Essentials of a Pastor's Program

As pastor's it is a constant problem for us to know how best to organize and plan our work so that it may all be cared for in the allotted time.

ORLEY M. BERG, Pastor-evangelist, Southern California Conference

As pastor's it is a constant problem for us to know how best to organize and plan our work so that it may all be cared for in the allotted time. There is a constant stream of demands ever pressing in upon us. In order that we may carry on a well-balanced program, it may be good for us to consider just what the essentials of our daily program are. In considering this question, I have listed the minimum essentials under six headings, approaching the problem primarily as it applies to the pastor.


The importance of preaching cannot be over­emphasized. It remains the preacher's major work. While all phases of the ministry are in­volved in the call to preach, still, as G. Ray Jordan states it:

"Nothing can ever take the place of what one says —and how he says it—when he stands before the congregation to speak for God in the name of Christ."—You Can Preach, p. 15.

Preaching must be done supremely well. Whatever else the preacher may or may not be able to do, he must be able to proclaim the gospel effectively. Spurgeon declares:

"Your pulpit preparations are your first business, and if you neglect these, you will bring no credit upon yourself or your office." And he adds, "1 have no belief in that ministry which ignores laborious preparation."—Spurgeon's Lectures, p. 80.

"An ignorant pulpit is the worst of all scourges. An ineffective pulpit is the most lamentable of all scandals." So states Charles Edward Jefferson, and he continues, "The cause of Christ is hopelessly handicapped and blocked when Christian preachers forget how to preach."—The Minister as Prophet, pp. 13, 14.

Preaching is the hub around which all the minister's work revolves. It must be the result of painstaking effort, of careful and intense study, prayer, and ofttimes tears. The minister cannot afford to abuse or misuse the opportunity that the preaching service affords. By preaching to a congregation of two hundred for thirty minutes, you make yourself responsible for a hundred hours of their time. And what you put into that thirty-minute sermon may deter­mine their eternal destiny.

It is therefore imperative that the minister provide in his program adequate time for study and prayer, so that he may rightly fulfill this primary responsibility to his people and to his God—that of truly feeding the flock of God. He must ruthlessly eliminate from his schedule the numberless minor tasks that might prevent him from doing this major work well.


Time spent in the homes of the people is vital if the preaching is to be effective. Effective preaching and faithful shepherding of the flock are two indispensable elements of a minister's program. Just as the schedule must provide a reasonable amount of time for preparation of the sermon, so also must it provide time for visitation.

Commenting on these two features of a min­ister's work, George A. Buttrick says, "You build up a spiritual church by wearing out shoe leather and automobile tires. You hold it to­gether by worthy preaching."—Quoted by Andrew W. Blackwood in Pastoral Work, page 13. And in the book Pastoral Leadership, Dr. Blackwood declares that while we give con­sideration to the various ministerial duties, "all the while we should look on the minister as mainly a preacher and a pastor rather than a program-builder and a parish-promoter."—Page 20.

The minister is a pastor, a shepherd of the flock. He must tend and feed the sheep. To do so, he must know them by name, he must know their dispositions, needs, and habits. This work of shepherding is done often out of sight, where there is no crowd and no applause. It is never spectacular. It is a humble work. As R. Allan Anderson puts it in his book The Shepherd-Evangelist:

"Shepherding is hazardous, constant, and wearing work. That may be one reason so many pass it by. But with it all, it is the nicest work God ever gave to men.

"When Jesus said, 'I . . . know my sheep, and am known of mine,' He set forth the principle of all good shepherding. A pastor's strength lies largely in knowing his flock."—Page 559.

Truly the comfort and care of the people become the great burden of the true pastor. And it is out of his intimate association in the homes of the people that the most helpful sermons grow.

Organizational Activity and Administrative Details

Among other things the minister is an admin­istrator. The church is an organization and the minister is its head. It is in a sense a machine, and it must be kept running. Friction must be reduced, the wheels must be lubricated, repairs must be made, every part of the mech­anism must be subjected to constant scrutiny and supervision in order that the machine may do the work for which it was created. The ad­ministrative work is important. If the minister neglects the organization, it will soon break down. There are business details to look after, promotional work to plan, correspondence to keep up, and the general oversight of the pro­gram to keep in mind.

