Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread
But he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
This proverb is easy to understand, has to do with focus.
Focus. Small word, that. But it’s hard to come by and in pursuing it you’ll come across plenty of trickiness. For instance, you might automatically associate focus with effort; but there are plenty of pursuits which involve a lot of blood, sweat, and tears… and yet are worthless. Sometimes “working the land” is actually easier and simpler than “worthless pursuits.” Ahh – that freeing realization.
So focus. Some activity – maybe a lot of it – might look like it’s moving things along, but it’s really just spinning the wheels or so much “strutting and fretting.” Some activity isn’t pointless at all, but for you in your calling it is a bona fide worthless pursuit.
This proverb, then, sends us looking for pointless busy work and releases us to cut it out, cut it ALL, from our occupations.
But putting your finger on what is unnecessary and so much scurrying around… that’s just the problem. In any occupation, working the land starts with figuring out what really is working the land, and what’s just a worthless pursuit. Distinguishing those involves constant evaluation, some courage (some people will want you to continue with worthless pursuits OR you think people want this), some free-thinking, and more than a little on-the-ground experience.
After 20 years of pastoral ministry, here are my lists under working the land and worthless pursuits. Some of this is arguable, some of it determined by setting:
Working the Land
- Sermon and Lesson Time (preparation and delivery)
- Reading time, especially books that push you intellectually and philosophically
- Visiting people in homes
- Reading and discussing with fellow leaders in the church
- Selecting leaders
- Lord’s Day Worship
- Prayer Service
- Praying for the church as a body and individual members
- Writing letters of counsel
- Following up with visitors to the church
- Having people over for meals
- Keeping physically fit and in a good mood
- Most conferences
- Most local pastor meetings (though I’ve
oftensometimes found one-on-one meetings with local pastors to be beneficial)
- Generally, building a ministry life or influence outside the church
- All meeting time beyond 1.5 hours
- Extravagant outreaches
- Manual labor (regularly done by me the pastor)
- Education beyond the M.Div. – there are enough good books and YouTube videos so that a self-motivated pastor can arrange his education himself.
- Being immersed in the business side of the church
- Reading a lot of popular theology that’d be just as accessible to laypersons. Stretch yourself.
- Presenting yourself as unfailingly nice and always available
Probably a third list is in order – Pursuits I’m not sure of yet:
- Hanging out with the guys
- A lot of “building community” and fellowship for fellowship’s sake. The Word and worship unite, and I wonder if you need much else.
- [Irony alert] Blogs and writing into the void
I’ll need to keep adding to this list as thoughts arise. And I’m sure every occupation could come up with such lists. For me, it’s time now to learn what principals should stop doing.
Edit: Under Working the Land
- Multi-Week Informational Courses for Seekers/Non-Christians (How could I forget this?)
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