Since pastors know ministry is full of surprises, there’s no excuse for being caught off guard when a need arises. Just like superheroes wear their costume under their normal clothes, we always need to be ready to serve our people (not that we are superheroes).
Some pastors feel interrupted by congregational needs. “I didn’t get any work done today because I had to talk with so many people!” Wrong. It was simply a day where you did a lot of priest-work, as opposed to king-work or prophet-work.
Priest-work, by nature, fluctuates and erupts in unpredictable ways. Here’s how you can be ready to serve your people without being frustrated or flustered.
1. Only plan 75% of your workday. Planning 100% of your workday is acting like God. You’re not sovereign. Expect things to pop up. Don’t they always? If you’ve piled up your calendar like a Jenga tower, all it takes is one unexpected need to make the whole thing crash. Schedule margin.
Afraid that you won’t get all your other work done? If you prioritize right, I think you still will. Maybe you won’t be able to consult Keil-Deliztsch for your sermon, and maybe you won’t be able to catch up on all the latest news. But squeezing your deadline has a way of making you work more efficiently. If nothing pops up, by all means see what Keil-Deliztsch has to say about the passage you will preach on. But if you need to rush to the hospital, you’ll still be on track.
2. Keep an organized, clean office. You need to be prepared for unexpected visitors. This means maintaining a welcoming environment to meet with people. If someone has such a dire issue that they are dropping in on you, they already feel uncomfortable enough. They will be even more distressed if they are surrounded by piles of books, torn open envelopes, and paper with scribbles on it.
I’ve said before that if your office always stays clean, that’s a sign you’re not working. But there’s a difference between making a mess and just being messy.
3. Snail mail edifies. In a day and age where digital communication reigns, handwritten notes have become more powerful in comforting the heart, not less. Keep a stationary drawer right next to your pen drawer.
I keep two kinds of stationary in my office. One kind is sympathy cards. As a pastor for 7th and 8th graders, each year some students experience the loss of a grandparent. When this happens, I’m ready to get a card off in the mail right away (I had started this habit sooner). One of my colleagues has the habit of mailing a card to widows and widowers on the one year anniversary of their spouse’s death.
The other type of stationary I keep is the general variety with our church logo on it. I use this for thank you notes and notes of encouragement.
4. Keep a current church directory next to your phone. I’m sending myself a message by keeping my directory right next to my office phone: I prioritize calling anyone in our church at a moment’s notice. Also if you need to make a visit to someone, their home address is right on hand. Plug it into your smart phone or print off directions, and head out the door.
5. Use anything for a prayer list. Caring for your people doesn’t only happen when you’re with your people. Praying for them is something pastors should be devoted to. Making prayer lists can be a distraction from praying because it takes up time you could have spent actually praying. Use anything as a prayer list: your directory, email inbox, church newsletter, etc.
These are a few things that I have found helpful to be on the ready to care for our church family. What tips do you have? Share them in the comments!