A part of the busy schedule must provide time for looking after these varied matters. Great care must be exercised lest these busi­ness details usurp a large share of the hours best adapted to personal devotion and creative study.

Personal Devotion

1 Timothy 4:16 declares, "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." Ellen G. White quotes this scripture and then comments:

"'Thyself' needs the first attention. First give yourself to the Lord for purification and sanctifica­tion.. . . Seek from Christ that grace, that clearness of comprehension, which will enable you to do successful work."—Gospel Workers, p. 104.

We must always remember that it is Christ who enables us to do successful work. We are not always doing the most business when we seem to be most busy. In that wonderful little book Communion Through Preaching, Henry Sloane Coffin makes this statement:

"That which has characterized the Church in her periods of power—the indwelling and outwork­ing of the Spirit, is painfully absent from many congregations. Pastor and people may be conscien­tious, hard-working, ingenious in devising methods. Their church may give the impression of bustling activity; their weekly calendar lists a bewildering number of meetings, and their pastor may hang on his study wall a graph of interrelations of all these groups and win the reputation of a skilful administrator; but fruits in altered lives and homes and in spiritual influence on the community are dismally lacking."—Page 22.

If within our churches we are to enjoy the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we must first of all take time to tarry alone with God in personal study of His Word, in meditation, self-examination, and prayer. Spurgeon says that if you do not pray over your work, "God's sovereignty may possibly determine to give a blessing, but you have no right to expect it, and if it comes it will bring no comfort to your own heart."—Lectures, p. 44.

In a very real way the pastor's usefulness will depend most of all on these moments with God. The more time the pastor spends on his knees, in study of the Bible, and in self-exami­nation and self-improvement, the less time he will have to spend tinkering with machinery and ironing out church problems. Spurgeon also said:

"Among all the formative influences which go to make up a man honored of God in the ministry, I know of none more mighty than his own familiarity with the mercy sea t."—/bid., p. 41.

As ministers and pastors we must ever remem­ber our own soul's need. "'Take heed to your­selves,' says Baxter, 'for the enemy hath a special eye upon you. . . . As wise and learned as you are, take heed to yourselves lest he overwit you.' "—Ibid., p. 22.

Let us remember that God will never save any of us for being preachers, but because we are justified, sanctified men, and consequently faithful to our Master's work. The reason that we as ministers must pray is not because we are ministers, but because we are poor, needy creatures wholly dependent upon God's won­derful grace.

We must search ourselves very anxiously, lest after we have preached to others we ourselves should be castaways. We cannot keep the fires of our own hearts aglow unless day by day we have them replenished at the altar of God. This calls for solitary meditation, study, and prayer. A minister's program must above all determine a portion of each day to be allotted to the feeding of his own soul. "Take heed [first] unto thyself."

Rest and Relaxation

In considering rest and relaxation we are still dealing with the imperatives, the essentials, of a minister's program. This necessity cannot be ignored if our work is to be efficient and acceptable. Ellen G. White says in Gospel Workers:

"Some of our ministers feel that they must every day perform some labor that they can report to the conference. And as the result of trying to do this, their efforts are too often weak and inefficient. They should have periods of rest, of entire freedom from taxing labor."—Page 240.

To his apostles Jesus said, "Come ye your­selves apart .. . , and rest a while" (Mark 6:31). And we are told:

"Christ's words of compassion are spoken to His workers to-day just as surely as to His disciples. . . . It is not wise to be always under the strain of work and excitement, even in ministering to men's spirit­ual needs; for in this way personal piety is neglected, and the powers of mind and soul and body are overtaxed. . . .

"God is merciful, full of compassion, reasonable in His requirements. . . . He would not have us work under a pressure and strain until exhaustion follows, with prostration of the nerves. There is need that God's chosen workmen should listen to the command to go apart and rest awhile."—Ibid., pp. 243-245.


As we have noted, "They [ministers] should have periods of rest, of entire freedom from taxing labor." The next sentence reads, "But these cannot take the place of daily physical exercise."—Ibid., p. 240. Here, then, is another essential that needs emphasis—daily physical exercise. Preaching and visiting and adminis­tering to the varied needs that arise is exhaust­ing work when done faithfully, conscien­tiously, and well. It produces mental strain and fatigue. Physical exercise draws the blood from the brain to other portions of the body, stimu­lates the circulation of the blood, aids digestion, and produces many blessings healthwise. It in­vigorates and refreshes, helps us to sleep better at night and to accomplish more useful work during the day. Daily exercise is part of our business. It is essential to successful ministry.

