I have come to a conclusion that might be controversial.  Actually, I kind of hope it is because some chatter on the subject would be appreciated.  I have decided that the most important skill a pastor has is the ability to multitask.  It trumps sermon preparation, it trumps Greek, it trumps spiritual gifts, and it even trumps oratorical greatness.

Keep in mind I am talking about pastor–not preacher/personality types who do not have to soil their pristine hands with the the actual needs of people.  I am referring to mere humans who live in community with other mere humans.  For us, the ability to do more than one thing at a time is vital because as a pastor you are never, ever, ever, doing just one thing.

Yesterday I failed miserably at this.  It was about five minutes before the first service was scheduled to begin.  I sat on the front row of seats attempting to work through the connections (announcements) to add the extra announcements and to prioritize the ones printed in the program.  While doing that, someone came up behind me and, in a very friendly way, hugged me from behind and started talking to me about mother’s day.  It was not a bad conversation and she was wonderful and sweet.  At the same time, I noticed that the musicians on the platform needed my attention because of the arrangement of the platforming area.  Suddenly there was another announcement brought to my attention I needed to make and I still needed to do a mic check.

That is five things, all going on at once, five minutes before I was supposed to be ready emotionally and spiritually to preach and lead people in worship.  Let me be very clear, no one did anything wrong–it was simply that a lot of things came flying at me at once.

I failed to handle this situation properly because I let it alter my mood.  I did not get angry with anyone and I didn’t lose my temper but I lost myself.  Instead of controlling the moment, I let the moment control me and lost myself and forgot my purpose as a pastor and spiritual leader.  I never recovered.  I took that altered mood with me into the worship service and it was heavy on my mind as I began to preach.

I usually handle this type of situation better.  Here is what I have found helps:

1.  Refuse to get dragged into any kind of important conversation.  If I had said, “You guys solve it for now and we’ll talk about it more later,” to the platform issue, life would have been much better for me.

2.  Hide.  I usually do the preparation for connections in the privacy of our  ‘vestment’ room.  By sitting up on the front row, I made myself available when I shouldn’t have been available.

3.  Engage others.  When hiding is over, I usually try to engage someone else with either my agenda or with pleasant conversation.   By being engaged I choose the conversation I want to have, not the other way around.

4.  Walk away.  This is different than hide or refuse.  I have often used this as a tactic to safeguard my frame of mind.  If some situation is turning south, I just walk away and find person to hug or a guest to meet.

Superstar pastors stay completely hidden and just appear on stage.  Real pastors, who share life with people, can’t do that.  There are people who have been waiting all week to talk to their pastor about this that or the other.  I am deeply committed to engaging people and communicating with them one-on-one as much as possible before and after worship services.  However, what I can’t do is allow the clutter of that moment to alter my mood.  That is why effective multitasking is vital to pastoral ministry.


  1. This is a tough one, Jamie. I think I would argue that multi-tasking like you described it is isolated to the Sunday morning experience. In that vein I think I can agree. I like you solutions. Especially number one. I have found that a tactful or funny story publicly in a sermon or other context when I am not angry helps to mitigate some of the “right before you preach” issues. But then again…sometimes the devil will have his way.

    I channel my inner Eugene Peterson to say that the number one job of the local pastor it so be present with his congregation. Yesterday I preached on “Portrait of a Pastor” and it included this text: “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” That phrase “imparted…our own lives.” I don’t see how we can do that effectively with a fluster and bluster lifestyle.

    I think your advice is golden. Going to give it a go.

    • thanks for reading joe–you are a stud!
      yes, i mostly describe the sunday morning event experience, but i believe it is true of almost everything we do. every conversation we have as pastors is mutli-functional and every public moment is multi-faceted. even something as mundane as a staff meeting is a teaching moment, a leadership exercise, a spiritual endeavor, and not to mention an administrative feat. now, regarding eugene peterson, no one can argue with his imminence. he is right on target. what i think i see happening a lot is people responding by ignoring the people before the sermon. that is no good either. whenever i ‘hide’ before the sermon it is only for a brief moment to get that one thing done, then i re-enter the fray, so to speak. church is a community experience, and therefore it must be shared.

      • Well said. I actually enjoy the idea of my wife and I standing on the “front porch” welcoming everyone as they come in the Church house. We’ve done that a couple of times and it is pretty cool.

        I’m needing me some Jamie-time.

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