Thursday, October 27, 2016

Time management for ministers

This week I received an e-mail from a bivocational pastor telling me he will likely be voted in as pastor of a church this Sunday. This will be his third church, and while he's excited about it he's also concerned. He admitted he has always struggled with time management since entering the ministry. He wanted to know what he should do.

Of course, I suggested he buy two of my books! The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry and The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide both address the problem of time management for bivocational and fully-funded pastors.

All pastors struggle with managing their time well. The bivocational pastor has the added pressures of another job that complicates it even more, but the problem certainly isn't limited to bivocational ministers. What are some initial steps we need to take to better manage our time?

  1. Determine your priorities. If you don't, others will, and most of the time their priorities for your time will not be what you would have selected. There are five areas of life a bivocational minister must keep in balance: our relationship with God, our relationship with our family, our ministry, our other job, and our own self-care. You must set priorities for each of these.
  2. Know your strengths and work in those areas as much as possible. I want to work in areas where I am weak as little as possible. My primary gifts are in preaching, teaching, and leadership. When I work in those areas I am most effective. While it's not always possible to avoid working in areas of weakness, it's best to avoid it as much as possible. Find others who are strong in those areas and delegate.
  3. Own your calendar. There are some things that must go on there to pay the rent, but much of your calendar is discretionary. If you do not determine what goes on there, others will. Years ago my wife and I decided to have a Friday evening date every week. I put that on my calendar so if someone asked me to do something on Friday I could honestly tell them I already had an appointment.
  4. Learn to delegate. It may be easier to do it yourself, but that doesn't mean you should. As church leaders it's our responsibility to equip the saints to do ministry, not to do all the ministry. Part of the equipping process is letting others actually do the work.
  5. Take time off. That's part of the self-care mentioned earlier. The church is not going to fall apart if you take a week's vacation, and if it does you haven't done a very good job as a leader anyway. You and your family need to get away and enjoy life. Ministry is not a sprint; it's a long distance event, and you need to rest and refresh yourself along the way.
Realize that you may be following a pastor who did not do a good job of setting boundaries around his or her time. As Dr. Phil says, "We teach people how to treat us." You may be in a church that has been taught by previous pastors that it was OK to not respect their private time. In that case, you will have to retrain them about boundaries. You may be their pastor 24/7, but that does not mean you have to jump every time someone calls. You have other responsibilities, such as your family, that you need to consider as you work to balance out the many demands on your time.

Managing our time well is the responsibility of each of us in leadership. No one can do it for us, and if we struggle in this effort it's our fault. Having said that, there will always be a tension between the various demands on our time, and we will constantly be figuring out how to manage that tension. We won't always get it right, but if we begin to get it right more often than not, we will begin to enjoy greater productivity and greater joy in our ministries and our lives.

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