“We see this aspect of solitude in the life of Christ and the disciples. ”
Shawn Bateman, Misionary to Argentina
05 September , 2018
As ministers we are many things. To name a few, we are writers, communicators, counselors, and trainers. In our jobs we must have adequate time to minister to people, and at the same time we must make time for the necessary preparation to feed them. As pastors we need a consistent time of study and preparation in order to prepare profound, touching, inspiring messages, that engage the mind and touch the heart.
Fresh bread must be prepared for God’s people weekly. Our people deserve our very best. In order to do this we must spend time alone in the study with our books in deep thought. We see this aspect of solitude in the life of Christ and the disciples. Christ began his earthly ministry in solitude. Mark 1:12“And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness.” Christ would remain in the wilderness for 40 days alone.
Christ spent time in the mornings alone. Mark 1:35 “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”
The reason for the ordaining of deacons was so the disciples could give themselves wholly to the ministry. Acts 6:4 “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
We see this in Paul’s admonishments to Timothy
- I Tim 4:13 “Till I come, give attendance to reading”
- I Tim 4:15 “Meditate upon these things”
- 2 Timothy 2:15“Study to shew thyself approved unto God”
Most pastors and ministers understand the need for a time of study. My concern is that we don’t take advantage of the time we have. So here are three things that I think will help us.
1. Make time to read.
In our busy life it is easy to become so occupied that we forget to feed ourselves. So I would say that our study time should not only be for the preparation of material for our sermons, lessons, and articles, but there should also be incorporated a time for just reading. We should read for our own personal growth and inspiration.
How much should we read? That is a great question. A friend asked me a few weeks ago about my reading habits. He had seen my schedule on my last post about working, and in that schedule I think I had two hours set aside for reading. Here is the thing about my schedule. There are some weeks when I’m not traveling, and in those weeks I do try and read more. I’ll read two hours or maybe three chapters a day, whichever comes first. Other weeks are filled with appointments and speaking engagements. I’ll spend easily ten to twenty hours just driving. During weeks like these my reading time is drastically reduced, but I will still try and read a chapter a day. The point is…read. As much as you are able. By the way, you don’t read as much as you think you do. I thought I was a big reader until this year. At the beginning of the year I created a spreadsheet with a list of authors I’d like to read.
Every book I have read this year I added it to my list. It is not as much as I thought. Seeing this has challenged me to read more, and dedicate more time in my schedule to reading.
2. Make a routine
In making a routine we move from good intentions to actually doing it. With a routine you determine the how and where of your work. It is good to have a place to work.
I cannot work at home. My wife homeschools our five children, which means there are constant distractions. Currently, since I’m in the states, I take advantage of my parents house each day while my mom is at work, and my dad is working in his study. I can leave my house around 7:30 and work in the mornings for five and a half hours without any interruptions. I go home and eat lunch with the family and then I go back to work. It’s great and I love it. We are creatures of habit, so it is a good thing to have a “place” where work happens. Do not underestimate the “where”.
In our routine we need to determine “how” work will happen.
In his book Deep Work Cal Newport describes his routine of work that produces the maximum results. First let me give you Cal’s definition of “Deep Work”
Deep Work-Professional activities preformed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.
These deep work sessions are where you are fully focused on your work. Cal’s days are designed like this. Ninety minutes in a deep state phase with a ninety-minute break doing shallow work (answering emails, making calls) and maybe taking a physical break there as well. Repeat 2-3 times a day at which point your brain will have achieved it’s limit of concentration for the day.
I read about a psychology major at Clemson University who arrives at the library and works from 6:00-11:30, at which time his mind is ready for a major break. He then goes to the gym for a workout.
One pastor said that he knew a large portion of his job was to preach every Sunday. His people needed his best in the pulpit. So he blocked off 6:30-11:00 every morning for sermon preparation. His church gave up on asking him for breakfast appointments years ago. Unless it is an emergency he is unavailable during these hours.
One of my professors in seminary said he does much of his studying in the evenings and at nights, as he is not much of a morning person. I’m not saying you have to do it at a certain time in your day; all I am saying is that the establishing of a work routine will do more to help make ministries productive than any computer program or application could.
3. Remove all Distractions
Fifty minutes every day. That’s a lot of time isn’t it? How much could you accomplish with just fifty extra minutes a day! Fifty minutes a day is about six hours a week, and it is over twelve days a year. Can you imagine getting down to the end of the year and being handed twelve extra days to do whatever you want? According to one New York Times article, fifty minutes a day is how much Facebook says it’s average client spends on Facebook. This is not counting YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. Now think of how many of these apps are on your phone. How much time are we wasting?
Modern technology has some major positives. I can look up a verse of scripture in less than thirty seconds, I can also waste thirty minutes watching puppy videos on youtube and not even realize it.
I read that on average we check our emails fifteen times a day. One study said we waste 2.5 hours a day on our email, Adobe did their own study showing the 1,000 white collar workers spend an average of 4.1 hours a day checking email. That’s 20.5 hours each week, more than 1,000 hours each year, more than 47,000 hours over a career. In this time you could have hiked the Appalachian Trail 100 times!
Regardless of who is right, the point is we spend way too much time on distractions. When we open ourselves to distractions (Facebook, Twitter, email etc…) we reduce our capabilities for deep concentration and productivity.
Here are some thoughts.
1. There are programs that will measure how much time you log on social media. So if you think you don’t have a problem with wasting time on social media I double-dog dare you to look into this and see what you are really doing.
2. There are programs that block social media. I have a friend who has a program that cuts off his time on Facebook after two hours a day. In my opinion this is still too much but at least he is doing something. There are other programs that will lock you at of social media during certain times of the day. I know that these sound like extreme measures but the work we have to do is worthy of extreme measures. These distractions are like little leeches, and they are sucking the life out of our study and preparation times.
Bringing it Home:
Because of our lack of discipline in setting up a routine, eliminating distractions, and not going deep in our study we become shallow and burnt out. Unfinished projects pile up and we start to experience a drowning sensation in our work life. With discipline we can push our creative capabilities and raise our productivity. In teaching the Bible there is no effective and enduring ministry unless there are also long and dedicated hours of study free from distractions.