Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Achieving and Maintaining Ministerial Balance (Part 1 of 3)

     As an undergraduate college student I considered myself a very busy person, with all the classes, assignments, campus jobs, club meetings, social activities, et al. Then after a number of post-college years outside “the bubble,” I realized how comparatively light my college schedule actually was! If attempting to accomplish multiple tasks is likened to juggling, I was learning to handle a few ping pong balls in school compared to the numerous bowling balls I was trying to keep in the air years later.
     I have had the privilege of working as an unmarried evangelist, a married and childless evangelist, and a married evangelist with children. Each of these situations has its own unique benefits and challenges. As a single man, I certainly had more time to devote to the Lord’s work without worrying about neglecting a family (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35). The problem is, others were more than willing to step in and occupy my time and attention, and there was no one else in my life to help redirect my focus and to balance out the work load.
     As a family man, to the already demanding juggling routine were added some major bowling balls that I absolutely could not afford to drop. While my wife, followed by our first child and then our second, were (and still are) huge blessings to me, the pursuit of a balanced lifestyle became much more daunting. Then came the doctoral studies on top of a full-time job and a full-time family. The world record for the most bowling balls juggled is three, and I was attempting to do even more. It didn’t take long to realize that there were literally not enough hours in a day or enough energy in my limited reserves to accomplish all that needed to be done.
     “Therefore look carefully how you are walking, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).1 The essence of what Paul is saying here is captured in familiar renderings such as, “making the most of your time” (NASB), “making the best use of your time” (ESV), and “making the most of every opportunity” (NIV). But these popular translations have missed a subtle yet significant nuance in the text.
     The present participial form of exagorazō (lit. “redeeming,” cf. ASV, N/KJV) is employed in the original. The verb itself means to exchange one thing for another, while the present tense conveys a continual or ongoing action. The implication is that everyone has been entrusted with a limited amount of time each day, gradually adding up to a lifetime. Paul is admonishing his readers to carefully consider the things they regard as so important that they are willing to exchange for them the precious time that has been placed in their hands. 
     The expression “desk” is used here as a synecdoche, inclusive of the preacher’s office, library, and/or computer. As ministers of the gospel, our desks can be one of our best allies or one of our worst enemies. While we do not wear official titles, there are several descriptive terms that identify what we are called to do. A preacher preaches, a teacher instructs, a minister serves, and an evangelist evangelizes. I cannot do an effective job as a preacher or a Bible teacher by avoiding my desk, and I cannot realistically do the work of a minister or an evangelist while at my desk.
     The number of blog posts and published articles and plethoric comments on social media from some preachers give the impression that they are hardly ever away from their computers. No doubt a certain amount of good can be accomplished through the widespread dissemination of written words via the Internet. However, the biggest impact we will ever make on people’s lives is not going to happen while sitting alone at a computer.
     Evangelism, i.e. effectually communicating the good news of Christ’s message to those who are unfamiliar with it, is the essential work of an evangelist. Obviously one cannot legitimately be described as an evangelist if he is not actively engaged in evangelizing. If this happens to be the case because too many additional activities have been allowed into the juggling routine, why is it that evangelism usually gets dropped before so many other endeavors of far lesser consequence? Am I hoping that someone somewhere in the world is reading what I’m posting on the web, while there are scores of individuals in my own community who are not being reached?
     The sad reality is that many (most?) of our congregations are not growing as they should, and souls are not being saved in significant numbers. If members of the church have somehow come to believe that evangelism is solely the job of a religious professional, they clearly need to be taught otherwise (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). But if the preacher himself is not evangelizing, he has forfeited one of his very best teaching tools – his own example (cf. 1 Corinthian 4:16; 11:1; 2 Timothy 3:10; 4:5).
     I cannot effectively communicate God’s word without sufficient time invested in study and preparation. Neither can I effectively communicate God’s word if I am not connected with those I am trying to reach. Too little time behind the desk and my teaching and preaching suffer. Too much time behind the desk and my ministry and evangelism suffer. There has to be a consistent balance.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation.
Published in So You Want to Be a Preacher, ed. David Powell. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 2013: 220-29.

Related PostsAchieving Balance Part 2Part 3

Related Articles: Jeremiah Tatum's Advice for Younger Preachers
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