Pastoral priorities

1978 can prove to be an exciting year for both the pastor and his congregation. John McGraw and Eric Ward share with us some of their methods and formulas for ensuring a successful pastoral year.

Eric C. Ward is pastor of the Oakwood College church, Huntsville, Alabama.

As the story goes, Alexander the Great at age 19 sat with his father, Phillip II, watching a horse show. One horse could not be mounted nor ridden by anyone. Every rider was thrown from his back. Finally, Alexander said to his father, "I'd like to have permission from you to mount and ride that horse. I feel I can do it."

Hesitantly the father gave permission, and Alexander went down to the arena, placed his hand on the horse, turned the horse's face toward the east, mounted the hand some black stallion, rode him the full circumference of the coliseum, stopped, dismounted, and tied him to the starting post as the crowd stood, roaring their ovation.

As Alexander walked up to his father, who was standing in the royal gallery, Phillip inquired, "Son, how did you do it?" "Father, it was simple. I merely turned the face of the horse to the face of the sun so that he could no longer be frightened by the shadow of the rider. I noticed that each time a rider sought to mount the horse, he was frightened by the shadow. With my shadow behind him, the horse had no fear of me as the rider."

Alexander later recounted that his teacher, Aristotle, told him "to always keep my shadow behind me, and I would be able to conquer the world."

As spiritual leaders, we too must lead our families, congregations, and especially our youth to do three things:

1. Keep as realistically as we can the shadows of failures and mistakes of the past behind us.

2. Turn our faces and faith anew to the Sun of Righteousness.

3. And mount this new year's priorities, challenges, and goals with positiveness, assurance, and confidence.

As a pastor, I face at least four basic priorities that need evaluation when I begin a new year. They are: personal priorities, family priorities, church priorities, and community priorities.

Personal priorities

First in importance among the priorities we as pastors face is our own personal commitment to Christ and His imminent second coming.

As I face the year 1978 I ask my self, Does my life reflect the effulgency of a born-again experience that is unquestioned in my own con science? It is only when this experience is firm, and takes top priority, that I as a pastor can lead God's people into a similar experience.

This personal confirmation to Christ and the gospel ministry does not come in the pulpit, the public arena, or the policy-making boards of the congregation, but it comes largely in private, in positive prayer, devotional, and Bible-study emphasis.

I must frankly and courageously ask myself, How much time do I spend in the personal study of the Word of God, not just for sermonic preparation, graduate study, or for public delivery, but for bathing my own soul in the pronouncements of Holy Writ as it applies to me?

Do I give priority to academic improvement in my ministry? Even if I have a terminal degree, or degrees, am I still improving what I have?

Do I take as a major priority my health? Am I still conscious that my body is indeed and in fact "the temple of God" (1 Cor. 3:16; 10:31)? Are there health-destroying personal habits that may disqualify me from being a fit abode for the full indwelling of the Holy Spirit? These and many like questions should be top priorities as we ministers face the new year.

And, conversely, it may be not so much what I am physically doing that I need to reevaluate, but what I am not doing in getting proper rest, exercise, diversion from the pressures of even a positive, popular, and pleasurable ministry.

Family priorities

If there is one priority over an other that the full-time, active, and dedicated pastor may be guilty of neglecting more than any other it is his family.

Meetings, committees, conferences, boards, visits, calls, counseling, and all other related types of activities are the package, parcel, and portion experienced in the life of the modern-day pastor who is doing anything to build up the kingdom of God on earth. Yet the minister's duty is to his children. He should not become so engrossed with outside duties as to neglect his own children. Home duties sometimes may seem of lesser importance, but in reality they lie at the very foundation of the well-being of individuals and of society.

Responding to this challenge there are at least three things we should plan to do this year:

1. We should make ourselves our children's companion and friend. This means taking them with us when possible on appointments where reasonable and appropriate, and also taking time to become acquainted with their interests and concerns.

2. We need to do everything possible to keep them from evil associates, and should see that they have useful work to do. My father, who was a building contractor, never let me stay in bed after 6:00 A.M. any working morning after I became a teen-ager. He always had more work for me than I could do between sunrise and sunset.

3. As pastors and fathers we should do all in our power to lead our children to God. The greatest revival a pastor can experience is the evangelization of his family morning and evening at the family altar, and at any time during the day. Making home life fun with father is our duty.

There must above all be specific times when the pastor-husband gives personal and specific time to the first lady in his life. To neglect that "date" with her can prove tragic. Our wives by and large demand very little of us. A trip to the mall, the shopping center, the grocery store, or a meal out together may be a great help in keeping them happy.

Church priorities

Just as there is no substitute for a well-ordered home so there is no substitute for a well-ordered and organized church. A very brief list of some things that we should have well in hand as we face the new year are:

1. A balanced sermonic calendar. Will I be preaching and ministering to the needs of my congregation? Survey sheets passed out to the membership, asking them to either suggest or check from a recom mended prepared list the topics they would like covered during the coming year, may prove to be a great help both to the pastor and to his congregation. It could save us the embarrassment of answering questions people are not asking. A balanced sermonic calendar gives some time during the calendar year to coverage of the basic doctrines of the church. It also provides basic instruction on the duties of the Christian life in and out of the home and in and out of the church. It includes all age levels in its format, as well as departments of the church.

2. Church officers and departmental planning and training sessions. Generally, well-informed and trained church officers lead to a well-informed and trained church. Time spent in training prior to or at the beginning of the year is time well spent. I like to spend one solid month with church officers in review of their duties and training.

3. Revival and evangelistic campaigns. It is always wise to plan with a congregation a three-to-five year, or more, program of outreach, both for maintaining the current congregation as well as projecting new congregations through the vehicle of public and personal evangelism.

4. Pastoral visitation program. The wise pastor shares responsibility. This includes visitation. Most pastors, even those with small congregations, divide the parish or congregation up to be visited by church officers, stewards, trustees, deacons, deaconesses, elders, ministers, associates; and in many cases the whole congregation exchanges visits every Tuesday or some given night of a given month so that twelve times a year every member either receives and/or makes a visit in the home.

5. Capital improvements and financial budgeting. No church can successfully operate without a capital improvement and maintenance program. This naturally involves money. Money involves budgets. Budgets are simply controlled means of managing money, and are extremely important when we deal with God's money.

In administering the large sums provided, the pastor must quickly and wisely learn to lean heavily upon resource persons in his congregation and community. These persons of experience should be involved in gathering facts and making decisions that involve the expenditure of the church's means. In large churches this involves many months, weeks, days, and hours of committee boards and planning meetings before major and accurate decisions are reached.

Community priorities

Every truly balanced pastorate must include community involvement and concern among its priorities. This can include belonging to an interdenominational ministerial fellowship, cooperating with the city and county mental associations, city and county medical testing pro grams, becoming involved in community senior-citizen housing and civil-rights organizations, as well as inner-city services, police communication, recreation and parks, businessmen's association, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts or Pathfinder groups, civic government and jail ministry, voter education, urban renewal, and with media and business interests.

As I list even these few areas that the pastor must concern himself with and continually assess and re view as he faces the new year, I sense how overwhelming is our challenge. But even more than this I'm concerned about the basic motivation that drives me as a pastor, an ambassador of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I think the apostle Paul best ex pressed my response to the challenge of this new year when he wrote to the Corinthian believers as the great undershepherd of Jesus Christ, "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake" (1 Cor. 9:22, 23).


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Eric C. Ward is pastor of the Oakwood College church, Huntsville, Alabama.

February 1978

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