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Become an Iceberg Pastor

When you’re a pastor, from time to time people will ask you, “What do you do during the week?” It’s an excellent question (but not usually for the reasons people ask it).

There are no job descriptions for pastoral ministry in the New Testament. Yes, there are directives and pointers that feed into the picture of what pastoral work looks like. But, generally speaking, I’d say that how a pastor spends his time is usually more influenced by a whole range of other factors—personality, church culture, theological heritage, character, and context.

For me, it’s a matter of constant adjustments and course corrections. I doubt I shall ever be satisfied that I can confidently tell you what a pastor should do during the week, and that’s partly because there simply cannot be a universal job description for this calling.

One Underpinning Rule 

But there is one rule that I think ought to underpin every pastor’s understanding of his calling, which is that he needs to be an iceberg. What do I mean? Simply this: that whatever public ministry he engages in (that bit above the surface) needs to be built on a lifetime of preparation, growth, character, learning, and reliance on God (the mass under the surface). Public prayers ought to be a taste of how he prays in private. Preaching ought to be the cream scraped off the top of his brain.

Sometimes I feel nauseated when I think about the cult of celebrity and entertainment that has built up around so much of pastoral ministry and church life, and the concurrent consumerist approach of the average churchgoer. If Andrew Wilson is right—if we’re heading into winter—one benefit we can look forward to is the death of such things in the church.

Winter will not tolerate palm trees and piña coladas. Winter will give birth to bigger icebergs.

Putting the Rule to Practice

What does this mean in practice? It means that in among the many and varied jobs that need to get done in church life, a pastor must carve out time to grow, and that is part of his job.

Weirdly enough, I think a lot of pastors actually feel guilty if they pray or read on the job. I’ve often heard people reason down these lines: if your church members have to pray and read the Bible outside of their working hours, you should too; otherwise you can’t keep encouraging them to do it. That’s fine in so far as you (the pastor) need to be working hard and not be the slackest member in your church. But it’s also stupid because giving yourself to the Word and prayer is your job: it’s literally the one thing we ought to all agree you’re paid to do. The rest is more or less up for grabs.

The tragedy is that often the models and priorities of church life today do not favor the pastor-iceberg. As a result, most pastors will be tempted to fill up their week with a lot of work that doesn’t allow them to grow deep in God. This is a constant war ground for the pastor’s heart. Here are two brief applications:

  1. Church members, you must realize that your pastor is called to give himself to the Word and prayer (see Acts 6). There are a lot of things you might like him to be that are not part of his calling.
  1. Pastors, if you are feeling stretched thin, weak in faith, overworked, under-inspired, neglectful of the things that feed your spirit, and altogether too lightweight, then take some time to rethink your priorities and your planning. If wise productivity is all about putting in the big blocks first, then let your growth in God be the first thing you plan for.

Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at Think Theology.