A Top Priority for Pastors: People

Ministry is busy. Our calendars fill up. We have more meetings than time. We have to write messages, fix the pro-presenter computer,  and then figure out how to use pro-presenter. Tasks are an inescapable part of being a church leader. However, tasks are not the top priority for pastors.

We need to recalibrate our strategies to prioritize what truly matters the most – people. I know it’s obvious, but I have been guilty of allowing a full calendar to eclipse my true calling. Our jobs are not about programs, production, or even pizza. It’s about our people. Specifically, helping people meet Jesus and grow closer to Him.

People are the priority for pastors. This principle is beautifully illustrated by the story of Jesus and a wee-little man named Zacchaeus.

The Story of Jesus and Zacchaeus

READ: Luke 19:1-9

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Contextualizing This Passage

Take a mental note of where this story takes. Jesus takes a detour through Jericho while traveling into Jerusalem where he will be welcomed as king then crucified as a criminal. Can you imagine all the thoughts floating through his mind? He probably needed a little peace and quiet, but that’s not what He chose. Jesus hiked right into a crowded city with crowds chanting His name and wanting to meet Him.

Upon entering Jericho, people were shoving each other to get a glimpse at Jesus. This created a problem for a short man named Zacchaeus. People crowded the streets which prevented him from seeing much of anything. He jumped up and down to try to get a glimpse of Jesus. It didn’t work. He saw his solution in a sycamore tree. Zacchaeus hoisted himself up onto a branch to see the much anticipated Messiah. His work was rewarded. Perched atop the tree, Zacchaeus was able to see Jesus.

His sense of awe quickly became a sense of embarrassment when Jesus looked up into the tree. Their eyes met as he quickly tucked in his cloak to cover his legs. Jesus shouted from the street corner, “come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus teaches us three valuable lessons about making people a priority for pastors
1. Seek People Out

Notice in this Passage that Jesus went through Jericho. This was not the best way to get to Jerusalem — it was actually quite treacherous. He clearly didn’t use Waze, because He walked an extra 12 miles through a dangerous neighborhood. This was on purpose though. Jesus was seeking out the chief tax collector, who happened to be atop a tree like a star at Christmas.

What does this mean for us as ministers? Sometimes you have to go out of your way for the sake of the gospel. Jesus went out of his way to see Zacchaeus. We should do the same for our people. Please don’t let your calendar, tasks, and meetings get in the way of your heart for people. Those are secondary; people are primary. Actually take that person out for coffee. Show up at a student’s play even if it’s late on a Friday night. When someone is struggling, be there for them. If someone is celebrating, celebrate with them.

The best investment you can make, every single week, is to show up for your people.

2. Show Your Care

Zacchaeus was one of the most hated people in his community. Tax collectors were notorious crooks as they would extort people into paying them money in order to prevent imprisonment. Due to their reputation, they were completely outcasted from their culture. Nobody wanted anything to do with Zacchaeus the tax collector — except Jesus. Others called him a thief, a crook, or a nobody. However, Jesus called him by his name! How amazing is that? 

Learn peoples’ names. This is a simple lesson that can be hard to manage. Strive to memorize everyone’s names, even if it requires some studying. You can even make flashcards or something. It’s that important. Calling someone by their name and knowing about their lives is a small way to show someone you care.

3. Share Moments

Jesus didn’t want to share a sermon with Zacchaeus. Rather, He wanted to share a meal with him. He didn’t just want to share a message; Jesus wanted to share a moment.  The same is true for us in our churches. Our jobs are not primarily just about messages, they’re about little moments.

Watch this 10-minute Message on Prioritizing People as Pastors:
Here is a free, Ready-to-Print Resource: How to show up for our people

We made a practical handout for you to print and give out to your volunteers that helps them find practical ways to prioritize the people in your ministry. How does this resource work in our churches? Simply encourage your leaders (and yourself) to make this part of their routine. Every week, strive to make one or two special moments happen with people in your community. You can’t do this for everyone every day, so prioritize doing it once or twice a week.

This should not just be part of your priorities; it should be part of your volunteers’ expectations as well. When we make the mental shift to focus on people over programming, everything will start to fall into place in your group. We see this over and over in the life of Christ. He ate with people. Jesus sat with people. He walked with people. Why did the best preacher of all time invest His time this way? Because true community is the best environment for impactful ministry.

Our free resource on prioritizing people as a pastor: How to Show Up for Your Students

Here are a few random ideas from the handout. (Click here to download the whole resource.)

  • Write a card of encouragement.
  • Publicly brag on someone.
  • Stop by someone’s place of work and leave a big tip.
  • Buy little gifts that make you think of someone.
  • Collect sports, theater, and extracurricular schedules. Then put them on YOUR schedule.
  • Share a book. 
  • Type out a prayer and text it to the student you prayed for. 
  • The list goes on…

This year, we want to help you and your team make the biggest impact possible. That starts with small steps that help us show up, share moments, and show that we care. When you do this, your people will feel known, loved, and valued.  True community is the best environment for impactful ministry.