Last week, my family and I went down to Texas for a few days, and we spent part of that time with my in-laws. At breakfast, I mentioned that I’d been extremely busy since moving to Tennessee, and my mother-in-law asked me what I did that kept me in such a state. She wasn’t being ugly about it; instead, like most Christians, she never has the opportunity to see preachers at work except on Sundays.
I answered her question, of course, but after I finished, it occurred to me that others might be equally interested in the answer. I don’t feel any particular need to justify myself to anybody (the elders at Jackson Heights know perfectly well what I’m up to, and if they’re satisfied, no other earthly opinion matters a great deal), but neither is there any harm in offering a rebuttal to the old joke that preachers only work one day a week, etc. With that in mind, here is my work.
Preaching. The brethren see the results here, but they don’t see the preparation. At Jackson Heights, I’m responsible for one sermon a week, and I get ready for that sermon by a) writing out a scratch outline, b) writing a full-sentence manuscript based on the outline, c) crafting a PowerPoint presentation to go with the manuscript, d) doing a “dress rehearsal” in the Jackson Heights auditorium the Friday before I preach, e) distilling the manuscript down into an outline in the sermon notebook I have in the pulpit with me, and f) running through the sermon twice more before I preach it. My co-worker, Shawn Jeffries, uses a different but similarly involved process.
Teaching. I’m actually not doing any teaching right now, but as a rule, I will be teaching one 13-session class a quarter. That requires both writing a workbook before the quarter begins and prep before each class during the quarter.
Study. Four days a week, Shawn and I meet in the morning for an hour-plus of Bible study. I’ve found these studies to be extremely beneficial (Shawn is a strong Bible student, and I’ve learned a lot from interacting with him), but they are also time-consuming and mentally demanding.
Planning. Shawn and I also meet regularly to figure out how to put into practice the elders’ directives. Recently, many of these meetings have concerned the theme the elders have selected for next year (“Heaven Bound”) and how to present that theme to the congregation as effectively as possible. Once a month, the two of us have a two-hour meeting with the elders.
Blogging. The elders have asked me to maintain the Jackson Heights blog, posting content (in my case, usually articles of around 1000 words) on it two or three times a week. I aim to exceed the minimum by posting four or five times a week.
Social Media. Even beyond the blogosphere, the elders want me to work with Shawn, the deacon in charge of such things, and other interested members to develop a comprehensive social-media strategy for Jackson Heights. To tell you the truth, I’m having trouble even wrapping my mind around everything I need to do here!
Other Studies. I’m additionally responsible for leading two studies outside of the assembly: an existing young adults’ study and a to-be-developed men’s study, which I hope to get off the ground early next year.
Hymn Work. There are kingdom-related and church-related aspects to this. I write hymns whenever I get a sufficiently good idea, and I spend fair amount of time helping others with their hymns. Also, I’m currently part of the editorial board for a modern-day psalter called Timeless. Closer to home, I write hymns and songs for the particular use of the Jackson Heights church at the elders’ request, work with members of the congregation who are interested in developing their hymnwriting skills, and set hymns in Finale (a music-notation program) for the church’s use.
Personal Work. I haven’t been in Columbia long enough to develop any contacts, really, but I’m sure that given enough time, I’ll soon be having regular studies with outsiders (as Shawn currently does).
Visits. Even though I haven’t really gotten to know all of the Jackson Heights shut-ins yet, I regularly will go with Shawn or a couple of the elders to visit them, other members in the hospital, and so forth.
Retirement Planning. Hopefully, I’ll soon be able to move this off my plate, but I’m currently working with the treasurers to set up a retirement plan for Shawn and me. This has proven orders of magnitude more difficult than I originally envisioned.
Add all that to the ordinary-Christian obligations (daily Bible reading, etc.), and I spend much more than 40 hours a week on the clock. My challenge is not finding enough to do to satisfy my conscience; it is pacing myself so that I don’t neglect my health and my family for the sake of the Lord’s work.
Admittedly, much of what I do occurs out of the public eye. If I chose to be lazy and evil, I could spend my week golfing, slap together a sermon on Saturday, and check the “showed up in the pulpit” box on Sunday. However, I want to be able to look myself in the mirror every morning, and I believe that churches with lazy preachers will inevitably suffer because of their neglect. For me and for other motivated workers, the rarity is not days when I work. It’s days when I don’t.