Priorities.Priorities
Have you set them for yourself and your ministry?
Ok, now what do you really do?
If we are really being honest there is often a disconnect between what we say is a priority and what we actually do. What’s up with that?

Much of what we do as pastors is frankly out of habit or tradition. Certain things are expected or assumed behaviors that pastors are supposed to do. Pastors prepare sermons, Bible classes, many times pastors make visits to the sick and shut ins (although I am learning that some don’t). We go to meetings. We try (sic) to take a day off. Did I get this list about right?

Are those your priorities?
Based upon what? How did you decide? What are you assuming?

Most pastors can defend their choices based upon the priority of the ministry of the Word. First, it is the Word of God that is a powerful means of grace (Is 55:11; Romans 10:14, 17 and others). Then it is understood that pastors have been trained in the “word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15) in seminary not to mention that is what our call documents prescribe. True enough.

What else are pastors supposed to do that might also inform priorities and thus the behaviors that are consistent with those priorities?  We are all to “Go and make disciples…baptizing them…and by teaching…” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is something pastors are also called to do. Paul then says in Ephesians 4:11-12, “it was he who some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service (diakonia - ministry), so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Certainly we would agree with these passages as well.

So how are you doing? Are you ministering in the Word of God? Are disciples being made? How can you tell? One way is if God’s people are being prepared and doing works of service (ministry!)? Or is something else happening? You know you are going off course when the pastor is doing all of the significant ministry of the Word. Likewise if there are no new disciples being made and God’s people are not growing and involved in works of service, something has gone off the rails. “By their fruit you will recognize them” Matthew 7:20.

Do pastors have the time? But is it really a time issue? In a larger parish there will always be someone to visit in the hospital or a shut in to be seen. In a smaller parish the pastor might want to take a longer time preparing the sermon and doing ever more extensive textual study to get it just right. Yet does that excuse us from the biblical measuring stick so well known above? Are disciples made? Are God’s people prepared for works of service which are likewise being accomplished - presumably within and outside the body of Christ? We have to confess, busyness is not an excuse.

We might want to excuse ourselves by saying those things are supposed to happen when people come to us. We might excuse ourselves by saying that society in general is cold to the organized church. Yet are these acceptable explanations? No, not really. It is not about busyness or cultural challenges. More likely that there is a disconnect between what we say is a priority and what we actually do. Notice I did not say anything about contemporary services or marketing the church and the like. It is not about finding the right tactics. Rather it often comes down to what are our real priorities that in turn become the behaviors or activities that we actually do. And that means there is a disconnect between what our priorities are supposed to be and what they actually are.

So what now? Ask yourself some important and sobering questions to build greater alignment between what you say is a priority and what you actually do:

  1. What is a goal (like making disciples or preparing God’s people for works of service) that is only partially accomplished?
  2. What are some counterproductive behaviors that get in the way?
  3. What competing commitments might there be between the answers to #1 and #2?
  4. What are you assuming for good or for ill?

Now create a short term test that challenges those assumptions. After three or four weeks evaluate how it went. What did you learn? What is still true? What is no longer true? What can you do differently? What will you do differently? What kind of pushback will you get? How will you answer that? What does God want? He promises to be with you!

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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, scottgress@me.com or scottgress.com

"Helping leaders be more productive - less controlling"

Priorities vs What You Really Do

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