Many of us pastor within the conflict of time. The age of pathological efficiency is the air we breathe. Something of our learned experiences has taught our hearts to resist the hours at the hospital, to use our time for something different from the repetitive and trying process of sanctification in others, and to hurry along through prayer so that we can empty our e-mail inbox. We fear the judgment of using our time inefficiently. You cannot prove your worth by your quiet prayers in secret.
Maybe that’s getting closer to the point: much of pastoring is made up of “tasks” that don’t provoke praise. At weddings, funerals, counseling sessions and hospital beds, your presence is needed, but your efficiency is not, and praise is rarely forthcoming. At weddings, you lead a couple through vows and remind them of Jesus and get out of the way. The day is not about you. At funerals, you speak of hope, you quietly sit with the mourning, but the day is not about you. When that couple finally breaks through and expresses repentance and patience toward one another, you will rarely be remembered and thanked. But it’s just as well. Craving praise and finding self-worth in efficiency will make you a poor pastor. And many of us should be repenting of our poor pastoring.
Redeeming Isn’t Necessarily Efficient
The Apostle Paul instructs us to redeem the time (Eph. 5:16), not to be efficient with time. We are to redeem the time with the slow work of prayer, the slow work of meditating on and teaching Scripture, and the slow work of listening to others, praying for others, and being present with others. Your neighbors will ask how you got such a good gig of only having to work one day a week, and you will have to smile and bite your tongue.
That doesn’t mean pastors don’t work much. They do. They work long and odd hours. What is difficult is how much of the work is not for easy-to-measure results, but for hard-to-measure fruit. Teaching people to pray, laying hands on the sick, preparing for a sermon, being hospitable, evangelizing, and listening to someone’s repentance and then reminding them of grace—these things don’t show up on a spreadsheet. But they are the very ingredients of spiritual renewal.