A few days ago, Bert asked a question that I’m often asked:
How do you find time to pastor, work full time, work on your PhD, and blog meaningful posts regularly? I have often said that there is no such thing as a part-time pastor so where did you find the extra hours in the day?
I answered most of his question in a blog post called “How do you find the time?” But, in this post, I hope to answer his question about pastoring. How do I find the time to pastor while working a full time job, working on my Ph.D., being a husband and father, and maintaining a blog?
One of the reasons that I wanted to answer the question about pastoring separately is that my understanding of what it means to be a pastor is not the traditional understanding. So, I want to take the time to explain what I think it means to be a pastor. A few years ago I was asked to be an elder/pastor for Messiah Baptist Church. I would be one of four pastors. This was a very serious decision for me, so I spent a long time reading Scripture and books about what it means to be a pastor.
At first, I did not want to accept the responsibilities and duties that come along with being a pastor. I did not think that I would have the time to pastor as well as be a husband and father, a full time employee, and a student. As I studied what it means to be a pastor and as I considered this decision, I noticed something: the scriptural description of an elder/pastor is not what we usually mean when we call someone “pastor” or “elder”.
Elders/pastors spend much of their time with administrative duties: maintaining buildings, planning, organizing, recruiting, and financing. These types of activities are not the scriptural responsibilities of pastors. It is not wrong for elders/pastors to do these things, but the activities should not be seen as “pastoring“. Also, elders/pastors are often considered to be the only or primary teachers, preachers, visitors, counselors, ministers, and leaders. While Scripture certainly indicates that pastors/elders should do these things, these are also the responsibilities of all believers.
While pastors/elders are very busy people, many times the “busyness” is related more the expectations of other people instead of the responsibilities that God gives to elders through Scripture. In fact, a few years ago, a good friend of mine who is a pastor at a mega-church told me that he has to schedule one hour a week to spend with a discipleship group, otherwise he would have not time to actually disciple people. Why? Because his time was spent doing other things – things that were required of him by his job description, the people on his staff, and the people in the church, but things that were not required by Scripture.
So, how do I find time to pastor? I find time to pastor by recognizing that discipleship is my primary responsibility as a pastor, just as discipleship is every believer’s primary responsibility. I spend time with people, caring for people, listening to people, teaching people – sometimes one on one, sometimes in small groups, sometimes in large groups – through email, instant messaging, phone, and face-to-face meetings. I do not set office hours, but instead I spend as much time as possible with people.
However, I recognize that I am not the extent of the discipling that goes on around me. Therefore, I encourage others to spend time with people, and I encourage people to seek help through already existing relationships. If someone has a problem, they can call me or another pastor, but they do not have to call a pastor. Instead, they can call a friend or a neighbor. Many times when people are helped, I know nothing about it until later. Praise God! I do not have to have my hand in everything. God is perfectly capable of taking care of his children without me.
What about organizing, planning, recruiting, etc.? Again, God is perfectly capable of taking care of these things through his people – not just through the pastors/elders. I do not spend time thinking up programs, planning how to carry them out, asking people to take part, and making sure the programs run well. Instead, I encourage people to serve as God gifts them and as he gives them a passion for that service. Then, I – along with the church – help them in whatever ways they need help. We do not have set programs as a church, but it is amazing the amount of ministry that is going on through the members of the church, because they have been freed to serve as God has gifted them.
What about teaching and preaching? In this case, the pastors do take on more of a responsibility. While I would love for people to show up at a church meeting having prepared a teaching, our church is not ready for this yet. Therefore, the pastors have taken on the responsibility of providing someone to teach each Sunday. That does not mean that we teach every Sunday, but we teach more often. We also ask other people to teach, and we help them as they study Scripture and prepare to teach. I’ve also decided to study along with whoever is teaching that week. So, even though I am not teaching next Sunday, I am continuing to study as if I were going to teach next Sunday. It may be that God wants me to say something, even though I am not scheduled to preach.
By the way, except for helping to make the preaching schedule, there is very little that I do now that I would stop doing if I were no longer an elder/pastor. Why? Because I do not serve because of an office or position. I serve because God has gifted me and provided me opportunities to serve. I was doing all of these things before I was a pastor, and I will continue doing them if at some point I am no longer recognized as a pastor.
It takes much less time to focus on people than to focus on the organization. God’s heart is with people, and that’s where my heart should be as well. When I find myself started to yield to the expectations that other people or that the system places on me, then I may no longer be doing the things that God wants me to do. That’s when I must check my focus, and return to loving and caring and teaching and leading people, which I think is the responsibility of the pastor as well as all followers of Jesus Christ. (See my series on elders that starts with “Elders (Part 1) – Introduction“.)
So, how do I find the time to pastor? Because I am a pastor, but not that kind of pastor.