Pastor’s Priority One

peter-preachingNow in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7, NKJV).

Pastoral marching orders, clear as good, Italian crystal.

2447-apostle-paul-preaching-on-the-ruins-giovanni-paolo-panniniI wonder how many pastors in America would state their priorities as prayer and the ministry of the Word. I can’t say I achieve these priorities all the time, but I lean into them. I strive for them. I do my best to prioritize time for prayer and study in the Word.

Believe me, there are a thousand alternatives that clamor for attention. I know, I’m easily distrac— oooh… something shiny…

Scripture supports these priorities for those in a pastoral position:

Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17, NKJV).

Hey, do you support your pastor’s study time in the word and doctrine? Do you encourage your pastor to be a person of the Book?  Do you encourage your pastor to shut the door and meet with God in prayer and Scripture?  And do you want a pastor who labors in the Word and DOCTRINE?

Because you can’t have it all. There are no omni-competent Superpastors, though, I know, you’re telling me I come close.  Even peterpreachingthe apostles had to choose… ‘It is not desirable that we LEAVE the Word of God…” See that? In order to administrate the Widow’s Dinner, they’d have to LEAVE the Word of God. They couldn’t do both, and neither can today’s pastors.

In my seminary days, I was taught a rule of thumb for preaching, and you won’t believe it, but here is yesterday’s standard:

ONE HOUR IN THE STUDY FOR EVERY MINUTE IN THE PULPIT.

Think about that. Generations of preachers abided by that rule of thumb… So a 40 minute sermon took, uhhhh, 40 HOURS of study time.  No kidding. I told you you wouldn’t believe it! But that’s what it takes to produce the life-nourishing messages of days gone by.

No, I don’t spend that much time (you might say, “It shows.” but that would be mean).  But I strive to give my best and most time to studying God’s Word, because I want to lay out a feast for you and pray for you and be one of those guys who “labors in the Word and doctrine!” I just wonder if most churches consider that guy worthy of DOUBLE HONOR… My hunch is most churches resent that guy for not being a “people person” and not doing the works of ministry.

The number one way I LOVE YOU IS BY FEEDING YOU GOD’S WORD. That’s mainly how I express my love for the Body of Christ. It’s my love language. It’s a privilege and I’m grateful. It’s not my only way, because I am deeply involved in people and life too.  But, what good am I as a pastor if I can’t bring the DEEP THINGS OF GOD’S WORD, and the WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD, and the SOLID FOOD OF SCRIPTURE to bear on the deep issues of real-world life.

Without Scriptural depth, I might as well be Oprah.

I think my pastoral marching orders are clear. Priority One: devote myself continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Simple.

I’m blessed to have a church that wants me to keep first things first. I’m not saying it’s ALL study time… Because I spend large amounts of time doing other things too… but I’m just writing this, at 2:47 a.m., to ask you to support your pastor, whatever your church, when your pastor shuts the door, and devotes large chunks of time to prayer and the ministry of the Word. To make that time available to God, he/she has to make it unavailable to you. Are you okay with that? Are you willing to receive ministry from the BODY?

One hour in the study for every minute in the pulpit… wow! Talk about discipline for the pastor and solid food for the people of God!

This focus on prayer and the Word is the desperate need of the church today. We need revival, and God blesses his Word.

  • If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. (1 Timothy 4:6, NKJV).
  • Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16, NKJV).
  • Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2, NKJV).

Here are my latest sermons. I hope you find them well-studied road maps for the terrain of your real life journey.

P.S… sorry for the long blog break, I was swamped for a while!

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14 thoughts on “Pastor’s Priority One

  1. Thanks for this Bill, although I feel like I’m in uniquely ‘nebulous’ territory sometimes… Like maybe I’m supposed to be more the “Stephen” or the “Philip.” Which I’m okay with. As long as I’m not the “Nicanor.” I don’t want to be a guy called “Nicanor.”
    In all seriousness though, I do look forward to a time when “prayer and study” are more the main focus of God’s ministry through me. Thanks again.

  2. Bill,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your premise that “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!”

