Eugene Peterson, the author of the popular paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, has written a memoir entitled, Pastor. In it he addresses the crisis of describing the calling of pastor and why it matters. One of his definitions of pastor is “the person placed in the community to pay attention to ‘what is going on right now’ between men and women, with each other and God – this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful ‘without ceasing.’”
Peterson’s writing has been so influential that this book is sure to impact the lives of many pastors. I talked to a visitor after worship this morning who told me she was reading one of his books. I am looking forward to reading Peterson’s memoir and comparing it with my own journey. His life and personality have traveled different roads from mine. Each of us has to live into the vocation in the unique circumstances of our personal history.
Peterson is a contemplative who is suspicious of strategies for getting things done and models for church growth. He rejects the business model for the church and the pastor. Yet, all pastors have to work with budgets, building projects, and advocates for numerous programs, and the boards and committees that invariably make decisions for the congregation. Juggling all the demands and priorities of others creates tensions and challenges the personal gifts of the pastor. Being a pastor and being also the CEO of the congregation requires special skills.
Recently I have been wrestling with my own priorities in the light of the needs of the congregation. I developed a list of my responsibilities and gave them to members of the Chapel Board to see how they would order them in terms of priority. Here is the list.
- Weekly preaching and worship preparation
- Hospital visitation
- Osprey Village Assisted Living Holy Communion
- Administration: Board meetings and committees
- Being available for individual appointments
- Communication: writing, blogging, advertising, telephone calls
- Recruiting prospects, following up visitors and new members
- Bereavement and funeral ministry
- Wedding ministry
- Supervising staff
- Teaching: leading bible studies and other classes
- Finding speakers for men’s breakfasts, renewal weekends, winter conferences etc.
- Mentoring/coaching, peer networking
- Continuing education, conferences, courses
In terms of my own time management I find that my personal priorities are those things that only I can do and no one else, only I must do, for my own soul’s sake, in order to fulfill my calling. Acts 6:1-4 describes a situation in the early church in which the Apostles found that their responsibilities were overwhelming them. They appointed others to take care of the church business so that they could give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
Prayer and the ministry of the Word take priority. Every day I spend an hour in Bible meditation, other devotional, theological and inspirational reading, and then another hour in prayer as I walk on the beach. It is only after I have laid that foundation for the day that I can go to the office. I pray for myself, for my family, for the flock of God that God has given to my care. I pray for the events of the day ahead: known and unknown. I pray through problems. I pray for discernment, for wisdom, for the filling of the Spirit.
When I get to the office I have to take care of messages, emails, telephone calls, questions from the staff. I have to provide all the information needed for the coming Sunday bulletin. I prepare for a men’s Bible study, and then lead it. I may have meetings in the afternoons, visits have to be made if members are in hospitals. I confer with the Chapel nurse about people with needs.
On Wednesday mornings I devote myself to sermon preparation. I need to research the scripture passage I am expounding. It takes some time to review the commentaries, to take notes, and to marshal my thoughts to see what direction I should take. I am aware of the needs of the congregations and seek to vary my subjects accordingly. I begin my first draft, and try to complete it before the end of the day. My goal is to stay two or three weeks ahead so that I can ruminate upon each message and refine it before it is preached. Subject matter for sermons has to be enriched by illustrations and applications that come through wider reading and personal experience. That requires reviewing newspapers and magazines, as well as a wide reading program (see my reading list).
There is also other writing to be done. Homilies for funerals and memorial services, articles for the newsletter, my weekly blog, queries from members, the Prayer Manual, the Lenten Meditations, copy for advertising, etc. All of these require thoughtful and prayerful consideration, and cannot be whipped off randomly. Fortunately I was prepared for this kind of life early. My first job after college, before I went to graduate school, was to teach high school. I would prepare my lessons, teach all day, return home and write an editorial for the local daily newspaper in my home town. I had a deadline every day. I still have those clippings! In addition, I helped my parents in their hotel business, and was the interim pastor of the local Presbyterian Church, so I had to come up with a new sermon for each Sunday. On Saturday’s I played for a local rugby team. Many a time I limped into the pulpit on Sunday morning. I guess it gave me street credibility!
As you can see from the other responsibilities I have plenty to do to fill up any spare time that I might have. There is no end to what can be done. Everyone has some idea of what I ought to do. After doing it for forty-three years I have some rhythm and peace in my life about what is important for me to do with my time.
Pastors also have a normal, ordinary life like anyone else. All work and no play makes me a very dull boy, so I play tennis, do yard work, take care of business, and enjoy every moment I can spend with my wonderful wife, Antoinette. There is constant communication with our two daughters and three grandchildren in Texas. Then there is our extended family and friends to keep in touch with. All this takes all the time we have.
I have been blessed with good health, and will continue to fulfill my calling until the Lord directs me otherwise. Being a pastor is both a privilege and a joy. I have never had any doubts about my calling since I received it at age sixteen. I am thankful to all the congregations I have served, and now the Chapel, for giving me the opportunity to fulfill my calling. Please pray for me that I will be faithful and effective in being a pastor.