Ministry is a challenge. How should your time be spent when there is an endless array of good things from which to choose? What should your priorities be? When you say yes to one activity, you must say no to another. A night out with the family means you disappoint the hospital patient who thinks a visit from the pastor is overdue.

There is no single right answer to the question of how much time to spend each week in counseling, visiting, studying, and being with your family. A great deal will be determined by your gifts, the size of your church, and the expectations of your congregation. However, principles do exist that should guide each pastor regardless of the specific job description:

  • Praying is more important than preaching. You must guard your time for prayer even more closely than your time for study. When forced to choose, make prayer your top priority. Prayer is not preparation for the work - it is the work. If your prayer life is mediocre or inconsistent, your first priority is to set aside time for this exercise. Make prayer such a priority that only an emergency would make you miss it.

  • Preaching is more important that administration. Many pastors spend so much time running the church that they have little time for study and reflection. Committees are necessary. Even more important is vision and the ability to move the congregation toward the goals of the church. But it is the ministry of the Word that gives the greatest impact. Ask yourself what you are doing that someone else could do; be generous in giving away all the responsibilities you reasonably can. Doing so will save you several hours a week.

  • The family is more important than the congregation. Pastors receive affirmation from their congregations and, as a result, often feel vulnerable to the pressure of public opinion. This explains the strong temptation to meet the expectations of the congregation before the needs of spouses and children. Pastors need to make some hard, deliberate choices in their families' favor. Time spent taking the family out for ice cream is often more important than attending another finance committee meeting. It's the small daily decisions that reveal whether you value your family above those who pay your salary.

  • Faithfulness is more important than competition. It's easy to get discouraged in the ministry when you compare yourself to others. Overcome a spirit of comparison and rejoice in and learn from the successes of other pastors. When you are content with your part in the kingdom's work, you will have a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.

  • Love is more important than ability. Obviously, you cannot function without gifts that qualify you for the demands of the ministry. You must know the Word and be able to communicate it, and you must have skills in leadership and working with people. Paul cautioned that all the gifts and talents were folly if not accompanied by love (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Even the best Bible teaching doesn't change lives if it's not filtered through a personality filled with love.

Next week: Take a look at your work and cut out everything that isn't a top priority in God's kingdom. By deliberately choosing to give more time to those things God thinks are important, you will probably find that you are accomplishing more than ever.

From Pastor to Pastor by Erwin Lutzer, copyright (c) 1998. Used by permission of Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1-800-733-2607.

Erwin Lutzer is the featured speaker on "The Moody Church Hour" and the popular evening program "Songs in the Night," as well as the 15-minute daily broadcast called "Running to Win," available on the Moody Broadcasting Network, Bible Broadcasting Network, Trans World Radio and many Christian radio stations around the country. His books include The Doctrines That Divide; Failure: The Backdoor to Success; How You Can Be Sure That You Will Spend an Eternity with God; and One Minute After You Die.