    With regard to your selected text, let’s review the context:

    Like two rivers converging into a greater confluence, the Jewish and Gentile cultures were turbulently intermingling as these new followers of Jesus the Christ lived in community. They needed someone trustworthy to do the simplest of communal activities – apportion the meal servings. Squabbles were arising as “She got MORE!” began to fly. Both parties appealed to their “Supreme Court” to leave the bench and put on the apron. The apostles knew that even had they run to the serving line, the problem would soon embroil them in the next round of accusations, further distancing all from a solution. Instead of an enabling response, the apostles empowered these in-need-of-maturity believers to resolve their own dispute – they acted as arbiters or “peacemakers”. The main point: believers are to resolve their disputes in love via mutually agreeable methodologies.

    Thereafter, the secondary point in this account is that the “main thing” for the apostles CONTINUED TO BE their devotion to prayer and the ministry of the word. They were undistracted from this central life-purpose.

    Turning to “prayer and the ministry of the word”, we find a unique combination of two separate devotions which distinguished the apostles:

    Prayer is essentially the meeting between an individual (or group) and God. It is God-centered. We speak of “time-alone-with-God” and “corporate prayer” in reference to our attention being turned completely to him – listening and expressing back. I wonder if prayer is not the “eyes-closed” practice of preparing for what “eyes-open heaven” will be!

    The ministry of the word is actively assembling the meat of truth into the bun of life with the intention of seeing people ‘edified and built up in the faith’ – nourished! Chopped, chunked, carved, shredded, with/without gravy – the menu options are endlessly mouth-watering (can you tell it’s nearly lunchtime?). This creativity takes time and practice, and it is to this end that you make the important point. Even the stand up comic or vaudeville actor knows the absolute necessity of preparation and timing, and humor/acting is comparatively less than preaching with regards to this life and the hereafter.

    Counseling, visitation, office meetings, strategic planning sessions, evangelism training, hospital visits, funerals, weddings; all these queue up in priority behind allotting time and practice to this “binocular” life-purpose.

    Some folks resent this life-purpose as an excuse for laziness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hand them the microphone one Sunday (before the service) and invite them to cohesively express an informed opinion for ten minutes and they’ll quickly recant the laziness accusation. Stipulate that the subject center on a timeless core truth and most people shut down after 30 seconds. The wire is an active participant in conducting electricity. The same goes for real preaching. The preacher cannot present truth without first connecting with truth. It requires the most fatiguing activity known to man – thinking.

    After Pentecost, we have no record of Peter’s involvement with his previous fishing career. I’m willing to risk believing he continued fishing as it suited his central life-purpose. Fishing was just no longer his “main thing”. His life did not ascend to some upper room, only stepping out long enough to speak publicly for 40 minutes. In whatever venue he was in, Peter (like each apostle) was fully engaged up to his elbows in the essence of applying Eternity’s truth to creation’s circumstance. Every apostle became fishers of men. Out of their own intimacy with God, each one manifested God’s presence to those around them. Intimacy constrained and empowered them to minister the word to people.

    God honors people who hear and obey, so if your life-purpose is established like unto the apostles, bear fruit and know his good pleasure by unapologetically keeping “[your] main thing [your] main thing”.

    Praying you’re a “high-amperage” preacher,

    Mike P

  3. Amen! I sure support your pastoral “mandates!”

    My prayers and concern go to the smaller churches where the pastor is the do-it-all guy, including ordering the toilet paper, etc. Seems like what you’re saying is small-church specific, although I can understand a bigger church wants their guy to be superpastor too.

    Stay strong in your calling, sir Dr. G!

  4. Bill…

    Be strong. I will do anything and everything as your servant to encourage and edify your ministry. After all, didn’t all this start some 30 years ago for the two of us at the same church in Chicago?

    Joe

  5. Hi Bill. Thanks for your remarks as they encourage me to ask something that has been bothering me lately. I agree with what you are saying about your role in our church. Your sermons are always awesome and they bring so much to each of us in our everyday lives. The explanations you give have helped me to understand the bible so much better in just the two years I have been coming to Neighborhood Church.

    Now here is the “However”. I am seeing a need for our church to have someone to minister to people that, just drop by. I was at the church one day when a young woman asked to see a pastor and none was available to visit with her. She didn’t live near by, but worked near by and was distraught over the death of her grandmother. She was sitting, quietly crying, and waiting for someone to see her and there was no one. About 15 minutes into this situation I went over to her and asked if I might sit down. I spent about a half hour with this young woman and thankfully, God’s Love came through me to her and she left feeling a bit better.

