I recently had dinner with several pastors. As we waited for our table, a friend and new pastor asked, “How do you find time for study?” As soon as he finished the question, the hostess seated us. But when we sat down, he asked again, “So how do you find time for study, H.B.?”
I offered several answers that I hope were helpful. And we moved on to other topics. But the question stayed with me. Time-management is a big for busy pastors. Many people think that pastors don’t work. But pastors often work so hard that they don’t have time to do their most important work (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Like most important things in life, we don’t have time to study. We must make time to study. Here are seven pieces of practical advice for maximizing your study time (plus one bonus point).
Plan ahead. Your study time is already limited. You don’t have time to figure out what you are going to preach each week. Your study time should be spent studying the text, not finding a text to study. So plan your preaching in advance. Planning ahead for a month or quarter or even a year will help you to get down to business when it is time to study the text and prepare a message.
Schedule your study time. Do you schedule meetings and appointments? How about your study time? Your time of study is just as important as staff meetings, counseling sessions, and hospital visits. So begin each week by marking out the hours you will study each day. Determine how long it takes to prepare a message. Schedule it into your week. Then keep your appointments to study and write.
Steal time. I have a file of material I work from for each text I study. I take it wherever I go. And I steal back as much time as I can while I am waiting for an appointment, between meetings, or any other time I can take advantage of. If you use software study tools, it is even easier for you to have your materials with you wherever you are. Make the most of every opportunity to study.
Study when it’s time to study. When it’s time to study, study. Don’t web surf or answer emails or play with your smartphone or clean you desk or organize your books or… You get the point. Put your behind in the seat. Get to work. Don’t procrastinate. Pray. Read. Study. Think. Write. You have no right to complain about the time you do not have if you do not use you the time you have wisely.
Educate your people. Few church members understand what it takes to produce a good sermon. You must educate them. Talk to your deacons, elders, staff, leaders, and members about your study process. The more they understand what it takes for you to prepare the more willing and able they will be to help you. Softhearted members will appreciate your labor, pray for your study, and free you up to prepare yourself to preach.
Practice intentional neglect. Many urgent matters come across a pastor’s desk each week. Much it has nothing to do with prayer or the ministry of the Word. You must learn what to neglect some things during the week to prepare yourself for Sunday. Bottom line: You have failed if you go to every meeting, oversee every detail, and respond to every correspondence, but are not ready to preach. You will never get this Sunday again. Prioritize.
Delegate. In order to practice intentional neglect, without the sky falling around your ministry, make sure the things that need to be covered are covered by someone. If you have staff to assist you, trust them to do so. If you have to recruit and train volunteers, do it. Accept that they made not do it the way you would. Give them time and they may do it better. Stop trying to do it all. Determine the responsibilities that you can either give away or share. Then do it. And use the time you gain to work on your lesson for Wednesday and your sermon for Sunday.
By any means necessary. This is the bonus point. Here it is: Do whatever you have to do to be ready to preach the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ!