I was invited to lead a seminar called “Challenges for the Adventist Pastor.” Some attendees prepared to take notes, though one participant seemed disappointed when my first item appeared on the screen: “Challenge One: Struggling to Spend Time With God.”
Spending time with God is not a challenge for pastors, is it?
I have always worked in libraries while pursuing my degrees, but never had time to read books when on duty. During my undergraduate studies, my student job description included helping patrons locate books. I knew where to find various genres of publications, books, periodicals, dissertations, and more. Often, while I was relocating books and periodicals, I would come across interesting titles and write them down to read “later,” though I rarely did.
While pursuing my master’s degree, I was hired as a student worker at Andrews University’s library in the acquisitions section. My supervisor would regularly give me a list of hundreds of books to order. I would again get excited about a recent publication and make a note to read it, though it almost never happened. One day, I could not take it anymore, so I talked to my supervisor. He told me a story of a lady applying for a job at the library. When asked why she wanted the job, she said that she loved reading. The interview team members laughed at the obvious: a library worker does not have time to read books.
No time for God
In a similar way, pastors may struggle to make time for God. Is it not obvious that pastors spend their entire work day praying with people, reading and teaching the Scriptures, and leading spiritual meetings? Yes, but a reality check will show that ministry gets hectic, and we may end up so busy doing God’s work that we forget about the God for whom we work.
Jonathan,1 after 19 years of ministry, acknowledges that in the various positions he served, “one of the biggest obstacles I find is making room for God in my daily schedule.” Another pastor confessed, “The burdens of ministry are great. I’m preacher, counselor, secretary, and sometimes maintenance man at our small church. I carry a heavy burden for the spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being of my flock. Satan continually attacks in one way or another. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to fight the battle anymore.”2
Are these pastors alone? Not really. Many pastors find that ministry can be overwhelming, which makes it hard for them to take time for God.
A survey of 1,050 pastors in 2005 and 2006 found that 72 percent said they studied the Bible only when preparing sermons or lessons. In other words, only 38 percent of the surveyed pastors read the Bible for devotions and personal study.3 Another survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors, in 2009, indicated that 65 percent work at least 50 hours a week. Some said they work at least 70 hours per week. According to the source, “meetings and electronic correspondence consume large amounts of time for many ministers, while counseling, visitation, family time, prayer, and personal devotions suffer in too many cases.” Concretely, the source argues that “the amount of time spent in prayer and personal devotions raises questions about the vitality of many pastors’ spiritual lives. While 52 percent report spending one to six hours in prayer each week, five percent say they spend no time at all in prayer. Furthermore, while 52 percent say they spend two to five hours a week in personal devotions unrelated to teaching preparation, 14 percent indicate they spend an hour or less in personal devotions each week.”4
When I read an interesting biblical text, I find it very hard not to think that it will make a good sermon. A regular church member would probably look at that text and, if it impresses him or her, would think something like, Wow, what a wonderful message God is giving me! There is nothing wrong with taking note on a potential preaching idea during your devotional time, but we cannot be derailed from our devotional life to pursue sermon preparation. Yes, praise God for the opportunity He gives me to preach, but if I think about a text only from the perspective of a pastor, I might fail to receive the message God sends me as His child.
Ellen White once warned, “Overburdened, a minister is often so hurried that he scarcely finds time to examine himself, whether he be in the faith. He finds very little time to meditate and pray. Christ in His ministry united prayer with work. Night after night He spent wholly in prayer.... Ministers must seek God for His Holy Spirit, in order that they may present the truth aright.”5
Those involved in pastoral ministry face the temptation of praying for others while neglecting personal prayer time; we find it easy to spend a lot of time studying the Word in order to preach it to others, but we find no room for personal time with God’s Word.
Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola confidentially interviewed five Protestant pastors6 still engaged with parishes but who don’t believe in God. Three were from “liberal” denominations, two from “more conservative” traditions.7
“I remember standing with an umbrella outside in a thunderstorm,” said Adam, one of the five. “It was lightning. I prayed to God that He would take my life before I lost my faith.” From his perspective of eternity, Adam argued that if God foresaw he was going to lose his faith and would have to banish him to hell forever, “it seemed like the most loving thing He could do was to take my life while I still believed, and I honestly prayed that. And of course, nothing happened.” His final argument was that, because nothing happened, God was either “so loving He’s going to keep giving me more chances or you know, He’s really not there.” Adam concluded that God does not exist.8
As extreme as this example may be, it illustrates the danger of overlooking the importance of our relationship with God. We may not necessarily end up giving up our faith in God, but if disconnected from Him, we are in a dangerous situation.
