Setting Priorities and Being Productive in Ministry

Dr. Bruce McAllister

The pastor is the "steward of God" (Titus 1:7). He is the household manager serving the Lord's interests in His church while He is away. When the Lord returns, He will call the pastor into account for how faithfully he managed the local church (1 Peter 1:4; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Corinthians 4:1). What does it mean to be a faithful steward? Jesus' parables in Luke's gospel define the faithful steward. He is active at his task (Luke 12:42), attentive to detail (Luke 16:1) and productive in profit making (Luke 19:12).

The pastor should take all his God-given resources and turn a spiritual profit for the kingdom and glory of God. Those resources include the Word of God; the Holy Spirit's power; prayer; and his and others' time, money, facilities, equipment, talents and spiritual gifts. God wants men of integrity and industry who will carry out their tasks with energy, enthusiasm and endurance. He wants them to be trustworthy and faithful. To meet all those qualifications, a pastor must set priorities and be productive. Begin to evaluate your faithful stewardship by asking the following questions:

Am I genuinely right with God and walking in fellowship with Him? God promises to cause a man's activities to prosper when he meditates day and night in the Word of God (Psalms 1:1; Joshua 1:8). Sometimes pastors stray from God, become self-willed and self-centered, and forget that they are stewards of what God has given them. When personal discipline falters, effective ministry suffers. In his book The Preacher: His Life and Work, John Henry Jowett wrote: "I am profoundly convinced that one of the gravest perils which besets the ministry of this country is a restless scattering of energies over an amazing multiplicity of interests, which leaves no margin of time or of strength for receptive and absorbing communion with God... We must, therefore, hold firmly and steadily to this primary principle, that of all things that need doing, this need is supreme, to live in intimate fellowship with God."

Have I clearly defined my primary ministry goals and tasks? The local church is a community evangelistic base and discipling agency. The Great Commission is fulfilled through a local church ministry as the pastor equips and leads his people to evangelize sinners and disciple believers. The pastor should have a plan for contacting every home in the community for Christ. He should have a specific plan for personal or group discipleship and relationship building.

Am I maximizing the use of my time toward accomplishing primary ministry goals and tasks? John Henry Jowett wrote: "Enter your study at an appointed hour, and let that hour be as early as the earliest of your businessmen goes to his warehouse or his office... Let him [the pastor] employ system and method, and let him be as scrupulously punctual in the service of his Lord. ... Let him estimate the comparative values of things. Let first things be put first, and let him give the freshness of his strength to matters of vital and primary concern."

Consider the following six questions regarding time management:

1Am I utilizing time blocks of focused effort on specific projects and excluding all non-emergency intrusions? The demands of preparing to preach and teach require blocks of study time throughout the week. If you preach three times a week, you should plan to study 15 to 20 hours. Mornings are probably the best time since your people are working at their jobs. Limit distractions and keep the focus on study and prayer. Have your office manager or wife screen calls, convey messages, prepare bulletins and check on purchases. Use blocks of afternoon time for church business, counseling, visitation, and developing ministry projects and programs.

2Am I taking time to plan and prioritize in advance the use of my week or month, and am I sticking to the plan? Prioritizing one's plan of activities takes time. Much greater productivity and satisfaction result from careful forethought. The guiding question for prioritizing is: "What difference will doing this task make?" The greater the difference, the more important the task.

3Am I staying disciplined, following a weekly schedule and daily planner? You should have a written and/or electronic weekly schedule, and only true emergencies should deter you from working that plan. Don't waste your time reading junk mail, listening to talk radio at the office, taking long coffee or lunch breaks at local restaurants, talking on the phone with no ministry purpose, or spending too much time on blogs and other Internet sites. Also, be sure to communicate tactfully your priorities to the congregation so that they will not misunderstand your good intentions.

4Am I allowing 10 percent of my people to dominate 90 percent of my ministry time? Certain people tend to demand an inordinate amount of a pastor's time. While compassion reaches out to them, compassion must curtail the time those people seek in order to allow time for others in the church or community as well.

5Am I using the best tools to maximize productivity? Read only the best expositional commentaries. Don't waste time reading verbose, obtuse authors. In addition, today's Bible software programs for computers allow you to do rapid word studies and searches that previously would have taken hours. Make good use of your driving time by listening to informative or inspirational sermons or ministry-related tapes or CDs.

6Am I saving time by effectively managing ministry information? The most important information should be immediately accessible at your desk and in your day planner, PDA, computer and car. Maintain reference information about the church's programs, people, scheduling, pressing projects and church policies. If you are not skilled at setting up an information management system, enlist the help of a capable office manager.

Here are two final questions to ask yourself regarding productivity in ministry:

Are my body and mind operating at peak performance? A pastor carries out his ministry within the limitations of a human body and mind. Too many pastors follow a sedentary lifestyle, which denies them the energy and vigor they could have. How easy it is to unconsciously seek more energy through constant snacking, overeating and frequent napping when what is truly needed is a healthy diet and routine exercise. Brisk walking, jogging, swimming and other forms of aerobic exercise increase physical stamina and mental alertness. Pastors who take their example from Paul should consider how often he must have walked 20 miles in a day!

Am I building and developing people? Instead of trying to do the work of 20 people, develop 20 people to do the work. Paul spent time developing co-laborers like Timothy, Titus, Tychicus, Epaphroditus, Epaphras, Aquila and Priscilla. He relied on those people to carry out and expand the ministry. Build people through effective preaching and teaching and by spending productive personal time with them. Convey your burden and communicate your priorities. Personally enlist their help on ministry projects.

Using these techniques and answering these questions will help you gain the maximum spiritual profit for our Lord's kingdom.

~ Bruce McAllister

Last modified: Monday, August 13, 2018, 9:06 AM