One of the greatest challenges of the ministry is that of time management. There are always more things to do each day than there is time to accomplish them. Few pastors have escaped the thought at the end of a busy day that he could have been a better steward of the hours God had entrusted to him that day. In this posting I would like to humbly put forward a proposal that could revolutionize a pastor’s ability to free up time and, if implemented fully, would make the struggle for more time a thing of the past. I know I have set the bar pretty high with such a claim but please, read what I have to propose carefully and don’t turn me off until you have heard me out (and please, read this through to the end to get the full impact of my suggestion).
Let’s begin with one of the most time consuming activities on the pastor’s plate—hospital calling. It often comes as an interruption of the normal schedule. People do not experience serious medical problems on a schedule. Yet, when they experience them, you want to be there to minister the comfort and encouragement that only the Scriptures have to offer. It is important work. Unfortunately, making one’s way to most large hospitals through busy traffic, finding a parking place, navigating the maze of hallways and staircases to find the right room only to find your patient has been taken away for tests can be frustrating. In such cases, it is usually a better investment of time to simply wait until your patient’s tests are completed rather than fight the traffic to return later. After you are finally able to spend ten minutes with your church member you leave to make your way to the room of your only other hospitalized church member, who is in the hospital on the other side of town.
Not only are the logistics a problem, often your people will be experiencing life threatening illnesses. Comforting the family and ministering to the patient can be an emotionally draining experience for the pastor. It is difficult to shut those emotions off after such a visit in order to focus on the other responsibilities of the day. Entire days of the pastoral schedule are easily lost to this one activity.
Here is my proposal. Instead of the pastor making special trips to the hospital to minister to one or two people, the churches in each city should get together and employ one man to do all the hospital calling for each church at once! No wait, hear me out. This one man would only have to make the one trip and could visit 20 patients rather than 20 pastors making 20 trips to visit one patient each.
There are a number of benefits to this arrangement. First, your church member would receive wonderful, expert care. Think about it. You only visit two or three patients each week but this “hospital services provider” would be visiting scores. Such a man would soon gain a significant amount of experience and expertise and would become quite proficient at knowing just what words to use, what Scriptures to turn to, and what kind of demeanor to employ in the various circumstances he encounters. You want your people to receive the very best care possible don’t you? How much better to have them ministered to by an experienced veteran of hospital calling than by someone like yourself who would only be doing it several times a week?
Second, this would not only relieve you of a great deal of lost time, but also of a large measure of pastoral angst. Why should twenty pastors in one city go away from hospitals with heavy hearts over the sorrow and grief his people are experiencing when all that can be placed on the shoulders of one man who has experience coping with that kind of heartache? Pastors could go about their other activities without having to carry with them the burdens of their church members.
I know, I know, you are thinking, “Our church struggles to meet the budget each month now, how can we afford to take on the additional expense of a part time ‘hospital services provider?'” Ah, this is the genius of my plan. It would not have to cost the church anything for this service! Since it is the individual church member, and not the congregation as a whole, who is consuming this service you simply charge each patient for the hospital call along with his other hospital expenses. This does two things, it puts the hired minister on piece work, thus motivating him to make as many hospital calls as possible each day, and it enables the church to accomplish this ministry without any added expense to the overall church budget.
“But doesn’t that just add an additional financial burden to those your sick church member is already shouldering?” Not necessarily. In many cases, if you can list a medical code on the patient’s chart that describes what was accomplished during the visit, you can trick . . . er, I mean persuade the insurance company to pick up the tab. It is a win/win arrangement for all involved.
This arrangement does not have to be limited to hospital calling. How about funerals? Death often intrudes upon a pastor’s time without warning. Good and profitable activity often has to be set aside to deal with an unexpected death. Again, why not partner with an outside “funeral ministry provider” who can stand ready to deal with deaths in all the churches in town? Again, this man, because of his experience, would be much better at providing comfort to a family than you—and you would not have to interrupt your carefully arranged schedule to deal with it. You would know your people were receiving the very best care and you would be free to keep to your prearranged schedule. Furthermore, since this is a service that is provided to just one family and not the church as a whole, the family consuming the services would be asked to pick up the tab for these services. It could simply be added to the bill the funeral home presents to the family.