"Brethren, when you take time to cultivate your garden, thus gaining the exercise needed to keep the system in good working order, you are just as much doing the work of God as in holding meetings."­Ibid.

A still more pointed statement is found in Evangelism:

"It is a positive necessity to physical health and mental clearness to do some manual work during the day."—Page 661.

A Planned Program

Now the problem is how we might best or­ganize our work so that these six essentials will all be given their proper place. We should examine our work and organize it in such a way that our ministry will represent a well-balanced program rather than a frantic effort to keep up with the responsibilities by a hit-and-miss and too often futile, frustrated ap­proach. It is possible to wear ourselves out more by worrying about when we are going to do this or that than by actually performing the work itself.

Obviously, we cannot follow identical pro­grams; our work is too varied, and our physical constitutions are different. A recent magazine article divided the different types of individuals into three categories as follows:

  1. Those who start out in the morning "with a bang" but are "all in" by nightfall.
  2. Those who find it hard to get up in the morning, start out slowly, but are all warmed up by evening and then work half the night.
  3. Those who start well, slow down during the middle of the day, perhaps taking a little nap after dinner, and then are hard at it again in the evening.

Recognizing that we are different and that our programs will vary, each of us should never­theless have a program. We shall someday be called to give account of the way we have used our time in God's work. Of Christ it is said:

"Christ gave no stinted service. He did not measure His work by hours. His time, His heart, His soul and strength, were given to labor for the benefit of humanity. Through weary days He toiled, and through long nights He bent in prayer for grace and endurance that He might do a larger work."—Gospel Workers, pp. 292, 293.

"Those who study how to give as little as possible of their physical, mental, and moral power, are not the workers upon whom He can pour out abundant blessings."—/bid., p. 292.

Let us study how we can do a larger work.

Such study is given, not that we may discover ways of doing less for God, but rather that we may be stimulated to so plan our program that our valuable time, that precious talent, may be returned with usury. If our time is well planned, we will be less apt to waste any part of it. If our work is fvell planned, we will be less apt to let things of minor importance crowd out the imperatives.

"The reason so many of our ministers preach tame, lifeless discourses is that they allow a variety of things of a worldly nature to take their time and attention."—Ibid., p. 272.

"Let the ministers make the actions of each day a subject of careful thought and deliberate review, with the object of becoming better acquainted with their own habits of life."—Ibid., p. 275.

"Persons who have not acquired habits of close industry and economy of time, should have set rules to prompt them to regularity and dispatch. George Washington was enabled to perform a great amount of business because he was thorough in pre­serving order and regularity. Every paper had its date and its place, and no time was lost in looking up what had been mislaid.

"Men of God must be diligent in study, earnest in the acquirement of knowledge, never wasting an hour."—Ibid., pp. 277, 278.

Concerning our odd moments, we are told:

"Take a book with you to read when traveling on the cars or waiting in the railway station. Em­ploy every spare moment in doing something."­Ibid., p. 279.

The formula for success is stated thus:

"His [the worker for God] success will be pro­portionate to the degree of consecration and self-sacrifice in which his work is done. . . . Hard study and hard work are required to make a successful minister or a successful worker in any branch of God's cause."—/bid., pp. 70, 71.

James Stewart, in his excellent book Heralds of God, states:

". . . if ever a man finds the work of the ministry becoming easily manageable and surmountable, an undemanding vocation without strain or any encum­bering load of care, he is to be pitied, not congratu­lated."—Page 199.

Let us remember this encouraging statement:

"God has provided divine assistance for all the emergencies to which our human resources are un­equal. He gives the Holy Spirit to help in every strait, to strengthen our hope and assurance, to illuminate our minds and purify our hearts. . . . I bid you seek counsel from God. Seek Him with the whole heart, and 'whatsoever He saith unto you, do' (John 2:5)."Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 415.

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ORLEY M. BERG, Pastor-evangelist, Southern California Conference

January 1955

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