The Practical Secret to Faithful Ministry (pt. 1)

I hear it from pastors all the time. “We are called to be faithful,” they say. And they’re correct. They sound a lot like the Apostle Paul when he writes, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” ().

When Paul wrote those words he was, in a sense, teaching the Corinthian church his job description. In fact, he was defending himself from their wrong judgments and their wrong assumptions about what he should be or should be doing as an apostle and minister. Paul sets them straight. He is little more than a “servant” or “steward” of the word of God. As such, one thing is paramount: faithfulness.

But here’s the rub: what does faithfulness entail? As surely as I hear some pastors and aspiring-pastors call others to faithfulness, I also see and hear many young ministers struggling with feelings of ineffectiveness, fruitlessness, and confusion. They wonder where the time has gone, what they’ve achieved (if anything) at the end of the week, and fight the sneaking suspicion that they should be doing more than they are. And often their feelings are accurate barometers. So they grapple with a general desire to be faithful without a specific plan for doing so. Their good ambition does not translate into great application.

In my few years of ministry, I’ve become convinced that there’s only one practical secret to ministry faithfulness. Are you ready? It’s the “magic bullet” for ministry fruitfulness and success. Do this one thing well and you will end each day, each week, each month, each career and each lifetime faithful. Ready?

Use a calendar.

No, actually use it. Many people have calendars. They’re everywhere—on your desk, on your phone, on your computer, on your watch, in your head. But most people—including many pastors and aspiring pastors—use them sparingly. They keep appointments in their heads, then forget. They promise to add people to their schedule, then overbook themselves. They keep a to-do list but never assign blocks of time to getting the tasks done.

So, I don’t mean have a calendar. I mean use it. Use it as a means of three things:

  1. Setting necessary priorities.
  2. Giving an account for how you use your time.
  3. Journaling your activity and results as “an Ebenezer” for encouragement.

If you recoil in horror at the thought of managing your time this way, you probably need to accept this counsel more than anyone. Many people want to enter the ministry because they have dreams of “flexibility” and “doing ministry all the time.” They think of themselves as spiritual entrepreneurs starting ministries and meeting needs all over the place. When you suggest that maybe “flexibility” isn’t the best approach, they protect “their time” and “their ministry” and they want to “leave room for the Holy Spirit” (as if He can’t and doesn’t interrupt our little days whenever He likes!). Know that when you think this way about the ministry or see others thinking this way they’ve fallen prey to an idol. They’re worshipping “flexibility” and that idol will lead them into ruin. These will be the persons, if they’re humble, who will come to you and say, “I don’t feel fruitful. I don’t know what I’m doing with my time.” They may not see that the flexibility idol robbed them, but that’s often what has happened.

A well-used calendar traces the invisible hand of God’s providence and grace. It reads like a record of God’s hour-to-hour (or maybe minute-to-minute) dealings with us. No one who observes God’s providences will be without encouragement or feel unfruitful in life or ministry.

So, how might we use our calendars in a way that aids our faithfulness? In the next two posts, we’ll explore eight suggestions in this little series on faithfulness that I hope are helpful. But before we turn to using your calendar, find one you likely have first. Not sure which one to use — desktop, app, and/or paper? Come back for part two, and we’ll see what shoe might fit best.

4:1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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