Eugene Peterson, in his delightful memoir The Pastor, wrote that when he started out in local church ministry he wasn’t entirely sure what it was a pastor was supposed to do. He said it was not obvious to the people of his congregation or community, either.
He went to a seminar led by a nationally-recognized authority on pastoral theology. The young Peterson was impressed by the brilliant man’s erudition and theological vocabulary. “For an hour or so I was under his spell. And then I began feeling that something was not quite right. What I was doing, working in a congregation characterized by interruptions, false starts, and unfinished work, seemed like a far cry from anything he was presenting.”
He pressed the man with questions about his experience in pastoral work. He was evasive. It turned out that he had been an associate pastor for only one year in a small town! Peterson checked the indices in the books the man had written. There was not a single reference to prayer in any of them. There were few if any, references to congregation, worship, preaching, and scripture.
“I still had a great deal to learn about the vocation of pastor, but I knew one thing for sure: the work of prayer was at the heart of everything. Personal conversation with God had to intersect with everything I thought or said, whether in the sanctuary or on the street corner.” He went on to say that “the vocation of pastor had to be understood entirely under the shaping influence of the biblical text.”
Hmmm. Prayer and the biblical text. Not exactly innovations or contemporary novelties. Prayer and the biblical text. Remind you of anything? Do you remember the priorities of the first church leaders who said, “We… will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4)?
I am reminded of the provocative words of Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse who said, “If I had only three years to serve the Lord, I would spend two of them studying and preparing.”
The famous evangelist Billy Graham was speaking to a large gathering of London clergymen. He said if he could repeat his ministry, he would make two changes. The people looked startled. What could he mean?
First, he continued, he would study three times as much as he had done. “I’ve preached too much and studied too little,” he said. The second change was that he would give more time to prayer. Surely this thinking was shaped by the priorities in the biblical text!
Every conscientious pastor gives a certain amount of time each week to pastoral care and counseling, to visitation, to evangelism and discipleship. Administrative work takes time: planning, decision-making, committee meetings, staff meetings. Important work to be sure.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, should take the place of prayer and Bible study. This is what produces, in the life of a pastor, clarity of vocation, depth of conviction, maturity of judgment, integrity of character, and sanctity of ministry — on Sunday, and throughout the week.
Pastor Randy Faulkner