I make a lot of plans. I am an organized, structured person and like the sense of security a good plan and effective schedule provides me with. My daily schedule promises me that I can get the things done that I need to do and want to do and allows me to work and play well. I have parts of the plan on my phone calendar, part of it in my mind and part of it is so automatic that I don’t even think about it or write it down.
When it comes to my work, I like to have structure. I don’t like having to decide on Tuesday what I will be preaching about on Sunday. I like to have at least three months of sermons planned ahead, with at least Scriptures, themes and a sense of how the sermon fits into the overall ministry of the church. Big events, special events and so on all get entered into the plan and I can work on them as I have time. I have a daily schedule, a monthly schedule, a seasonal schedule and a yearly schedule.
And with that, you might begin to think that I am an overly structured, somewhat rigid individual who tries to make the world fit my schedule. You might be right, except for the fact that I am also a pastor, a part of a profession that is notorious for its assaults on carefully planned schedules.
Certainly, there are parts of ministry that are rigidly scheduled. Worship takes place at a certain time every week, barring snow storms. Bible Study occurs every week at the same time and generally at the same place. Certain people are going to call or drop in at pretty much the same interval month after month. These predictable and scheduled things are like the footing wall around ministry.
But beyond that, predictability goes out the window. Real ministry involves working with real people who have real issues at real times–and they don’t pay much attention to the schedules and structures of the pastor. I have come to expect that unexpected at the most inopportune times.
I might schedule the few minutes before people begin arriving for worship as a time to mentally and spiritually prepare myself for leading worship–but once people get used to the idea that I am there early, those who just need a minute or two show up early, sometimes just to chat and sometimes to drop the bombshell that they have cancer or are moving away or are getting a divorce.
I might schedule the early morning for study and writing–but the person worried about their spouse in the hospital just wants help now. The family that suffers a death in the night doesn’t really care that my schedule calls for me to be asleep at 2:23am–they need a pastor right now and don’t consult my schedule before making the call.
Ministry is conducted in the context of some rigid and scheduled events and a great many unpredictable and therefore impossible to schedule events which often must be dealt with right then in spite of what the schedule says.
This can be a recipe for chaos and all of us in ministry probably struggle to deal with the chaos. Some approach it by ignoring schedules. Ministry becomes a series of opportunities that require the pastor to hop from one thing to another, finishing the sermon during the second hymn and choir selection and doing Bible study on a wing and a prayer. They hop from one thing to another and somehow, everything gets done, sort of.
Me, well, I prefer to schedule and structure and then revise the structure to account for the emergency. I can flow from event to event, coping with the emergencies and still have the sermon done before the worship actually begins. And because I am scheduled and organized, everything gets done, somehow, sort of.
Working with people is inherently chaotic. Human life has twists and turns and surprises and the unexpected all over the place. I find it easier to cope with the unscheduled by having a schedule to provide a foundation. Others find it easier to forego the schedule and get right to the chaos. In the end, as long as we end up helping people discover the love and grace of God, which approach we take depends more on who we are and what we need to feel at peace.
May the peace of God be with you.