I was sitting at breakfast the other day, eating with one of our college students. He believes God has called him into the ministry, so on occasion, we get together to eat and talk. During the breakfast, he conducted an interview with me on ‘what’s working and what’s not’ for his seminary class. I really like this guy. I’ve known him since he was in the eight grade. He has a great heart and incredible potential.
While we were eating, he said, “I’ve got a title for your next book. You should call it, ‘Even the Lunchroom lady eats lunch’ and write it for ministers.” I asked him to explain. He said, “It would be about the importance of ministers getting alone or away and spending time with God.” Well, I owe this article and a book in progress to this young man. Let me make a few suggestions as to how you can feed people and eat lunch too.
Set aside a Study Week. One of the privileges I have as the pastor of the church I serve is that they believe in their preacher being prepared and prayed up. When I came to this church more than eleven years ago, no one had heard of a study week. By working with some of the key influencers and talking to the pulpit committee in advance, I was able to make a study week part of my schedule. This is not conference time or vacation time. This is time alone with God, in the Word, away from the church.
When I go on a Study Week, I usually go to the mountains of Tennessee and stay in a cabin our family owns. There, I take my Bible, a few resources, my laptop and I work on sermons. I may do advanced reading and word studies for an upcoming series. Most of the time, I am taking the files I’ve pulled together for a series I’m in and do my final preparation, editing on the messages. For at least 10-12 hours a day, I’m sitting at the desk or in a chair, reading, thinking and working. A study week is designed to help me get ahead of the curve. With ministry being a busy and unpredictable as it is, this time has been a lifesaver for me.
Set aside a day when you can’t be interrupted. This may sound hard to do, but you can do it. When I served a church in Fort Worth, I had a sign on the study door that said, “Dallas.” If a person called, my secretary would screen the calls. If it wasn’t an emergency, she would say, “I’m sorry, he’s in Dallas for the day.” Listen pastors, if you are always available, you aren’t worth much when you are.
Every Tuesday is my study day. I study at other times, but on Tuesday, the church and staff are aware that I am in my study working on sermons. I’ve been very upfront with our people about why I do this and how important it is. There are some who will never understand, but never run your life or ministry by the counsel or complaints of ungodly people.
Attend a conference. I’m not talking about a denominational meeting where you meet your preacher friends and plan out all the places you are going to eat. What I’m referring to here is a time when you go away and sit at the feet of a great teacher and become the student instead of the teacher. Every year, my wife and I spend a week at a conference listening to Warren Wiersbe. The place we go is relaxing, first class and always refreshing. This week has become a place of spiritual nourishment for us. I don’t go there to speak or even lead in silent prayer. I go for one reason, to listen and learn.
I am amazed at how few preachers attend these conferences every year. I’ve come to a conclusion as to the reason. Most of my peers don’t go to a conference unless they are on the program. It’s sad to me to sit in a conference with three hundred people and only see a hand full of ministers there. Most of those attending are lay people. Are the people in the pews more hungry to sit at the table of a great teacher of the Word than a God-called minister? If so, it’s a sad commentary about our priorities.
Thus, you have the idea for this article and a future book. Even lunchroom ladies eat lunch. The danger for those of us with a preaching or teaching ministry is we are constantly having to give out information. We are called on every week to deliver one to three new messages, sometimes more. If you are constantly giving out and never taking in, you will eventually run dry. The lunch room lady may serve hundreds of meals a day, but at some point, she has to sit down and eat herself.
The Scripture describes the Word of God as meat, bread, milk and honey. If we don’t develop a healthy appetite for the Word, we will be giving our people something we haven’t digested ourselves. The end results? Preaching someone else’s message. It’s easy to do a lip sync of another pastor’s message. It’s tempting to take the easy road, but the remnant in your church knows the difference between leftovers and home cooking that’s fresh out of the oven.
As ministers of the gospel, we owe it to ourselves to take time to study and prepare. The purpose of 2 Prophet U is to help you in your preparation, not replace your personal time with God. It is our prayer that you will do your own work and take the time to get a word from God. This isn’t easy. It may require getting up at an earlier hour. It may require staying up later. Make time for what’s important. Don’t let the tyranny of the urgent keep you from taking the time to eat yourself.
God created, and then he rested. He set aside the Sabbath as a day of rest. He gave specific instructions that the land was to be given a time of rest. Jesus pulled himself away from the crowd to get alone with the Father. Are we better than our Lord? If he needed time to re-energize and focus on the Father, so do we. May I close by reminding you of what Mark, Chapter six and verse thirty one says, “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.”
I have no intention of using that verse out of context. I would say to my minister friends, be careful of spending so much time with the many who are coming and going that you have no leisure and never take time to eat from the table of the Lord.
©2001 MCC This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use.
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Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.