How about weddings? Dogpatch had a colorful character by the name of Marryin’ Sam. Why shouldn’t every city have a “wedding services provider?”
In fact, this paradigm can be applied to the chief pastoral time consumer of all—sermon preparation. Why should every pastor in town spend countless hours pouring over books week after week preparing sermons that will only be preached once? As a conscientious pastor you want your people to be as well fed from the Word of God as is humanly possible. Are you really the best person to be preaching to your people? Most churches now have video projectors installed in the auditorium. Why not obtain video taped sermons preached by the very best preachers in the land, a “preaching services provider,” and present them to your people? John MacArthur is a better preacher than you are. Why not have him preach to your people each week? This will insure that your people are receiving the very best instruction from the Word and will free up countless hours for the pastor during the week.
OK, by this point you are either too angry with me to proceed or (more likely) you have figured out that all this has been tongue-in-cheek . . . sort of. But let me pull my tongue from my cheek and propose one more pastoral responsibility for this paradigm—counseling. I propose that all the churches in town band together to support a “counseling services provider” where all their people could be sent who are in need of counseling. It would save each individual pastor countless hours and the counselee would be better served by going to someone who is an expert. This “adjunct” minister would then charge the counselee for his services and the pastor (and church budget) would be free from such a burden.
But wait, you probably recognize that this is not a new idea at all. It is, instead, a common practice. Does it really differ from my other proposed applications of the paradigm?
One question that arises pertains to the name and identity of these “counseling services providers.” One such “counseling services provider,” makes this suggestion:
“Rent-a-pastor” (is) a possibility but it certainly lacks gravitas. Pastoral “partner” is ambiguous. Academia has a position called “adjunct,” which might capture the relationship . . . (These) independent counselors could function as adjunct ministers . . . They may not be full-time members of a counselee’s local church, but in essence, they are temporarily secunded to the church staff. Whatever the designation, independent counselors could be seen to function as part-time ministers hired by your church.
For this free lance counselor, the term “rent-a-pastor” well describes such an individual and is rejected only because it is not sufficiently weighty. The problem with recognizing a “counseling services provider” as an “adjunct” minister is that he is no such thing! It is correct to note it is an academic model, but it certainly is not a biblical one. The biblical model is one of a shepherd who cares for the sheep that have been entrusted to his care, sheep for whom the shepherd must give account (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2). Tragedy often ensues when others, who do not own the sheep, are hired to care for them (John 10:12-13).
“But there are some very real problems that hiring a ‘counseling services provider’ does solve,” you say.
Well, let’s look at some of those problems. First is the problem of time. Counseling does take time, lots of it. But it is the ministry of the Word of God, the very thing the pastor has been called to do. Why would he choose to farm it out and not hospital calling, preaching, or funerals? Is the ministry of the Word of God to individuals across a desk a lesser important task than these others? We all have the time to do what is important to us. If the ministry of the Word of God to the flock God has entrusted to you does not rise to the top of the pile what does? What exactly are your priorities, Pastor?
“But I am not sufficiently trained for counseling. A ‘counseling services provider’ is better trained and has more experience.”
I have two responses when I hear such talk. My first is, “Well, why aren’t you sufficiently trained? You invested years in seminary education as well as thousands of dollars to learn to preach and pastor a church. Why did you not prepare yourself to counsel as well? What exactly did you think you would be doing as a pastor?”
My second response, when I hear pastors protest that they are not sufficiently trained, is “Oh yes you are!” Any pastor with solid biblical/theological/exegetical training is 97% of the way there. He is already miles ahead of anyone whose qualifications consist of a psychological degree or a license from the state to do counseling or social work. In addition to a theological education, well prepared pastors also took courses in homiletics in order to better prepare themselves to minister the Word from behind a pulpit. In the same way, a bit of additional training in how to minister the Word from behind the counselor’s desk is also in order. If this training was not obtained in seminary it can easily be secured from other sources these days.
Counseling is the ministry of the Word of God. It is pastoral ministry. Would you consider contracting others to do your praying for you, your Bible study, your preaching, your comforting, or your oversight of the flock? Then why would you be willing to forsake your God given responsibility to minister the Word of God in the counseling room and farm it out to others?