LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLE NO. 27–“Keep Restocking the Shelves”

I called the orthodontist’s office yesterday morning. After spending two hours the day before in his chair getting a root canal and having him fiddle with my bridge, I thought I was all set. But I was having a little trouble and felt he ought to know about it. The receptionist said, “The doctor does not see patients today. He is in the office, though.” She paused a moment and said, “Let me check.” Half a minute later, she was back. “Can you come now?” I could and I did.

It was the first time I had seen this strange phenomenon. The orthodontist’s waiting room was completely empty, yet all his office staff was present, busy throughout the various rooms. I said to one of his assistants, “So, what are you doing today?” “Restocking,” she answered. “And cleaning.”

In a lull, I asked the doctor, “So, what do you do on Wednesdays?” He said, “Paperwork. We clean the place and restock. Make sure we have all the supplies we will be needing.” Then he said, “I try to go home early.” Since he and his wife have two sons under the age of four, this sounded good.

My dentist–I keep lots of medical people employed: a dentist, an orthodontist, an internist, an ear-nose-and-throat doctor, and an ophthalmologist–takes Fridays off every week. His wife who is his receptionist and business manager says, “That’s his day for continuing education.”

Let’s call it ‘restocking’.

I’ve pastored a number of physicians over the years, and can recall hearing them complain about the schedules they keep and the lack of time to keep up with the latest developments in their field. One said, “The medical magazines pile up on my desk, but I don’t have time to read them.”

Not good. We need our doctors to be current with the developments in their specialty.

It takes time to restock. Planned, unhurried, peaceful time.

My orthodontist has apparently solved the problem. Since he has no partners, works for no hospital or medical association, and seems to be answerable to no one except himself, he can set his own schedule. At some point in his career, he decided to see patients only on certain days of the week and to reserve one day a week for other needs. My own personal observation–not trying to be funny, either–is that he compensates for not seeing patients on that one day of the week by charging really high rates!

Every minister I know fights a battle for time to read the magazines that come to his office and to stay current with books in his area of interest. Each year, several of our top magazines for ministers publish a short list of their books-of-the-year, the important ones they feel every minister ought to read. For many, purchasing those books is not the problem so much as finding the time to read them and really digest them.

Here’s a little observation which I believe strongly, but some might argue with: you find time for anything you really want to do.

How does that line go: “Every generality has its exceptions, including this one.”

Meaning, I will concede there are a few pastors knocking themselves out in demanding situations where they cannot carve out the time to take care of personal needs. But there aren’t many. And for those in that category, unless they find some down time for themselves, they are asking for trouble. The human system can put out only so much for so long, then it starts shutting down in increments. We call that “getting sick.” Or having a breakdown.

The problem is we let our schedules run our lives, instead of taking charge of our lives ourselves. Another old saw: “If you don’t plan your work, other people will plan it for you.”

Those who value continuing education will make time for it. The same way those who love golf seem to find the time for 18 holes on a regular basis. You just do it. You write it in on your calendar, tell the people who need that information, particularly anyone who can help you protect the time, and then do it.

And do not feel guilty about it.

The quiet time in your study reading and thinking is every bit as crucial to your ministry as visiting a hospital room or calling on the elderly in a nursing home.

This is not the time or place to go into a discussion of reading material, but I for one hold that the minister’s reading should be wide and varied. It’s true, there is a sense in which the man or woman of God is a specialist, because you are expected to be an authority on the content of the Bible and the practice of Christianity. However, in a real sense you are a generalist of the broadest type. Your faith has to do with every area of life–one’s home life, his work, recreation, priorities, child-rearing, everything. Therefore, you would have a hard time coming up with good reading material that does not apply in some way or another to the work of a minister.

Some of the best sermon illustrations I’ve ever found were the result of reading history. History was my college major and I’ve never outgrown a passionate love for the field. This is not to say that I open a book on Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln and think, “I will now search for sermon material.” I read for enjoyment, for relaxation, and for enlightenment. But a preacher knows a great story when he stumbles across one. And the Lord and I have an unofficial agreement that when a story, incident, or quote lingers with me after reading something, the Holy Spirit is calling my attention to some use He has for that in my ministry.

It’s all about restocking one’s mental and spiritual shelves.

I was ordained into the ministry at the age of 22, and recall many details of the council where I met with and was grilled by some veteran ministers and pastors. But the most bizarre memory I have of those two hours on a Sunday afternoon in late 1962 was something which the editor of our state Baptist paper said. He looked across the small room at this kid preacher and said, “Joe, study real hard until you’re 40 years old. After that, preach out of the overflow.”

My mentor in later years, Pastor James Richardson, laughed when I recounted that to him. “What overflow?” Good question. Now that I am 27 years past that fateful birthday, I am well aware for the critical need to keep learning and to continue growing.

Albert Einstein and his teaching fellow left a classroom where they had just administered a test to some graduate students at the university. “Sir,” the fellow said, “are you aware that these questions were the same ones you asked the students last semester?” “Yes,” Einstein said. “The questions are the same, but the answers have changed.”

Everything around you is changing. You will not be able to, nor do you have to, keep up with it all. But to keep your sanity in the midst of a crazy world, you must guard your time for quiet thinking, for helpful reading, and deep prayer.

Pity your church members the day they look to you for answers and you find your shelves are bare.