Prep-time Verses People-time

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

My greatest battle every week is over time spent between the study and with people.  I don’t know about you, but my week begins  on Monday morning and builds pressure until Sunday after I preach my last sermon.  Monday’s seem to consistently bring remorse over not studying the Word enough in preparing for the previous Sunday, or on the other end of the spectrum, feeling like I have not spent enough time out amongst the flock shepherding.  I don’t know that this tension can be resolved, but we must strike a balance in managing the tension between these two very importance responsibilities.

All of the Bible is important, but there is just something very relevant about Second Timothy for pastors.  Seriously, Paul is facing imminent death and these are his last words to the young pastor Timothy.  In the above passage Paul essentially charges Timothy in the presence of God to (1) preach the word and to (2) minister to people with patience.  I take this charge personally with great conviction and I would like to share how I try to apply this passage to my life from week to week.

Preaching the Word is priority number one for me.

I deeply believe it is the Word of God that changes lives.  The state of the pulpit worldwide is poor when it comes to preaching.  I don’t want to sound arrogant, or like my preaching is a finely oiled machine, but I attended a lot of church growing up and learned nothing from the Bible or about the Bible.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I finally sat under men who taught the Bible with conviction and life did I come to know Jesus as Savior.  I was ultimately discipled in my walk with Christ through the expository preaching of these men.  This reality drives me each week to teach the Word faithfully, with clarity, and passionately.

Over the last few years, I have found some things that have been helpful for me in preparing to preach while shepherding the flock God has entrust to me:

1. Pray consistently about the message and text you are about to preach and teach.  I find myself constantly asking God, “What did this mean in context then?  What practical principles apply today? Lord, help me!”

2. Study, study, study.  You can not shortcut this step.  While this is not a post about how to study, I will say you need to study the language and grammar, the historical context, and the context of the text.  The text you are teaching on the next week and weeks ahead should so be in you that it invades your thought life almost nonstop throughout the week.  Without adequate study, you will not be able to handle the Word rightly.  This saying is so true, “Where there’s a mist in the pulpit, there’s a fog in the pew.”  The bottom line is you must understand the text through and through if you are going to teach others.

3.  Preach a book of the Bible at a time!  I am all about preaching in an expository manner as it provides spiritual food for those in your church.  It also helps that you don’t have to figure out what you are going to preach, you just have to figure out how to preach the text in front of you the coming week!  In many ways this frees up your time to focus on studying, rather than flipping through your Bible hoping you feel inspired to preach something.

4. Front load your studying in order to prepare for the inevitable crisis that will come.  Starting Sunday I start saturating my world with the Scripture I am about to preach on the following week.  Bible CD’s in my car, sermons from other men who have preached the text, Bibles and commentaries lying around all over my house.  Starting Sunday I intake as much of the text as I possibly can.  By front-loading my study I have it tinkering around in my mind and heart ultimately freeing me to respond and reach out to the people around me.

People should always be the priority!

I am chasing a deadline trying to get this post submitted.  “Stuff happened” last week that put me behind in the blogging category.  I have VBS this week and my routine is off kilter to say the least!  There are times when I want to shut off my cell phone, ignore my emails, and lock myself in my study all week long, but I don’t think this is what Jesus wants from me.  Because this week has required a lot of people time, I fear I am going to drop the ball on the las half of this post.

1.  Pastoring is about people.  My goal as a pastor is defined in Ephesians 4:11-13 and it is simple–to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.  When I look at the passage at the top of this list I am to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel comfortable reproving, rebuking, or exhorting total strangers, but I can do this with people I know and love.  I think the point is that we are to be deeply entrenched in the lives of those we serve.  It takes time…notice we are told to do these things with great patience, not with great frustration.

2.  Your life is the most powerful message you preach.  My philosophy as a pastor is to preach with transparency.  I air my dirty laundry on a regular basis.  This is intentional.  I am not up on a pedistal, but am walking this life as a “sinner saved by grace” just like everyone else in my church.  I love walking alongside the people God has called me to minister as it exposes my life with Jesus–my victories and struggles alike.  Paul the apostle preached a lot, but I think his life was his most powerful message.  My desire is to say the same thing to my people as Paul said to his, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NASB).  I think Paul could say this to them because his people knew him…just like I want mine to know me.

3. “Good things happen when you’re out.”  This a saying we had at my last church.  The point is simple.  When you are out in the community amongst your culture good things happen.  As a pastor you should know your culture and community around you.  It is all too easy for us to get sucked into our little Christian bubble and to loose connection with reality around us.  To guard myself from isolation am intentional about being out through a variety of avenues like the local Kiwanis, law enforcement chaplaincy, serving on the local cemetary board of directors, and meeting people from the church at Starbucks instead of my office.  It is hard to quantify the benefits that come to you, your preaching, your church, and your community when you as the pastor make time to be out amongst the community, but the fruit in my ministry from this has been great.

The tug-o-war where both sides must win.

We pastors do not punch in on time clocks.  For the most part we control how our time is used or wasted.  We must study to deliever sound relavant biblical messages that impact lives.  We must be out amongst the flock if we are indeed shepherds.  We must finish well with both these priorities.  I have shared what works for me for know.  I would love to hear what things work well for you in juggling these two priorities!



2 replies
  1. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    I like the way you lay this out, Gunnar – with a filet knife. You ask what works well in juggling these priorities. The jugglers’ trick – keep it movin’ and know where it’s at and when it’s going to come down.

  2. Bill Holdridge
    Bill Holdridge says:

    Amen, Gunnar … after more than 30 years in pastoral ministry, I am still experiencing this tension. It’s SO good to hear about the honest struggles we have from another pastor.

    I also agree with you about the importance and primacy of biblical, expository preaching. Amen!

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