This is an article in our"Dear Pastor" series, where we provide real pastors with fictionalized scenarios and ask them to respond in a letter. This situation—while made up—represents countless pastors who experience similar struggles.
Our goal is to serve you, dear pastor.
You meet up for lunch with a dear pastor friend. He's pastoring a growing church and has a young family at home, and you wanted to see how he was managing it all. The pastor is honest with you; he feels discouraged. He says too often at the end of a long day, he goes home having spent maybe an hour on his sermon for Sunday. Often, he admits, he's not even sure how he spent his day! He feels like his time his spent putting out one fire after another, responding to one "urgent" email or phone call after another. As a result, he often spends evenings after dinner with his door closed writing the sermon that he didn't have time to write earlier. Ironically enough, before you have a chance to get a word in, he gets an emergency phone call from a member of his congregation. He has to go. You quickly pray for him and tell him you want to chat again soon.
Later that afternoon, you decide to sit down and write him a letter. So you write the following:
As you talked today at lunch about how you find yourself always busy yet seldom accomplishing the most important aspects of your calling, I found myself reminiscing about my ministry years ago when I felt the exact same way. It seemed I would go to the office every day with a straight-forward plan, only to find myself mired in everyone else’s problems. The result? I was always working hard, but not with purpose or priority. A constant parade of drop-in visits, phone calls, and urgent emails interrupted my study time and took my focus away from my primary calling.
A simple schedule I learned of and adopted years ago has allowed me to prioritize study and prayer, yet remain available to lead our staff and shepherd our congregation. This structure is not original to me but has served me well through the years. Perhaps you can establish this as the foundation of your workday and start to organize your week in a way that will help you better fulfill what the Lord has called you to do.
Give your mornings to the Lord
I endeavor to set my mornings aside for study and prayer. I do not schedule appointments before noon, and my staff knows that I desire to remain undisturbed in my study as I prepare to preach the Word. With the exception of a weekly staff meeting, I do not allow other appointments or happenings to crowd out my study time or sneak into my schedule.
By giving your mornings to the Lord, you ensure that you begin each day in Bible study and prayer. As you do, not only are you able to work according to your highest priority, but you are also gaining wisdom each day that will strengthen and guide you in counseling sessions and meetings that await you later in the day. Of course, there is the occasional scheduled funeral or unexpected emergency. Still, once your fellow staff members and the congregation understand that your mornings are set aside to spend time with the Lord, you will see your productivity significantly increase. Your preaching will improve, which will serve to bless your people greatly.
Give your afternoons to the congregation
Your congregation will help you guard your mornings to study when they see the difference it makes in your preaching. They will protect your time for you when they discover that you are willing to give your afternoons to them. I encourage you to fill your afternoons with visits and conversations that allow you to lead and shepherd your people.
When members ask to meet with you, let them know your afternoons are left open and specifically set aside to minister to them. Certainly, there will be times of pastoral counseling sessions that are necessary or problems that need your attention. I believe you will find your heart and mind much more capable to handle the stress of these meetings when they occur after you have spent the morning with the Lord.
Not only should your afternoons be filled with people who desire to meet you, but also you should make a habit of initiating meaningful time with others. You need to reach out to people for the joy of knowing them better. Fill your afternoons with strategic appointments that enable you to bond with new members, disciple men in your congregation, and develop leaders in the church.
Let me encourage you further with a word about spare time. For those days when you do not have any afternoon meetings scheduled, and you find yourself with an hour or two that is open, I urge you to use these occasions to write letters to your congregation. Sure, you could email or text, but I am convinced there is something meaningful about a pastor who handwrites notes of encouragement to his people. I try to schedule an hour or two a week where I am at my desk and writing letters to church members. As I write a note to them, I am praying for them by name. By scheduling this time as if it were a meeting, I can handwrite several dozen letters every single week. This is an aspect of my ministry in which I have received much heartfelt feedback and, I believe, has been one of my most beneficial efforts as a pastor.
Give your evenings to your family
After spending several hours each morning in Bible study and prayer, your afternoons in pastoral visits and writing notes of encouragement, give your evenings to your family. Indeed, some evenings will be spent at church for worship services, church ministries, and meetings that must be held at night. Yet, as much as possible, be diligent to protect your evenings. Prioritize family time by being home and being mentally and emotionally present.
I encourage you to make a point to eat dinner with your family. Go to your children’s ballgames, help them with their homework, and lead them in family devotions. Be active at home and give your family your attention and affection.
I believe you will find that you have more time to be at home with your family when you build your weekly schedule this way. Your wife and children will reap the benefits of a workday spent with purpose and priority. You will find yourself able to give your family your full attention rather than overlooking them as you use your evenings to make up for time lost during the day.
Putting it together
If you spend the first four or five hours of your day in study time and prayer, you will have amassed a significant amount of focused study each week. This is your primary calling! Then, if you allow 1 pm–5 pm for meetings, pastoral visits, and writing letters, you will be able to have served your people faithfully in providing shepherding care to your congregation. Finally, I believe by giving your evenings to your family, you will go to sleep feeling fulfilled and at peace. Friday and Saturday are days you can tie up loose ends, catch up on anything that needs more attention, and have time for recreation.
I have attempted to follow this schedule for many years. Does it work flawlessly every week? No, it does not. Are there days when emergencies alter what I had planned? Of course! However, by organizing my days and weeks in this way, more often than not, I have found that I can prioritize my time with the Lord, I am more available to my congregation, and I am more present with my family.
Yes, I still get called away to emergency hospital visits in the evenings. I still have funerals that are scheduled in the mornings, and I still have weeks where I feel my schedule got beyond my control. Nothing in ministry is perfect. I do believe, though, that by prioritizing your schedule in this way, you will find yourself more productive than you have ever been.
Give your mornings to God, your afternoons to your people, and your evenings to your family. Then, rest each night trusting in the goodness of God to bless your best efforts to pastor in a way that demonstrates your dedication to Christ, your care for your flock, and your commitment to your family.
Are you a pastor facing similar situations in ministry?
We'd love to pray for you.