My neighbor loves garbage!
That is, the three-year-old boy across the street loves the garbage and recycling trucks that come to our street each Wednesday. He loves the big, heavy plastic cans, a green one for general garbage and the blue one for recycling items.
Either are big enough to hold three or four three-year-olds easily.
My little friend likes the garbage containers so much that his parents got him a slightly smaller version of two for him last Christmas! He has also garnered a growing collection of garbage trucks for playtime.
Little kids love big trucks. Sometimes big kids do too.
Wednesday has become a ritual. My neighbor, his mom, and his infant sister anxiously wait for the green truck to come in the morning and the blue truck that comes in the afternoon. It’s a grand weekly celebration that has produced a special relationship between the three-year-old and Ken, the driver of the green truck.
Most weeks, I hear the truck coming, and so does my little neighbor. He leaps to his window to look for the truck. (Sometimes, when I take my trash out from the house, my neighbor sees me as he looks out his window like a neighborhood watchman. If he sees me, he bangs his window and calls my name at the top of his lungs. I wave back as I call his name and imagine his mother rolling her eyes at the loud declaration inside of the house. Did his shouts just wake his sleepy little sister?)
All this reminds me of a quote from my late pastor that has become a humility check on my ego.
On pastors and garbage men
Paul Powell once said, “If all the preachers and all the garbage men quit on the same day, who do you think you’d miss first and most?”
I suppose, in some ways, pastors might be like garbage collectors. We do deal with a lot of stinky messes that need to be recycled in redeeming grace and other stuff that needs to be buried so it can die and be resurrected to something beautiful.
Pastoring is a lot of hard work. It is not for “softies and sissies” as I mentioned last week. Can we please retire the tired joke and comment that “pastors only work one day a week”?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Pastor, do you have a job description?
One of my mentors suggested to me ten years ago that I rewrite my pastor job description every five years. That’s a good idea to keep you fresh and to bring clarity to your role and responsibilities as pastor.
But here’s the deal.
I pastored three-and-a-half churches over twenty years with no job description. Only when I had served my last church for ten years did we get around to writing my first pastor job description. No one asked or forced me to do it. I chose to do it to have something on file next to the other job descriptions we’d created for the staff we were hiring.
I also did it for my own clarity and for the understanding of our elders and church body. For too long, the “everything” role of the pastor was just assumed to be my calling by both the people and by me. Everything Everywhere All at Once is not just a movie title. It’s the default job description of a pastor. That needs to change.
So, what is a pastor’s job description?
I grouped it into three buckets:
- preaching and teaching
- missional leadership
You might have more buckets, but it’s not less than these.
Preaching and teaching are priority
If you are the pastor, senior pastor, teaching pastor, etc., the biblical, clear, courageous, creative, and compelling preaching of God’s word is your first and highest priority (Acts 6:1–4 and 2 Timothy 4 make this point crystal clear.)
No one can or should pray, prepare, and preach for you. Others, such as your staff or key leaders, can and should be invited to help you develop preaching plans and specific ideas, but every pastor must own this honor of preaching at the highest level.
Borrowing the sermons and lessons of others or, worse, stealing them in plagiarism without giving proper credit, must be anathema to us as God’s servants. There were and are occasional times when I preach someone else’s sermon that touched me deeply. I never do so without giving credit and a testimony as to why I want to share another servant’s work. Singers sing the songs written or made popular by others. Preachers can do the same on a limited basis as the Spirit leads.
A simple framework for preaching preparation
Deciding what to preach was always my hardest decision as pastor. Deciding every Monday is a stressful nightmare. Your life will get better to the degree that you learn to prayerfully plan your preaching and teaching several months or even a year in advance.
I achieved this planning with limited success and had more joy in preparing as a result. Seminary did not offer me training in this skill, or I was absent the day they presented it. Take note: Charles Spurgeon almost flatly refused to preach sermon series. I did a lot of them, but, looking back, I seriously doubt anyone came to worship or invited others to church because of a publicized sermon series except as a rare event around a strong felt-need like marriage enrichment.
My preaching professors and a few others suggested and sometimes expected that I would spend twenty to thirty hours a week on each sermon or lesson I provided. When I started in ministry, I was teaching or preaching three times every week. How could I achieve sixty to ninety hours of prep time in the context of my life and ministry? How would this ever work for anyone, especially a bivocational pastor?
It’s a ridiculous idea birthed in an unrealistic ivory tower. Great was the day when a great preacher and preaching professor taught me how to think and work toward my primary sermon having fifteen hours of preparation time each week. He understood the realities of local church ministry, and family and personal health better than others.
I discovered I had been trained appropriately to trust the Holy Spirit and this reasonable amount of prayer and study to feed the congregation well. My preaching mentor suggested I plan at least three to six months ahead by selecting a primary text and identifying the major theme of each passage.
- Mondays can be a few hours of moderate observation of the planned text. Prayerfully hear the main truth and sub-truths of the passage. Write all thoughts from this observation.
- Tuesday and Wednesday should include three to four hours each for intense word study, historical understanding, and commentary work based on your training.
- Wednesday and Thursday should be the time when the pieces come together of the introduction, outline, explanations, and applications with illustrations of each (where possible) and the conclusion and appeal.
- Friday can include two hours to polish the sermon a bit more and rehearse the delivery some.
That’s one reasonable way to approach this sacred work.
The privilege, power, and priority of preaching
Recently, I read this tidbit of church history from Christianity Today for March 28, 1937: “Billy Graham gets his first opportunity to preach when his teacher John Minder unexpectedly assigns him the Easter evening sermon. Graham tried to get out of it, saying he was unprepared, but Minder persisted. Desperately nervous, Graham raced through four memorized sermons, originally 45 minutes each, in eight minutes.”
Preaching and teaching God’s word come first for the pastor. The two other primary responsibilities of a pastor are caring for the real needs of the sheep and then leading the church—the serving, sacrificing, and sometimes suffering missionary force of the kingdom of God. We’ll take those up in my next A Pastor’s View article.
There is always more that can be said and shared about the privilege, power, and priority of preaching and teaching God’s word to God’s people and the world. Let me leave you with this.
John R. W. Stott included in his book on preaching Between Two Worlds an inspirational quote from the colonial preacher Cotton Mather. Part of that quote says, “The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher are to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men; to display in the most lively colours, and proclaim in the clearest language, the wonderful perfections, offices and grace of the Son of God; and to attract the souls of men into a state of everlasting friendship with Him.”
What could be more important, sacred, and fun than that?
God bless you as you pray, prepare, and preach Christ through his word, lifting up the saving light of Christ the King.