Years ago, I came across this brilliant advice from a man named Sam Stanley, “There’s really only time for two things in ministry. Lead a fine worship. Visit the people. The program, leave to volunteers and gung-ho seminarians.” That quote has been the most helpful guide for me in ministry. The closer I get to making that my true––and full––job description, the happier I am, and the better off my church is.
I’ve been calling this the “classical pastor” model. It’s classical because it follows the primary tasks of most pastors through history. It’s classical because it’s simple and restrained. It affords little time for today’s favored tasks: strategic planning, entrepreneurial leadership, and vision-casting.
JD Walt recently diagnosed the American Church’s problems this way: “We’ve mastered the art of growing churches that don’t grow people.” We should expect nothing less when our pastors become strategic-planning, vision-casting, plate-spinning entrepreneurs. An enterprise-oriented world designed these methods to grow enterprises that sell products or services.1 It didn’t design them to grow disciples or churches. Churches are organic units—families, communities, the body of Christ—not enterprises.
The “classical pastor” has two focuses. I’ll share about the first one here, the second one in a post to follow.
“Lead a Fine Worship”
Corporate worship has come under a lot of fire recently. “We spend too much time on this one hour of the week, not enough time on all the others.” “Too much focus on attracting people to our worship, not enough on going out in mission to the world.” “We should cancel worship and go do service work!” Christian writer Donald Miller said last year that he doesn’t attend worship services often. He defended his position by saying, “Most of the influential Christian leaders I know (who are not pastors) do not attend church.”2
To the contrary, I think of corporate worship as the most important time of the week for our community. Worship distinguishes the church as the church. It “bears the deepest faith of the church and forms us in that faith.”3
The classical pastor gives a lot of energy and attention to corporate worship. I might adapt the original statement to say, “Lead worship with intentionality and care.” When we say “Lead a fine worship” today, we may stop at asking whether it was a good show.
For me, this includes meeting with a worship design team every other week to plan well for worship. We read books about worship, review past weeks’ services, and plan for upcoming weeks. We work out practical details (e.g. Should the musicians sit down or stay up front at this point of the service?) but try to give our better time and energy to a thoughtful discussion about the liturgy and its leaders.
I also give a lot of attention to sermon preparation. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls true preaching “the most urgent need in the Christian Church today […] and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.”4 Again, teams have proven invaluable here. I meet with a sermon preparation team every other week. We do something like what our worship design team does, but with preaching as its focus..
In all, I try to devote 15 hours per week to sermon preparation. I budget 5 hours each for research, writing and refining/rehearsal. That pales in comparison to the amount of time other speakers give to their talks. Most advice I see for TED talks suggests that you should rehearse at least 15 hours for a 15-minute talk. But it’s also much more than I used to devote, and the extra time investment has made a big difference. When I shortchange research, writing, or rehearsal time, there’s a noticeable difference.
“Lead a fine worship” also includes special services like Ash Wednesday and Holy Week, weddings and funerals. What a privilege to officiate at those special ceremonies! When they come, they should receive the same care and planning as Sunday services.
That’s the first part of what it means to be a classical pastor. It’s probably the part still more common today. In the following post, I’ll share about “visiting the people.” I’ll conclude with a third task the classical pastor must make time for, and thoughts about scale and viability in 21st century America. To be sure you receive those, join my email updates list.
And for other discussion on these topics, see the “Related Posts” below and the posts linked throughout this article.
- Although even business books that church leaders love to read, like Good to Great, undermine this notion. Those “Good to Great” companies had a difficult time pointing back to their great, rah-rah, vision-casting turning point. Instead, they referenced a steady focus on what was most important. And church leaders, before you convene a strategic planning vision team to figure out what’s most important, here’s a simple head-start for you––it’s discipleship. Good to Great would suggest you spend less time casting some new vision for making disciples or getting everyone to memorize the new slogan, and instead just get seriously focused on making disciples. (Discipleship, as I’m using the term here, runs all the way from making people aware of God’s existence to commissioning and sending them into the world as pastors and apostles.) ↩
- Note: If you are being influenced by some “Christian leader” who doesn’t attend church, please don’t let them influence you about Christianity. They don’t understand it very well. Cyprian, a North African church father, has some advice for them: “You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the Church for your mother.” ↩
- From Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology, quoting Gordon Lathrop. ↩
- From Preaching and Preachers, p. 17. If I would quibble with him, I’d add to this liturgical renewal, on the whole. But true preaching is no small part of true worship. ↩