“Pastor, would you please pray before we eat?”
Ministry is unpredictable. Each day is different, and each week comes with its own surprises. But, if there’s one thing for certain about being being in ministry, it’s that you’ll be asked to pray before every large group meal for the rest of your life. Potlucks, church picnics, family reunions, and Thanksgiving–if you’re in the room and a prayer is going to happen, you’ll be asked to offer it. It’s just a given.
I actually love doing this–what an honor to be asked to pray on behalf of the group you are with!–but it came as a surprise for me the first time I was asked to pray for a meal at someone’s home just because I was the pastor in the room.
A pastor’s job description includes a lot of prayer and Bible study. Sermon writing takes prayer, Bible study, and research. Leading education classes means praying (both as you prepare, and before you lead each session), Bible study, and research. Worship services include prayer and Scripture reading every week. By nature of the work of ministry, pastors find themselves praying, writing prayers, and reading Scripture on a daily basis.
Yet, in many ministry training programs and pastoral evaluation processes, pastors (and pastors-in-training) are urged to make sure they spend time in the Bible and in prayer outside of their ministry roles. In other words, pastors are told to “pray without ceasing…but make sure some of it is ‘off the clock.'”
I understand the reason for this. I approach Scripture differently when I’m preparing to preach on a text versus when I am reading for personal study. I pray differently when I’m praying for a group than when I’m praying in my car alone. But, are my Scripture study and prayer invalidated if I do them as a pastor? Does my spiritual practice not count if I also utilize these practices in my role as a pastor?
I’d like to suggest that there is no neat separation between church and home in the life of a pastor. Prayer is prayer, whether offered before a potluck or whispered under your breath before you go to a doctor’s appointment. Scripture sharpens and transforms whether you are going to be preaching on a text or not. The things we read, the things we study, the things we pray and practice shape us and mold us into the kind of people we are becoming, whether we have on a clerical collar or gardening gloves.
Perhaps the question to ask on a pastoral evaluation is not “Do you make sure to read the Bible every day outside of your regular responsibilities?” but rather “Are you finding ways to connect to God that are refreshing and restoring you?” Because, these moments of transformation and spiritual growth are not confined to any hour of the day or day of the week. God is always seeking us, whether we are on the clock or off. We just aren’t always very good at paying attention.