Pastors often talk as if they are the busiest people in the world. This is not true. Even the secular world realizes what Eugene Peterson wrote to us pastors in his book The Contemplative Pastor: We shouldn’t strive to be busy because if you’re busy, (a) you’re not managing your time well and (b) you’re not focusing on what’s important. In Stephen Covey’s terms, you may be focusing on the urgent, but not on what’s truly important.
The only way our lives as pastors are different is that our task list is not as flexible. What I mean is this: when I was working a secular job and had a four-day work week, I usually had only four days worth of work to do that week. As a pastor, I have the same amount of work regardless of how many holidays or days off fall in that week. I still have to be prepared to speak twice on Sunday, make hospital visits, do the funeral that arises, and the host of other things that make up the week’s preparation for Sunday. Time management isn’t merely helpful; time management is essential.
But there are some things that you are never too busy to do. If you are to busy to do these things every day, you are too busy, or you are just lazy and not giving the full attention to your ministry and calling.
1. I can read my Bible every day.
Some of the members of our church put us to shame by working long days yet still finding time to read God’s Word. It’s supposed to be a part of who you are, not just what you do. Don’t let 1 Cor. 9:27 be true of you because you fail in the most basic Christian responsibilities. Lead in private as well as in public.
2. I can pray for the church as a whole and at least some of the people in the church every day.
I say “some of the people” because I understand that in larger congregations it may take a while to make it through the list. But you can pray collectively every day for the sheep given to your care. You can pray for some of the church concerns you have and for your ministry every day. If you can’t find time for that then you must not think it’s really important. Quit surfing the internet and you’ll have plenty of time.
3. I can read my text every day.
The text I am referring to is your preaching text for the coming Sunday. If you work ahead on your sermon preparation (and I hope you do), you might find time to read the following few weeks’ text every day, also. This way at least the words of Scripture that you will explain and apply will be on your heart and you can meditate on them throughout the day. If you work in the original languages, make some reading notes to stuff in your Greek New Testament and read the text in the Greek (or Hebrew) every day. It won’t take that long to do and I’m certain that it’s much more important than some of the other things you do every day.
4. I can go over my exegesis and study notes on that text every day.
Even if I photocopy them and take them with me to read over standing in line somewhere, or waiting to pick the kids up from school, at least I’ve gone over them and they’re percolating through me. In most evangelical traditions, preaching is still the number one thing on your job description, so I can’t believe you can’t take time every day to prepare mentally for it.
5. I can read something unrelated to my current study to broaden my heart and challenge me intellectually, spiritually, or both.
I’m not a huge John Piper fan but I highly recommend your reading John Piper’s essay, “Brothers, Fight for Your Life” in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. (You can find an excerpt of this essay here and another one, relating to language study, here and the pdf of it here.) His point is that it doesn’t take much time each day to read through a classic Christian work or even a modern book. A little time each day in a wisely-chosen book is of much more value than many of the stuff you do already each day. If you don’t have time during the day, turn the TV off in the evening and read then. You shouldn’t have to be on the clock to grow spiritually or intellectually. It will make you a better pastor and a better Christian.
Some final thoughts
To be blunt, I find it hard to believe that you can’t find an hour or two most days to accomplish this little to-do list. If you make these things a priority, you will find your life and ministry more fruitful, your walk with the Lord stronger, and you will live with integrity.
“How do I begin doing these things?” you might ask. The answer is simple: Just do it! Some things that you do, if you stopped doing them, no one would even notice. Stop doing those things and substitute these things.
If it helps, make a daily to-do list and check it off when you do it each day. If you want a sample, email me and I’ll send you one that I have made for myself (you can modify it to your heart’s content).
The day is swiftly approaching when you will have to give an accounting of your ministry. Work diligently every day to fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:5) and you will find yourself further ahead than by working in fits and spurts. Work intentionally, not haphazardly and see what the Lord will do in your life and ministry and in your church.