Having taken part very recently in the installation of a minister, we find our thoughts revolving still around the work of a minister and the problems that confront him, particularly in the matter of finding time for study and the preparation of sermons.
MINISTERS ARE PASTORS
One of the paragraphs in the “Form for the Ordination (or Installation) of Ministers of God’s Word” contains the charge to the minister. (Psalter Hymnal, page 101). This charge has a definite pattern. In fact, the entire Form proceeds from the thought that the minister is preeminently a pastor, or shepherd. The very first sentence, after the brief introduction, speaks of “the institution and the office of pastors and ministers of the Word.” A few sentences farther the Form states that “the pastoral office is an institution of Christ.” And then the paragraph that follows begins with the remarkable sentence: “Now, what this holy office requires we can easily deduce from the very name itself. For as the work of a common shepherd is to feed, guide, protect, and rule the flock entrusted to him, the same applies to the spiritual shepherds, who are placed over the Church…”
Turning to the Charge to the Minister on page 101, we could show that every statement made here, even the one about the minister being an ensample to them that believe, yes also the one about being a good soldier of Jesus Christ, proceeds from the fundamental thought that ministers are pastors, shepherds. For their task is in part, as “ensamples,” to go before the flock that the flock may follow them, and as “good soldiers” to protect them with spiritual weapons against all false shepherds and wild beasts.
AN OLD-FASHIONED CONCEPT
It can hardly be said that the idea of the minister as being a shepherd is taken from modern life. It fits in much better with the prevailingly rural and pastoral life of former centuries than with the commercial and industrial aspect of modern society. Perhaps very few of ‘ the readers of this paper ever saw a flock of sheep and their shepherd, except in pictures. It is not strange that the industrialization of society has resulted in a changed emphasis on the function of the church and its ministry. It is quite significant that churches today, especially large ones, are called plants and that their ministers serve especially as administrators, or superintendents.
This change of emphasis has not been for the real welfare of the Church. Even though we live in a vastly different world from that of our ancestors, human nature and human needs have not changed. Souls are still in need of shepherding and faithful ministers are still shepherds.
A COMPREHENSIVE TERM
The term “shepherd” is a very comprehensive one. It covers all the work of a minister, whether as teaching or ruling elder—not only his dealings with families and individuals, the sick and the sorrowing, the indifferent and the wayward, the infirm and the aged, but also his preaching and teaching. In each case the minister is the pastor, the shepherd, who feeds his sheep, whatever their circumstances maybe, with the Word of God.
ALSO HIS FAMILY’S SHEPHERD
The pastor is the shepherd of the entire congregation, including his own wife and children. These too need spiritual attention, not less than the other families of his church. In fact, they need special care because so much depends upon the example they set to the other members of the flock. It is no exaggeration to say that a minister’s family can make or break him.
The minister is the pastor also of his wife and children. Every man of the cloth knows how easy it is to neglect the spiritual interests of his own family in view of the unceasing demands on his time and energy. Even family worship in the manse is in danger of being slighted since the telephone and the doorbell often disturb the meal or terminate it abruptly. Many a minister’s family has suffered spiritual damage because of the relentless demands on the time and strength of its head. Pastors do well to make a firm resolve to give their own families special spiritual attention regardless of obstacles.
TIME FOR STUDY?
The Form already mentioned, built-as we have seen-around the concept of shepherding, quotes from the New Testament where it states: “Give heed to reading…neglect not the gift that is in thee.” The minister is his own shepherd, as well as of his church and his own family! He must feed his own soul from the same Word in which he pastures his flock.
This inspired piece of advice to Timothy (I Tim. 4:13, 14) is needed as urgently in our day as in the apostolic age; and it is probably harder to follow because of the rush of modern life. Ministers do not escape the mad pace of today’s world any more than their parishioners. Only those who are in the ministry know how difficult it is to find time for serious reading and restful preparation of sermons and Bible lessons. Some of us would perhaps dread to give an account of the number of books which we intended but failed to read throughout the year. A minister should be left alone as much as possible with his library at least two days a week. This is the very minimum even for older and more experienced ministers. It is just impossible to engage in serious and fruitful study in the midst of frequent interruptions and distractions. There are days when a minister tries to study and prepare a sermon but gives up in despair because his line of thought is broken repeatedly. He can only hope and pray that the next day will be a less distracting one. And yet—this is his dilemma—even on the days set aside for study and reflection no minister who has the heart of a shepherd will fail to respond to calls for help.
This problem of finding sufficient time for study and the preparation of sermons is by no means easily solved. Some ministers try to solve it by setting aside certain hours of the day for consultation with their members. How well they succeed in this way to save out more time for prayer, reading, and sermonizing we do not know, though we are not too optimistic about the results.
The minister himself can do at least one thing, in his hours and days for study, to lessen the demands on his attention by the congregation. He can let the congregation know about his study habits. Doubtless, many of his members will be sufficiently understanding to avoid disturbing him unnecessarily . For one thing, they can make it a point not to trouble him with inconsequential and triviaI matters, as for example by inquiring when a meeting will start or what the address is of a certain individual. Information which can be obtained from a church bulletin, church directory, or telephone book should ‘not be sought by a telephone call to the parsonage. And surely, the habit of some retired parishioners, especially in rustic communities, to visit the parsonage and claim an hour or more of the minister’s precious morning or afternoon, without having a problem or a message, deserves to be rebuked.
Consistories can be of great help to the minister in his endeavor to find sufficient time for study, intercession, and the preparation of sermons. They can seek ways and means to protect him against unnecessary distractions. They should not demand too much of him in the matter of leading society meetings. Neither should they ask him to do their work in visiting the wayward. Elders, too, are shepherds of the flock, according to Scripture. Disciplinary visits should not be made by the pastor. Moreover, there are weeks when one or more funerals or special services make it very desirable to give the minister some relief on the Lord’s Day. Elders are wise if they reason that it is better to have one well-prepared sermon on Sunday than two that were produced under great pressure.
Above all, the pastor should form the habit of husbanding his time and “give every flying minute something to keep in store.” One of the temptations to which especially ministers are subject is to follow lines of least resistance in the use of precious time. How realistic the admonition of Paul to Timothy: “…be diligent in these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy progress may be manifest un to all.”