What a pastor should do in his study: part one

There is a whole lot about being a pastor that is really wonderful.

We are all good at complaining, so we can find stuff not to like about most things, even being a pastor, but really, if we stop and think about it, we are really privileged by God to be able to serve Him as pastors.

Yet at the same time, of course being a pastor is difficult.

There are a number of different things that can make it difficult. If we wanted to make a list, it could take a while. One reason I hadn’t really thought so much about until recently has to do with the type of work we are involved in. By type of work, I mean, that we are not manual laborers. We are not obviously farmers. Or painters. We may do some of that on the side, or to help us survive as pastors financially, but that’s not the nature of our ministry, primarily. We are pastors, and as pastors, we are involved in something that has been called knowledge work.

Now I didn’t make that term up.

“Knowledge work” is a term coined by Peter Drucker, which means work that consists primarily of creating, using, and communicating knowledge, as opposed to manual labor. And knowledge work is challenging, in that it is not always clearly defined. This is one of the differences between knowledge work and manual labor. Painting houses and farming have their own kinds of challenges, they are difficult work, but at least, when you paint your house, you pretty much know what you are supposed to do next, at least you should, whereas when it comes to knowledge work, you don’t only have to do the work, you also have to figure how to define the work you are supposed to do in the first place.

This is part of what makes being a pastor somewhat difficult.

One of the blessings of this kind of work is that you have a lot of freedom. If you are a pastor, a full time vocational pastor at least, when you wake up at Monday morning and look at your week, you have some freedom, to figure out what you are going to do that week, and this freedom is a fantastic thing, what an opportunity, but this freedom also comes with a challenge. It means you have to figure out what to do that week.

And figuring out what to do and how to do it can be challenging. It is a skill. It doesn’t take all that much skill to just make it through the week as a pastor. Because we have so much freedom as pastors, we can easily waste our weeks and it doesn’t take a whole lot of skill to do that. But actually taking that week God’s given you and using it effectively is something that requires a certain kind of ability.

As one author explains, “Some people think that knowing how to get things done is obvious – that it just comes naturally to people and that therefore we don’t need to spend much time on it. But that’s not the case…Effectiveness is a distinct skill that must be learned. Some people are more inclined to it than others, and everyone is naturally built to be capable of effectiveness, but effectiveness is something we learn, like reading.”

Learning how to be effective as a pastor when it comes to getting things done can be a difficult skill for us to learn, because the nature of our work can be a bit ambiguous. This is the point. Every week we have more choices and more opportunities what to do with our time than we can sometimes keep up with. As we sit in our studies on Monday mornings, and begin to make plans for the week, there are people to visit, books to read, messages to prepare, courses to take, programs to plan, and it can be very difficult to know what’s best for us to do next.

How do we make good decisions about how to use our time in the midst of all the activity and opportunities that are all around us?

Obviously, this is something we need to think about.

And not just practically. Not just because figuring out how to figure out what is best for us to do next is helpful, but also because it’s important biblically. I recently was asked to talk about what should happen in the pastor’s study, including scheduling, and this is an important subject practically of course, and it is also important biblically.

Knowing how to use your time and your opportunities matters because God wants us to make the best use of our time.

He commands it.

Think about what Paul writes in Ephesians 5:15.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

The command there essentially is to think about the way we are living, look carefully how you walk, the reason we need to do so is to make sure that we aren’t simply conforming to the world around us, but instead living in a way that is wise, and the means by which we live in this wise manner is by making the best use of our time. It’s like Paul is saying we have been given this amazing resource, in time, that some people use well and others do not and what wise people do, they use it well. Think about it. Examine yourself.

Or it maybe even a better way to say it is not just that they use the time well, they maximize it.

The word for redeem is the word for buy. It’s like when someone goes to the store and sees a bargain. They buy it up. That’s an opportunity because they know it isn’t probably going to be there long. And Paul’s saying, we need to learn to be like that with the time and opportunities God has given us.

That’s more what this word time refers to.


We recently traveled to America. And in America, people are buying all the time. They have an overload of stuff. They are hoarding. And, if we are going to be wise, we are to be like that with opportunities. As pastors, we need to be always on the lookout for opportunities to serve. As we talk about what we do in our studies, how we schedule, the question is not just how do we get by as pastors, or how do we survive, but instead, how can we be as effective as possible in using the opportunities we have been given in our lives to make God look great and to do other people good?

Now the place that people normally go in order to answer this question, how to best use their time, is to focus on being more and more efficient.

So in other words, if we were going to talk about what a pastor should do in his study, from this perspective, we would be talking about how a pastor can schedule his time and work in in such a way that gets more things done in less time? I think some of us, we are more tempted to think this way than others, but when life is busy and we have so many things to do and we think about what is happening in our study, sometimes our first concern is to figure out what techniques or tips, we can use to get more and more things done, more quickly.

But, that’s not the approach, I want us to take as we think about what is to be happening in our studies, and that’s because I don’t think as Christians, as pastors, our first question when it comes to what we should be doing in our studies, has as much to do with efficiency, as it has to do with effectiveness.

That’s what I am interested in.

Making the best use of our time in our studies as Matt Perman explains is not “first about efficiency, doing things right and doing them quickly, but effectiveness, doing the right things.”

That’s the first question we need to be asking.

And to answer it, we have to begin with God. Again, as Perman notes, the core principle of productivity is “knowing what’s most important to do and then doing” and therefore one of the most important things we can figure out if we are going to be productive is what is most important for us to do and the way we figure that out is not by sitting around and first asking ourselves what would we like to do, but instead what does God want us to do.

What does God wants from us on a weekly basis, as we sit in our studies as pastors and make our schedules?

We have to define that.

What God wants for us, is what matters most.

To be a productive pastor is to get done what God wants us to get done, week after week, and if we are going to do that, as we make our plans and priorities as pastors week after week, we have to do so based on what God has said are his priorities for us and He has spoken, that’s the good news, quite repeatedly and quite clearly. He is not ambiguous when it comes to our primary tasks as pastors.

And one of the places God has spoken regarding the pastor’s priorities is found in 1 Timothy 4:6-16, which we’ll begin to look at in the next series of posts.

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