    From what I was told, the pastor’s in our church are busy with their individual ministries and are not always available to see the drop-ins. I probably am over stepping my boundaries, but sometimes old age does that to a person. LOL (I hope). Anyway, I had suggested to one of our Stephen Minister Leaders that if we can grow enough folks in our ministry perhaps that might be a way to help the drop-in situation by using some of our Stephen Ministers to volunteer to cover that situation somehow. This is just a thought and suggestion and I would like to know what do you think? Katie

    • Katie… thanks for your note, and I want you to know that this was unusual, and I’m surprised you got the answer you did. I’m sorry about that. When we have drop-ins, any pastor is fair game, and will see someone in crisis, and our front desk knows that. There may, however, be times when there simply is no pastor present; this is unusual (during normal hours, of course)… In those cases, there’s almost always someone around, like you, to do what the body of Christ does best… to minister in love to a hurting person. Thank you for doing that. My blog post is about priorities, not absolutes. I’ll follow up to see why this happened, but what would have normally happened is that one of our pastors or other staff would have spent time with her. Thanks for bringing it up. Bill

  6. “…assembling the meat of truth into the bun of life…”

    And to help us deal with the sesame seed of sin.

  7. Bill,
    We here in mp3 world thank you for spending the time that you do. And we thank NCRedding for giving you that time.

    Bob

  8. Often times this is an excuse for not being a “people person”. I know a pastor who doesn’t have time for people; he is too busy working on his sermons. Reading and studying Scripture more won’t help one to be more relational. If interacting with others is not your strong suite, then more prayer and reading is probably not the best thing to focus more attention on. It is dangerous to make a general formula out of certain Scriptures. Personality and the situation should to be taken into account.

    • Justin… I totally agree w/you. Remember, I’m talking about priority one, as stated by the apostles themselves in the Acts passage. Any pastor I know loves hanging out with people, and doing life together… but we still have to do what Jesus did, and spend that time in solitude w/God. Love is the key ingredient, for God first and others second. Mike says it better than me… see the next comment.

      As far as making general formulas out of Scripture, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? To apply our minds to discerning the principles of the Word?

      • Bill,

        I find you to be very accessible to us in the congregation. I thank you for that. You give of yourself wholly during the service and after. I have actually seen you “trapped” by people and you still stand there nicely.

        I appreciate that you take the solitude time with God that you do. It makes you very effective at feeding us, your congregation. In fact it has been through your teaching of the Word that you have helped me and others realize the truth about Grace.

        So basically I think I just want to say Thank You, You Do Good!

  9. Justin,

    You have a valid point – if any person uses “study and prayer” as a way to AVOID people, then they haven’t recognized that the same behavior shielding them from people shields them from God and receiving the truth they seek. Their level of frustration only rises as they dive into that empty pool drained of all truth over and over, wondering why they find nothing of value to themselves or the people they avoid.

    No, the man who prioritizes his study and prayer does so not out of avoiding relationships, but for the purpose of blessing those relationships with truth in a way that heals, restores, prepares, convicts, rebukes, encourages, and propels the listeners. And it further multiplies the effect in ripples that brings improved health to the life of the body.

    Priority without relational context, while aggravating for the body, is an ever-constricting prison for the person charged with bringing the Living Word to the listeners. It is tougher on the speaker than on the listeners!

    Remember that many men in ministry are long on relational skills and short on speaking skills, and the people stand shoulder-to-shoulder in support – BECAUSE THEY LOVE HIM. They know authentic when they live alongside it, and prize that above great preaching. A friend of mine remarked that he doesn’t depend on what he gets from the pulpit to be his only input from the Word; his soul is nourished daily from his own time alone with God and time studying his Bible.

    We need to be practitioners of study/prayer in ways that our nourishment is direct instead of secondary. This is a primary goal in discipleship.

    Any great preacher knows in his innermost parts that all his eloquence sounds like “tinkling brass” and “sounding cymbal” (and gets the same reception) if not brought forth from a heart of authentic love and humility.

    Study, pray, stand and deliver with excellence for all the right reasons!

    Mike P

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