Yesterday, Dustin Neeley (who runs Church Planting for the Rest of Us) drew our attention to an interview he did with Mark Dever in which he asked about balancing time between sermon preparation and shepherding people. Here’s the video:
I resonate with everything that Dever is saying in this interview. One of the more profitable studies I’ve done over the past year is to evaluate my pastoral ministry practices and priorities in light of what Scripture reveals descriptively and prescriptively about pastors. Principally, I focused my attention on Paul’s exhortation to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20, Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3 as well as Titus in Titus 1, Paul’s explanation of church life in Ephesians 4, and finally Peter’s instruction in 1 Peter 5.
Without being overly simplistic, I came away with three overarching roles of a pastor/shepherd/overseer. They are to be exemplars in their holiness/gospel-centered living (leadership dynamic), they are to be shepherds of the flock (body dynamic), and they are to be equippers of the saints for the work of ministry, edification of the church, and advance of the gospel (mission dynamic). Accordingly, I have sought to find practical ways in which my practices as a pastor most align with what I’ve discovered in Scripture to be normative, which is often undermined or rivaled by a corporate, business (professionalized) mindset of church leadership.
As Dever noted regarding sermon time and sheep time, they often overlap and compliment one another. This is one way in which I see the triperspectival model helpful in thinking through pastoral priorities because each perspective sheds light on the particular ways in which ministers are to fulfill their ministry. Each perspective intends to illuminate the other perspectives in ways that don’t compartmentalize the calling but recognize them as interdependent roles which comprise the calling holistically.
The triperspectival model has unfolded in my mind the following way:
* Pastor as exemplar (leadership dynamic) :: Normative/Prophetic
Primarily the pastor leads in two ways: in his personal holiness and in his proclamation of the Word. He shows what is “normative” for believers as a “pace-setter” in pursuing God as an example to the flock. He also shows what is “normative” by the faithful preaching of God’s Word to God’s people. Therefore, the leadership dynamic is experienced both on an individual level (example) as well as corporate level (preaching). In this way, the pastor in the leadership dynamic is functioning primarily as a prophet. When it comes to priorities and practices, time and energy is directed towards those ends–pursuing God and studying/preparing/proclaiming His Word.
* Pastor as shepherd (body dynamic) :: Existential/Priestly
As a shepherd, the pastor leads in counseling and training God’s people. In this body dynamic, there is on the one hand corrective care (counseling) while on the other hand their is formative development (training). In both instances, the pastor has a hands-on approach of getting into the lives of the people (i.e., existential) to engage their hearts and minds and draw them into deeper love and devotion to Jesus. When it comes to priorities and practices, time and energy is directed to investing his life into the people (“sheep time”), and the pastor within this body dynamic is functioning primarily as a priest.
* Pastor as equipper (mission dynamic) :: Situational/Kingly
As an equipper, the pastor realizes the missional dynamic of the church as a sent people who are equipped by God’s Word and Spirit to carry out God’s purposes in making Christ known. The pastor’s goal is equip the saints for the work of ministry by empowering them and employing them in active service of the church on mission. In some ways, pastors have dismissed the role of equipper because the work is being placed in ways they cannot control (or perhaps get the credit). However, it should be the pastor’s goal to see every member of the body actively cultivating and concentrating their lives for the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. We are “situated” in this world to seek first the kingdom of God, so within this mission dynamic, the pastor functions primarily as a king, administrating and equipping the people of God for the work of God together. Consequently, a pastor should plan, prioritize, and develop practices that comport with this particular role.
A couple of months ago, I explained the purposes and places of my work and basically how I try to intentionally steward my time and places for the work I’ve been called as a pastor. Let met revisit that schedule and try to explain how I practically fit these three dynamics into my life on a regular basis:
For personal holiness, I try to block out the first part of my morning and last part of the evening for prayer, reading, and personal growth. For sermon preparation and preaching, I set aside two mornings a week (one for research and one for exegesis) before I spend the final half day writing my manuscript (which I usually do on Saturday).
For personal counseling, I try to take advantage of times around meals with people, especially lunches. Usually I have my week’s lunch appointments planned during the Lord’s Day when I’m mingling with the people. I also schedule counseling appointments before and after stated meetings (Sundays and Wednesdays). For training, I devote two mornings (Monday and Wednesday) and sometimes one evening (Thursday) for training, whether it be new believers, apprentices, or emerging leaders in our church.
I purposely situate myself as much as possible with non-Christians, so that my “office” is 20-25 hours a week constantly around those who are not under the reign and rule of Jesus. As an ambassador of King Jesus, this is a daily provocation for persuading to make Christ known. Within the body, I am seeking to understand how the Spirit has gifted members for the edification of the church and encouraging them in ways to use those gifts, giving them “permission” to do so in various venues, whether formal or informal so that no member is left to a consumer mentality or comfortable in nominal membership.
As Dever noted in the video, and as triperspectivalism tries to point out, each dynamic influences the other dynamics in complimentary ways. You preach better sermons when you are thinking how this applies directly to specific members in specific contexts. You shepherd better when you are situated in the world your people live in, and they find you more accessible, approachable, and relatable. You equip members better when they know that you are not treating them as projects but precious people to care for and serve. You watch after the souls of others better when you are watching out for your own soul with all diligence and consecration. I think you get my point.
So if there is one thing that I would slightly modify in Dever’s assessment of balance in pastoral ministry is that I would add a third element to “sermon time” (prophetic) and “sheep time” (priestly), and that would be “sent time” (kingly). Not because I’m bound to seeing everything in triads as a triperspectival freak but because all three dynamics are unfolded in Scripture to show what it means to lead well. And if that be the case, then it is incumbent that we pattern our lives with such priorities and practices that we demonstrate fidelity and focus in what has been entrusted to us–the church of God purchased by the blood of Jesus.