The mathematics of ministry

What does a clergyman do, exactly? Having lived with one for over four decades, I can tell you what it has meant for him.

In the last four decades, the Preacher has delivered close to three thousand sermons – not counting funerals and weddings, camps and retreats.

Even with readily accessible research tools and the opportunity to download ready-made outlines, it takes twenty or more hours a week to prepare a decent sermon – an hour of study and prayer per minute of preaching. At least. Multiplying that by around 2,500 sermons (leaving a few hundred off for recycling) means over four decades he has spent an astounding sum of 50,000 hours of sermon preparation.

But he’s attended or led close to twice that number of meetings. During his most active years, that included a minimum of a Bible study/prayer meeting a week, a youth group meeting every Friday night, at least one board meeting monthly, plus a monthly ministerial meeting. He also attended multiple committee and planning meetings. At minimum, that means about five thousand meetings – before adding numerous pastoral counselling sessions.

All that math, however, scarcely scratches at an answer to the question, “What does a pastor do?”

When God calls a pastor, he asks him or her to be a shepherd. To bring the Word of God to the people and the people to the Word of God. To pray and weep and walk with them through hard times, reminding them that for this we have Jesus. To laugh and rejoice with his parish in the good times, then lovingly remind them that this life is not all there is. That we’re not here for our own enjoyment, but for the service of others and the glory of God.

A pastor’s role includes equipping a congregation to take the good news of a Saviour to the world beyond church doors. Teaching believers to recognize spiritual predators and protecting them with truth and love. It means carrying, marrying and burying – carrying the infants in dedication to God, marrying the youth and burying the elderly.

And even when all that gets crazily scrambled; when the young die young, and the marriages don’t last and the elderly become children long before their dying time, the pastor, with a shepherd’s care and a shepherd’s prayers and a shepherd’s tears, does what God calls shepherds to do: to feed and lead, in both church and community. At home and in the marketplace. Not to lead in a superior way, but to lead through serving, like Jesus did. Even when it’s not comfortable.

The Preacher reached sixty-five the other day – traditionally the age of retirement. But a genuinely retired pastor is almost as rare as a short sermon. True pastors don’t easily lay down their priestly calling, God merely sets them loose to minister wherever they are – in a vacant pulpit, at a part-time job or coffee shop or behind a radio mic or pen.

Clip or bookmark this column. And next time you wonder what your pastor does, read it again.