How does the pastor spend his time? That is a question that sometimes arises from some who are critical and most who are just curious.
Medieval monks would spend their time at appointed hours praying, singing and chanting at their home, while transcribing texts in the intervening hours.
At the Reformation, so little of the previous centuries work had been dedicated to preaching, that the Reformers stood out for their emphasis on the pulpit.
The consistory of Geneva spent a great deal of time reviewing pastoral care issues, thinking through them biblically and apply counsel to people and situations. Sometimes the counsel and care was disregarded and some Genevans preferred to be disciplined out of the church, than to be discipled in the church. All of this took organization and care. But the primary driver of the ministry was the Word work. Calvin’s preaching through the bible provided the basis for doctrine in the church in Geneva, and the surrounding village churches that worked together with Calvin’s, seeking counsel from Calvin’s elders, even making requests for pulpit supply.
Some things have changed, but others have stayed the same.
Word Work & Prayer Work
Today the work of the Word and Prayer (cf. Acts 6:4) are the two greatest tasks which the pastor must undertake. Both of these are work. It is not enough to tell the congregation that you just didn’t ‘get anything out of the Word’ this week. It requires mental and spiritual ‘sweat’. It is taxing. It makes you tired like all work does.
The Word work and Prayer work have the added problem of being difficult to measure. Prayer is done ‘in the closet’. Word work is done ‘at the desk’. But consider that the person who is in the closet or at the desk is largely out of sight. That means that it can appear as if the faithful pastor is unaccountable or unavailable or invisible.
What is the measure of the Word and Prayer work? It is seen in the fruit of the ministry. It is seen in the healthy diet which people feed upon. It is seen in the Spirit’s illumination of people to understand God’s word better, to be helped by God’s truth, to glorify God’s ways.
The weakness of the pulpit speaks to the emptiness of the closet and the barrenness of the desk.
But there is another aspect to the pastoral ministry that must have a part. It is the pastoralist part. That is, it is the awareness and care for the condition of the sheep. The pastor must know the people he is feeding. If he doesn’t know what their condition is, then the diet he offers will be too thick or too thin, too spicy or too sweet.
So the pastor exhorts and teaches personally in his interactions with people. He hears their anxieties and cares. He points them to Christ. This is the pastor’s task also.
Not Shopkeeper Nor Therapist
Sometimes people can get confused about their expectations for the pastor. Pastors can be viewed as shop-keepers or therapists. Some sheep don’t wish to be led to feed in green pastures, but wish to be treated like a pet in the shepherd’s home.
As David Wells has pointed out, our era is a Therapeutic Age. And this emphasis has dominated the thought of pastors and church members. The people expect the pastor to be a therapist, on call to fix them, and the pastor moves increasingly to be responsive to the ‘felt needs’ of the people. This mindset came to dominate the pastoral style of the seeker sensitive movement. And with it, the sufficiency of the Scriptures was lost as desks and closets were left empty.
So there is a constant struggle which the pastor faces. He must be jealous to guard the desk and closet time. As John Macarthur said many times, “the task of the pastor-teacher is to keep his rear-end in the chair until the job is done”. On the other hand, the pastor must know the sheep, and be able to offer feeding and protection according to their needs. He must do this without subtly giving in to worldly expectations of his role which come from the people or from himself.