I have served as a pastor since 1983, initially in a new church for six years and for the past 13 years in an established church. With almost 20 consecutive years of service, I am more than familiar with the “busy- pastor syndrome.” The pastor must do home and hospital visitations of the sick, private counseling, funerals, weddings, and meetings (boy, are there meetings!). Of course, the pastor is on call at all times, so these activities can take place at any time of the day or night, whenever the need arises or at the convenience of others. In the contemporary church, the pastor usually is expected to have a vision and plan for evangelism, the numerical growth of the church, and the various problems related to the church’s finances. And on top of all of these duties and time constraints there is Bible study and sermon preparation. And therein lies one of the problems confronting the church—pastors are too busy to spend time in God’s Word.
Every busy pastor ought to examine his schedule in light of the pastoral priorities set forth in Scripture. Acts 6 is particularly penetrating. In the aftermath of Pentecost, many were added to the church. With the increase came new in-house responsibilities, including the daily distribution of food to the widows. In verse 1, Luke says that the Greeks were complaining that while the Jewish widows were being cared for, their widows were being neglected. So the people naturally took the problem to the apostles so that their spiritual leaders could rectify the situation.
The apostles’ response (v. 2) was probably surprising to the membership and certainly would be a shock to the modern church member. They said: “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” After instructing the people to select “from among you seven man of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business,” they made clear what their top priority was: “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (v. 4).
Before we look at the profound declaration of verse 4, consider the initial response of verse 2: “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” The apostles did not say it was beneath them to serve tables; neither did they suggest that it was a trivial matter. In fact, they considered it to be of such importance that they did not want just anyone to see to it, but men of proven character and spiritual maturity. However, they unabashedly proclaimed that it was not a good thing for them to leave the Word of God for this matter.
The apostles’declaration implies that they devoted the majority of their time to the Word of God. This undoubtedly included study and preparation, as well as proclamation. Acts 2:42 says that those who were added to the church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’doctrine.” That means the apostles took great pains to establish these believers in the doctrines of the faith.
A major implication of 6:2 is that it is beneficial to the membership of the church for pastors to spend time in study and preparation for preaching the Word of God. It is not good for the church to have its ministers neglect their time in the Word, which is spiritual food, in order to serve physical food. The church is better served when pastors are left to labor in the Word.
But 6:2 also implies that it is important for pastors to be able to discern the gifts and abilities of others to serve within the fellowship, and they must be able to prioritize what can be delegated. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not suggesting that the only thing the pastor is to do is study and prepare to preach and teach. Some things in the life of the church require the pastor’s immediate attention. However, too much of the pastor’s time can be occupied with doing things that can be done by others.
In Romans 12:3–8, Paul lists a number of services that can be rendered in the body by non-pastors. Pastors are not neglecting the flock when they encourage, equip, and delegate others to serve in various capacities. Delegation is not neglect. However, when pastors are so tied up with other things that they have only minimal time for the Word, that is neglect.
In Ezekiel 34, when the Lord rebukes the leaders of Israel for being irresponsible shepherds, He says that they have not fed the flock and have not strengthened the weak. Many Christians are drawn away from orthodox churches to teachers of spurious doctrines, and one has to wonder how many of them wander off because of a failure on the part of their pastors to labor in the Word to the degree that their people are able to defend themselves against false teachers.
Finally, the apostles declared “we will give ourselves continuously to prayer and the ministry of the word.” In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The ministry of the Word consists of the proclamation of the doctrines of the faith and the application of Scripture to the corporate life of the church and the individual lives of the members. This includes pastoral counsel, comfort, and rebukes.
Ministry in or of the Word is the result of spending time in it. Therefore, it is incumbent upon both pastor and people to recognize the value of the time spent in study and preparation. Healthy, well-balanced, and well-equipped churches are the result of well-studied and well-prepared pastors. It is not that other things are not important, but they are not more important than the primary task of the ministry of the Word.