Sunday, October 6, 2019

A discipline. . .

A recent conversation with a naysayer suggested that pastors should not be sitting and reading books or working on their computers but out and about with the people.  It is perhaps a common sentiment.  Although I do not agree with the first part, I certainly do agree that pastors have to be among their people, to know them and their lives, and to be seen in the community.

What I do not agree with is the idea that pastors spend too much time reading.  In my experience, it is just the opposite.  In another conversation with a group of pastors we were asked what book we had last read.  Several folks said it had been a while since they had read a book and they honestly could not recall the name of that last book they had read.  I would submit that pastors need to read to be good pastors.  Reading is not a distraction from the ministry but one of the means by which we are constantly formed for this vocation.  Reading for a pastor is not recreational but vocational.  We have an abundance of great old books that never seem to age and we have an abundance of good new books worth the time and effort.  The pastor who reads such good books will be a better pastor and preacher and teacher, to be sure.

Pastors do spend a great deal of time on computers (it used to be typewriters).  We are forever writing and this is a good thing.  My discipline is to write a year's worth of sermons ahead of time and so there are days when that is all I do -- put together sermon notes, outlines, write sermons, and save them for further editing.  I do this because my schedule is pretty unpredictable and I have learned that I do not have time at the last minute and the preaching task is too important to be left to the last minute.  So there are times when my people must wonder if that is all I do!  Pastors also prepare Bible studies, write newsletter articles, deal with correspondence (I receive 50-100 emails a day!), and prepare reports (for council, elders, etc.).  Pastors also receive information on computers that once was printed and mailed.  So much of the communication we receive from Synod and District and from other church sources is digital and not printed.  So your pastor is not playing video games when he is on his computer (and if he is, he should not be!).

Pastors plan worship services as well as prepare sermons.  Choosing hymns is not like picking numbers for the lottery.  You spend as much time in the readings appointed for that Sunday as you do in the hymnal finding hymns that coordinate with text and sermon and season.  You can generally tell when a pastor has spent this time to craft together the service and when each part is lumped together without all that much to weave together one fabric of theme and message.  When it works, people notice.  When it doesn't, Sunday morning can be like traffic -- stops and starts and detours in an effort to get to your destination.  Computers help with this but they cannot substitute for knowing by heart the hymns in the hymnal.

Pastors also have a lot of meetings.  I meet with 6-10 folks a week in formal pastoral settings (including private confession).  Most of these are scheduled.  I meet with families and individuals in crisis (seldom scheduled or predicted).  I visit shut-ins and homebound.  I supervise a vicar.  I am a Circuit Visitor.  I am a member of the Commission on Constitutional Matters.   I attend most board meetings, the monthly council meeting, and the three voters' meetings of our congregation.  I have a staff meeting every week.  It adds up.  I am not alone.  Most pastors have a lot of meetings on their schedules.  This is also the work of the kingdom.

Pastors also have families.  It is a great thing that most of the time I am in charge of my schedule but it would be a foolish thing to presume that a pastor's work is 9-5.  I use the fact that I am in charge of my schedule as a means of preserving family time but as every pastor's family will tell you, when the church calls, the family suffers.  It is as simple as that.  Funerals, sick calls, and the like cannot be scheduled around family events.  Some weeks it is hard to find much time at home with the family.  Some weeks it is easier.  It is never automatic. 

For those of you who wonder how I manage to do this and blog, let me remind you that this blog is recreational.  I do not blog as part of my pastoral vocation or work time but when I am off.  I write and this writing accompanies what I do but is not the primary part of what I do.

It is all a discipline.  Few pastors have managers to hold them accountable and most pastors are responsible for establishing this rhythm and keeping it going on their own.  God bless them and you can help.  Pray for your pastor.  Support him.  Speak well of him to others.  Offer to help him as best you can where you are able.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Thank you for explaining how you spend your time as a pastor. Many folks don't realize how much reading is involved in both sermon preparation and staying abreast of your work. I think you are more productive and conscientious than many of your colleagues, but this is the way life happens inside and outside of the church. Some people work hard, others just slide along. A strong work ethic learned in our youth, and an interest in learning are traits which separate ambitious folks from lazy one. One pastor I met years ago told me that the sermon was where he spent much time in preparation, and it was an area in which he concentrated, however, he added that the important first step was to consecrate this task to the Lord. Good advice indeed. Consecrating our daily tasks to the Lord is a formula we can all use.

Anonymous said...

"Choosing hymns is not like picking numbers for the lottery".
Great line: loved it.
I greatly enjoy your blog and your confessional reasoning. Keep up the good work.
God Bless the Preacher!!

Janis Williams said...

Pastor, your blog reminds me of just one more reason I am a Lutheran. How many times in former evangelical life did I suffer from a bad sermon? Not just one that was “Jesus-less,” but one that was obviously hastily prepared, ill thought out, and sometimes vapid? On top of that, there were times the pastor got into the pulpit and said something like, “I had a sermon prepared, but God spoke to my heart this morning and told me to preach on something different.” (I know all the good lifelong Lutherans and pastors who read your blog are rolling their eyes...)

This reminds all of us as parishioners of a very important part of our vocations as congregants. Prayer for our pastor (and pastors; not just our own, but ALL pastors in Christ). Pray daily, and at times more often, for your pastor. He is among us as our shepherd. Sheep are not smart animals. The shepherd is there to guard, protect, and nourish, hence the reading and preparation.

Pray for your pastor; it is for his life and yours!