There’s a ton of confusion in the Church today surrounding the pastoral office. Do we really even need pastors? What is he supposed to do with his time? Is he supposed to be a leader, a counselor, a CEO, a visionary, or what?
The early church had a problem with the neglect of widows. As godly and important of a task as it was to provide for them, the Twelve knew other people could be recruited to do it. But not just anybody could preach the Word: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables,” (Acts 6:2). “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the Ministry of the Word,” (Acts 6:4).
In an age where the social Gospel garners more respect than the actual gospel, it’s becoming harder and harder to find sympathy for the concern of the Twelve. Time spent in prayer and Scripture doesn’t produce any tangible result, so there’s often pressure on pastors to spend less time doing those things in favor of more “practical” tasks.
Nevertheless, God wants His pastors to be devoted to prayer and the Ministry of the Word. This is why St. Paul says those who preach the Gospel should get their living by the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14). Likewise, when our Lord sent out the twelve among the lost sheep of the house of Israel, He instructed them to take no money, “for a laborer deserves his food.” (Matthew 10:9–10). God wants the Church to provide for the temporal needs of Her pastors so that they can give their full attention to the Word and Sacrament ministry.
Tentmaking is a noble enough profession, and there are circumstances where a worker-priest arrangement is necessary, but it is certainly not ideal. It reduces the amount of time the pastor can devote to prayer and the Ministry of the Word. The more time a pastor spends in prayer and Scripture, the better his preaching, teaching, and pastoral care will be. The best thing for a congregation is for its pastor to live and breathe Scripture as much as possible. It is impossible to be too devoted to prayer and the Ministry of the Word.
Pastors should demonstrate a constant and ready ministry centered in the Gospel. This will be put to the test especially in providing pastoral care to the hurting, sick, and dying. Sermons and bible classes can be prepared ahead of time. When a woman comes into the pastor’s study to tell him she just was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or the pastor gets a call from a father saying his son was just killed in a car accident, his theology is put to the test and shown for what it really is. The best way for a pastor to demonstrate a constant and ready ministry centered in the Gospel is to devote himself to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
What does devotion to prayer and the Ministry of the Word look like? Just about everything a pastor is called to do by his congregation can be broken down into five categories: pastoral self-care, personal study, preparation for preaching and teaching, pastoral care, and a final catch-all category for all of the other stuff.
Pastoral self-care is essential for faithful pastoral care to take place. Before St. Paul exhorts pastors to tend to the flock, he tells them to attend to their own spiritual welfare (Acts 20:28). This is why it is important for pastors to have a father confessor, someone to whom they can go for pastoral care. The mutual conversation of the brethren is also another important source of pastoral care (SA III:IV). But the pastor must also daily serve as his own pastor, spending time in prayer and hearing how the Word of God addresses him in his situation apart from any work he may be doing in preparation for preaching, teaching, etc. Scripture is his primary resource here, and other good devotional resources may aid him in his meditation.
Personal study is also an important part of being devoted to the ministry of the Word. This study may include working with the Greek, Hebrew, and English texts of Scripture, the Book of Concord, and reading other good theological books and journals.
Preparation for preaching and teaching occupies a significant amount of a pastor’s time during the week. Preaching is the one opportunity he has all week to speak God’s Word of Law and Gospel to the entire congregation. A great deal of time and effort go into preparing a good sermon. Ideal sermon preparation involves working with Hebrew and Greek, studying the text in light of its literary and liturgical context, doing word and doctrinal studies, and reading commentaries, journals, and other sermons, all the while considering how the text speaks to the practical concerns and daily lives of his people.
Pastors also must prepare for teaching obligations, which may include bible class, catechesis (youth, adult, pre-marital counseling, preparing parents prior to baptism, doing catechesis at meetings, etc.), preparing devotions, leading circuit studies or teaching at conferences, writing essays, journal articles, books, etc. While the writing and teaching pastors do outside of the parish can be beneficial to the Church at large, they also have practical benefits for parish ministry. No time spent in the Word or in mutual conversation with the brethren is wasted, and will often yield ideas for preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. Publications (both print and online) and presenting at conferences gives the pastor the opportunity to further reflect upon and teach the Gospel to a wider audience. We ought not be narrowly focused on our own congregations to the exclusion of the Church Catholic. A pastor’s service beyond the congregation can both edify the Body (local and corporate) and serve as a good tool for evangelism.
Recently the LCMS has recognized the value of what we do here at BJS and has even offered to help get pastors started with online writing:
Pastoral care includes the regular duties of preaching, teaching, and conducting services (Sunday, midweek, weddings, funerals, etc.), or what might be called ordinary pastoral care. But there’s also a good amount of extraordinary pastoral care that pastors provide during the week: visiting members, the sick, and shut-in, answering and returning phone calls and emails (people will often want to talk with pastors about various concerns via email, making it a good tool for pastoral care), chatting with people who stop by the church, and attending to any other number of pastoral care needs that may arise during the week.
Meetings, administrative, and other responsibilities: In addition to the above, there are a variety of other things a pastor does during the week that belong to the Ministry of the Word. He may attend any number of conferences, study groups, or meetings, whether they are of the congregation (business or social), circuit, district, or synod. One of the most significant (but overlooked) duties of a pastor is to “manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4). According to St. Paul, part of the pastor’s vocation is to look to the needs of his wife and children (if he has them). Even that should be considered time on the clock. A pastor must conduct himself in a manner that is becoming of his office at all times. He must set an example of Christian speech, behavior, and stewardship, show mercy to those in need, and be ready to share the Gospel as opportunities arise.