblical teaching that is much neglected today, pastors are responsible for the widows of the church and should find creative ways to model care for widows by involving their families and other members of the church in caring for these special women.
8. Confront sin (Matt. 18:15-17)
Pastors need to confront sin and lead the church in the exercise of discipline in the hope of repentance and restoration.
9. Encourage the weaker sheep (1 Thess. 5:14)
Though it can be tempting to dismiss people who are slow to change, God calls pastors to model patience and persevering hope by working with those who are difficult, despairing, and challenging.
10. Identify and train leaders (2 Tim. 2:2)
It is the primary responsibility of pastors to identify, raise up, train, and affirm leaders in the church. Every pastor should have a plan for how to do this in his local church and should be actively seeking out the next generation of leaders.
Each of the priorities listed above are grounded in God’s Word and then should be practically fleshed out in the context of life and ministry. We need to be biblically grounded in these pastoral imperatives before we can develop the practical tools to engage in these tasks.
Ultimately, I pray that every pastor who feels the burdens and pressures of ministry and who deals with the impossible expectations of shepherding people will be freed from the bondage of meeting every need, giving away time that is not available, trying to be at two places at once, and maintaining countless unappreciated head-spinning tasks. My hope is that the power of God’s Word will invigorate every pastor to see what God desires for his life and ministry and to better discern what he can do that will please the Chief Shepherd.