Read this testimony sent directly to Adventist pastors: “In visions of the night I was in a company where our ministers were assembled. A few were humbling themselves before God and confessing their sins. They were weeping, and pleading with God to spare his people and to give not his heritage to reproach. But with many there was no special burden to get near to the Lord.” Ellen White adds that “while some of the ministers were brokenly calling upon the Lord, and were weighted down as a cart beneath sheaves, the hearts of many were untouched.”9
Adolph, an ordained Seventh-day Adventist pastor for 12 years, shared some of his story. “Very often, church members in the congregations I lead ask me to pray for them. When I visit somebody in the hospital, I have to pray. In almost every meeting I attend—from church potlucks to small group meetings and church board meetings—somebody asks me to be the one who prays because I am the pastor. Young people usually ask me to pray for their particular issues, and adults request prayer for their finances, their marriage, and a thousand other things. However, I am rarely able to spend some unrushed time with God on my own when I’m not on duty as a pastor.”
Roberto, another pastor, confessed, “We are very skilled professionals in God’s Word and in prayer but applying all of that to our walk with God is another story.”
Abdullah converted t o Christianity from Islam. Some years later, he became a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. When I talked with him about this issue, he looked at me like somebody who longs for better times and said, “I was actually more prayerful before becoming a pastor.” Although he was honoring his title—“God’s servant”— by traveling to many countries and preaching the gospel in various languages, he had somehow forgotten this aspect of his own relationship with God.
Joo-Chan, a Korean Seventh-day Adventist pastor, puts it this way, “Prayer is the key for success in ministry. And it has been the key for my personal life too. How in the world could a pastor survive without prayer?”
What can we do?
I believe that, as pastors, we need to be intentional in taking time for God. And our plans need to distinguish clearly between the time we will spend working for God and the time we spend being with Him. Whatever our other duties, we cannot let our time with God slowly and unintentionally shift to the back seat of our priorities.
Ellen White tells us that “there is too little prayer among the ministers of Christ”;10 “there is too little time spent in secret prayer and in sacred meditation. The cry of God’s servants should be for the holy unction and to be clothed with salvation, that what they preach may reach hearts.”11 She urged ministers to go before God in prayer, “confessing their sins, and with all the simplicity of a little child ask for the blessings that they need.”12
Jesus, our sinless Savior, made devotion a daily habit. One day, after Jesus fed thousands, He “made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray” (Matt. 14:22, 23, NIV).
Now it is not that we are going to put aside our pastoral duties and pray all day. Ellen White suggests that our life must be like Christ’s life, “between the mountain and the multitude”; she adds that “he who does nothing but pray will soon cease to pray, or his prayers will become a formal routine.”13 Besides working for God, we need to find time to pray and read the Bible in order to fortify our minds with the truths of the Bible, so that we can stand through the last great conflict.14
It’s good to watch God do miracles around us, but it is much better and more enjoyable to watch Him do miracles in our own lives as well. If we are too busy to be in close communion with the Lord, we are too busy to be Adventist ministers!
1 Pastors’ names have been changed for confidentiality.
2 H. B. London, “Personal Devotions,” Focus on the Family: Pastoral Ministries. Broadcast Audio File, 2007, http://fotf.cdnetworks.net/pastoral/p2p/p2p089/p2p-089-complete.mp3 (accessed June 23, 2011).
3 Richard J. Krejcir, “Statistics on Pastors,” The Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development, 2007, http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=36562 (accessed June 23, 2011).
4 Mark Kelly, “LifeWay Research Finds Pastors Long Work Hours Can Come at the Expense of People, Ministry,” LifeWay Research, January 5, 2010, http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=169952 (accessed June 23, 2011).
5 Ellen White, Evangelism (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), 91.
6 Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola report that the denominations represented are Southern Baptist, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Church of Christ.
7 Dennett and LaScola, “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” Evolutionary Psychology 8, no. 1 (2010): 122, 123.
8 CBC Radio, “Preachers Who Don’t Believe in God,” http:// www.cbc.ca/video/news/audioplayer.html?clipid=1822271360 (accessed June 23, 2011).
9 White, Spalding and Magan Collection (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 1985), 437.
10 White, Evangelism, 641.
11 White, The Voice in Speech and Song (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1988), 219.
12 White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1962), 153.
13 White, Steps to Christ (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1994), 101.
14 White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2005), 593, 594
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