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Do you make paperwork your top priority?
Do you make paperwork your top priority? (Pixabay)

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What are the priorities of a pastor in the work of the ministry?

That's a tricky question. I'm fascinated by leadership and management principles that find their roots in the lives of Jesus, the apostles and other biblical characters.

But I also know that management comes second to theology and spirituality. That is, we are disciples before we are shepherds, and we are shepherds before we are managers in the modern sense of the word.

My own ministry is often filled with what I would term "paperwork." I have a background in design and marketing and wrote a book about using social media in ministry, so naturally I spend a lot of time creating things, especially for the web.

I believe it's important for the church to put her best foot forward, so I am often driven by the details.

Occasionally, however, I find myself in need of a revival of right priorities for ministry. And when those moments come, I remind myself of the three "P's" of ministry that need to remain in the right order.

First, Prayer Work

Acts 6 is unavoidable in any discussion about priorities in ministry. The overworked apostles, under pressure by various interest-groups within the church, needed desperately to get back to the Bible and prayer.

So they asked the church to set aside seven men to oversee the benevolence work of the church, that they might give themselves more fully to time with God.

One of my former pastors, Don Chandler, used to say that the people you preach to will know within a few weeks of hearing your preaching whether you have been with God or not.

It's been wisely said that God is more interested in preparing the man than He is in preparing the message.

That's why prayer must be viewed as just as important as sermon preparation. We need to mine the riches of God's word in our study time, but not merely academically. We must go to the Word prayerfully.

Second, People Work

God calls people to preach, but the essence of preaching through a lifetime of ministry will be to make disciples.

Disciples are not made by accident. Instead, they require personal attention. Though too much ministry to people may indeed rob our time with God, individual people are still more important than the little tasks that steal all of our time.

Pastors cannot possibly visit everybody. In fact, assuming that the pastor must personally know and shepherd every member of a congregation is an outdated, ineffective and even unbiblical model that restricts growth and leaves a lot of lost people lingering outside the church.

Having said that, I love what Andy Stanley says: "We should do for the one what we wish we could do for the many."

A pastor can't and shouldn't try to personally shepherd and disciple everyone. The very essence of pastoral leadership is giving this ministry away to as many believers within the church as possible. But we must always be working to build some close relationships.

The greater part of people work for the pastor will be spent in disciple-making.

Bill Hull wrote an excellent book called The Disciple-Making Pastor. If Hull's conclusions were followed to their end, the pastor would spend little time at all on mass evangelism, but rather invest himself wisely into "a few good men" and lead them to disciple others in turn.

Third, Paper Work

What often distracts me from the more important ministries is the paperwork of the ministry.

I'm including a lot under the category of "paper" that never really gets printed. Email. Texts. Social networks. Blogging. Church management software. And so on.

There will be an endless stream of little tasks to be completed. The pastor could easily fill all of his time on the phone, handling the business issues of the church and printing and folding stuff.

The hard-to-find balance here is between achieving excellence in the details without allowing the details to dominate. We can:

  • Hire an assistant, real or virtual.
  • Learn how to be awesome managers of time.
  • Discover and develop creative volunteers.
  • Delegate entire areas of ministry to staff members.

But at the end of a given week, our goal as pastors should be to say that we've given ourselves first and foremost to God, second to people and third to the paperwork.

Brandon Cox has been a pastor since he was 19 and has served churches, large and small, including serving as a pastor at Saddleback Church. Currently, he is planting a purpose-driven church in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as editor of pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders as well as a blog about men's issues, a blog about blogging and a blog about social media.

This article originally appeared at brandonacox.com.

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