Ministers know that in the ministry you do a hundred things, and they are all important. When I was helping to start a seminary, at the same time I served full-time as the only minister for a church of eight hundred people. As you can imagine, I felt overwhelmed. I was working ninety to a hundred hours a week. I could have used another hundred hours. The consistory (church officers) became concerned and asked me to make a list of everything I was doing. I wrote a long list of every activity, every class, and every committee. We talked about it all evening, and in the end they decided I should delete only one thing—the half-hour of teaching I gave the consistory each meeting about being effective church officers!
The point is that ministers bear great burdens, and churches often have huge expectations of them. This is as true in small churches as in large ones, if not more so. I would not argue that most of these activities are not important. Who can measure the value of counseling a couple seeking help for a marriage in crisis? Who can put a price tag on catechizing young people in the basics of the faith? So we pour ourselves out for the sake of others. Yet people still wonder, “What does he do with all his time during the week?”
A pastor can be very godly and earnest about serving the Lord but still fail to discharge his primary calling to preach the Word if he does not hold himself to biblical priorities. The classic example of right priorities is found in Acts 6. A very significant ministry need had emerged. In a time without old-age pensions, social insurance, or government programs for the poor, a group of Christian widows was being neglected. They were not receiving food. They might have starved. The church in Jerusalem was led by the apostles at that time. They immediately took the initiative to address the problem. But they did not take the responsibility on themselves; they instead delegated it to seven godly men.
Why didn’t the apostles personally oversee this precious ministry of mercy? Couldn’t at least some of the Twelve have taken it on? Were they lazy and selfish? Were they too proud for such a lowly task? No, these men laid down their lives for the gospel in the face of dangerous persecution (Acts 5:29–33). Were they distant and aloof, and therefore not willing to be personally involved in people’s lives? No, they constantly taught “in the temple, and in every house” (Acts 5:42). Why, then, did they delegate this work? They said, “It is not reason [right] that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. . . . But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2, 4).
The apostolic pattern gives highest priority to the ministry of prayer and the Word. This priority has been passed down to today’s ministers of the Word. Literally the text says, “But as for us, to the prayer and to the ministry of the word we will diligently devote ourselves.” The use of the idiomatic “the prayer” implies that this was leading in prayer at set times in the public assemblies (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 3:1). So the highest priorities of the pastor are to prepare and lead the public worship of the church, and to devote himself to the ministry of the Word.
I am not advising you to neglect other aspects of ministry. But I am calling you to say, “No,” or, “Wait,” to anything that makes you neglect the core of your ministry: the preaching of the Word. You are a minister of the Word. Who does God count as a good minister? The Bible says a good minister is a man who feeds himself in the Word in order to feed others: “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained” (1 Tim. 4:6).
No matter how many legitimate tasks clamor for your attention or how many needy people cry out for your time, the ministry of the Word must dominate your life. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can put it off because other things are more pressing. A lack of discipline and courage in this area will undermine your ministry. Sometimes you just have to humble yourself, pick up the phone, and reschedule that appointment so that you will have time to devote yourself to prayer and the Word. You have to avoid wasting time online or reading frivolous books, and give yourself to disciplined study. Ministerial study can be wearisome to the flesh, and that fact is not appreciated by many in the church, but it is essential and life-giving to the soul, and therefore to your congregation.
If you faithfully give yourself to prayer and the Word while attending to other ministry tasks, you will be surprised how the Lord blesses your whole ministry. Our time management is like tithing our money. People who faithfully tithe regularly discover that they have more with 90 percent (or less) than they had with 100 percent of their income. God provides. Similarly, God blesses ministers when we obey the priorities commanded in his Word. We would have less need for personal counseling if we provided more application in the pulpit. We would have less problems in the church and face them with greater wisdom and power if we prayed more for the Word of Christ to dwell richly in us and our congregations. We don’t have time not to pray.
Sometimes it is helpful to actually write down your ministry functions, as I mentioned earlier, and then to prioritize them. Everything that is before you can be categorized as either something you must do, should do, or would like to do. In reality, you rarely ever have time to do items in the third category. You often have to delay or delegate items in the second category. But you must do the first things. And one thing that a pastor must do is prayerfully and studiously prepare for preaching the Word.
At the core of prioritizing the ministry of the Word is our confidence in the power of the Bible. Kent Hughes says, “No one will give his life to biblical exposition who does not believe in Scripture’s potency.” If you think that it’s more important that you lead a meeting or attend a social function, and so sermon preparation must take a back seat, then what do you really believe about the Word of God? Perhaps you object, “I believe the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God.” Yes, but do you believe that the Bible is powerful?
Can you affirm these biblical assertions with all your heart?
– For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Rom. 1:16).
– For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
– For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it (Isa. 55:10–11).
– How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? . . . So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:14, 17).
If you can say these things sincerely, then you can also say, “There are many things that would be good to do, but there is one thing that I must do: prayerfully preach the Word.” Indeed, that is the very thing to which you have been called by God and his church.
The Reformers understood this priority and staked their lives on it. They consumed their time and energy with studying, preaching, and teaching the Holy Scriptures. They implemented it in their very architecture, placing the pulpit front and center in their places of worship instead of images and sacramental tables. They confessed it in their catechisms with words that would surprise many today, declaring that the Holy Spirit “works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel.” What? What about small groups, personal devotions, mercy ministry to the poor, reading good books, and friendship evangelism? All those things have their place. But God’s primary means of saving the lost and sanctifying the saved is the preaching of the Word.
If you are called to preach the Word, then give it the best hours of your life.
 R. Kent Hughes, “Restoring Biblical Exposition to Its Rightful Place,” in Reforming Pastoral Ministry, 84.
 Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 65, in Joel R. Beeke, ed., Doctrinal Standards, Liturgy, and Church Order (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2003), 53.