Preaching or pastoring? That’s the choice that many pastors make at the beginning of their ministries, and also each day of their ministries. Will my life-focus, or daily-focus, be on preaching or on visiting the flock? Will I concentrate on preaching better sermons, or getting to know my sheep better?
Of course, it’s a bit of a false choice, as we pastor the flock by preaching, and our preaching is (should be) heavily influenced by our pastoral visitation. Nevertheless, I have noticed that most pastors, often sub-consciously, have answered that question one way or another. And most congregations will be able to tell you which way their pastor has answered that question: “He’s a great preacher, but we never see him,” or, “He can’t preach, but he’s a wonderful pastor.” And sometimes, especially here in the USA, the congregation will make that choice for a minister, employing him as a “Teaching Pastor,” with little or no expectation of any pastoral visitation.I realized early in my ministry that my inclination, my default, was to focus on preaching. Sometimes, in the early days, I did neglect visitation. And if I did, it always, eventually, had a negative impact on my preaching. I was greatly helped by my wife who had been raised in the home of a faithful Pastor. She knew what a Pastor’s weekly schedule should look like, with a wise balance between visiting the sheep and preparing their food. If she felt I was becoming imbalanced, she would (gently, usually) tell me. The need to find this balance has also been brought home to me in my Seminary work. With so many new courses to write, the temptation is to shut myself away every hour of the day and week to concentrate on preparing “perfect” lectures. However, does that produce well-taught students? Probably not. As this article on MIT’s Tomorrow’s Professor Blog demonstrates, “displaying a personal interest in students is not only effective as a way to encourage participation and engagement, but is necessary for real learning.” Substituting sheep for students, pastors for instructors, and church for college, note some of the other findings:
- Research in neuroscience and the physiology of learning demonstrates the strong link between emotion and cognition.
- In the absence of the strong, positive emotions engendered by caring, deep engagement, motivation, and interest, little real learning occurs.
- Research on large classes demonstrates the positive effects of personalizing the large class with respect to enhancing student attendance and motivation to learn.
- Undergraduate students repeatedly mention the importance of one-to-one interaction with instructors in supervised projects and the closer interactions with other students and instructors in small classes as important factors in their learning.
- These threads point to the importance of engagement and a sense of community as critical to college success.
Does that help you re-answer the “Preach or Pastor?” question.
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