Too often it seems like a day, then a week, then a month, flies by. If you are like me and serving in ministry, it can seem as if there are not enough hours in a day to figure out how to get everything done and still have time for yourself.
I am not a time management specialist and I am still learning how to do this effectively. But along the way I have picked up some tools and resources that have greatly benefited me, my relationships, my marriage, the ministry I work in, and ultimately my relationship with God. Some of these ideas have been around for a while, some have been given to me by men and women who have served decades longer than I, and others are my own thoughts.
Take these as you will, knowing that all do not have to apply to your life, that they aren’t a magical fix-all, but they are here to be shared and utilized as an encouragement.
1. Make time for Jesus
This should seem like a non-issue for those of us serving in ministry. We espouse this principle on a weekly basis to those we minister too, but let’s be honest, sometimes that snooze button is all too handy. Some weeks it is easy to say “I study the Word… I prepared my lesson.” Other times we just get distracted. But how can we effectively manage our lives if we have no guiding principles or truth.
Christ offers many examples of time management and shows us what is important, but if we do not readily and daily engage with the Word, our time will be for naught.
2. Be protective of your time
This is something I learned very quickly in ministry. I started off serving in a small church in a small town (a mile and a half squared) as the only pastor. Being young and full of energy I began to do whatever I could to serve the church. I was regularly putting in 40-50 hours a week meeting with people, crafting Bible studies, creating new member classes, counseling parishioners, engaging in local outreaches, meeting with pastors, oh and did I mention I was only part time and held a full time job down as well? This lasted for about a year until I went to the elders and explained I needed help, that I couldn’t do it all. Their response: Why didn’t you say so sooner?
The reality is that we cannot do everything on our own, and we must be protective of our time. Take time to relax, decompress, process, and enjoy life. If we don’t we will burn out, become bitter and resentful, and maybe walk away from ministry. It took me a year of healing and recharging from my first church before I even considered ministry again.
3. Have regular office hours
For some this is a no-brainer because your church requires it, for others your hours may be more flexible. But having set hours in the office allows for meetings to happen, parishioners to drop by, purposeful planning to take place, and for your congregants to see you at work. Sure the local coffee shop is a better place for you to get work done for so many reasons (like your pastoral discount, or the wi-fi that actually works) but being at your place of employment is huge because this is where people expect you to be. Our team has a monthly whiteboard calendar that we all put our hours on and mark where we will be. This has helped so much in keeping us all on the same page and knowing where we can find people if needed.
4. Be protective of your family
This is one I have to be constantly reminded of. So often on date night my phone will buzz with a text from someone, and I am ready to respond at the drop of the hat. But my wife will often remind me that “It is date night, I am your priority.” It’s true. Date night is our time. It isn’t to be interrupted or removed. Rather it is to be protected and revered, because our marriage comes before our ministry. Our families come before our ministries. Because these are to be a representation to our ministries of what God is doing in our lives. If we cannot be protective of the things God has given us charge of, how then can we lead a church or ministry?
A good couple of things to do on date nights, family nights, or vacations:
– Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb.
– Set up auto-replies for your email and phone.
– Turn off your cellular devices.
– Don’t check your email or social media.
5. Find out what helps you to decompress
This may sound easy, but this is hard for some people. It is difficult to find what helps you process and think through the day or week. For me I like to cook, clean, write, make candles, or watch COPS. I know it is a weird conglomerate of things. But all of them help me to decompress. Cleaning, cooking, and COPS helps me to just zone out and relax because they are fairly mindless things for me to do or watch. Writing and candle making helps me to process and think.
Decompression is necessary in any job, but especially ministry. We need to think through what we are doing, why we did it, and not get caught up on the mistakes but rejoice in the victories and what God is doing.
6. Create a Google calendar
This sounds simple enough, but in the busyness of life sometimes we fail to communicate to those in our lives that we should be communicating with (like our families). I realized this roughly a year into my current ministry position when I proudly declared to my wife that I had to work all day on a Saturday for a ministry event the Thursday before. She was shocked and bewildered that she didn’t know and further that I hadn’t told her. So from that point on we created a shared calendar on Google where it has everything that is happening.
On my end I input all my meetings, work schedules, activities, vacations, retreats. You name it I put it there because I know I will forget. My wife inputs her work schedules and important dates like vacations, birthdays, trips, etc. The point is with us working together we don’t miss much anymore and we are both on the same page.
7. Have an unplugged night
Have you noticed how technology has taken away interpersonal communication? Just people watch the next time you’re at a restaurant or maybe even around your own dinner table. Count how many people are on their phones versus how many are having an actual conversation. Our current society dictates that the majority of our conversations happen through a cellular device and as such our ability to actually engage and maintain relationships is faltering.
My wife and I have started to run with the idea of what we call “unplugged nights.” Too often we found ourselves sitting around the television while eating dinner instead of communicating. And more often than not we would do so with our phones in our hands. So we said “enough is enough” and turned one day a week into an evening where we do not use our phones unless for an emergency, we don’t check email or social media, and we do not watch television or movies. Instead we read together, we play games, go for walks, or just have conversations. For some people this may be a once a week thing, or it could be monthly, but I would definitely encourage these times!
8. Take a recharge day
Recharge days were something I had never heard of until several years ago at a previous church. Once a month we were allowed to take a paid work day to physically, mentally, and spiritually recharge. We weren’t supposed to do office work or meet with people, instead we were to do whatever we need to be recharged.
Recharge days will look different for each person. In my case, I like to retreat to my favorite coffee shop and get a nice French Press and read different books or write. This helps me reconnect and strengthen my relationship with God. Other people recharge by spending time with their kids and spouse. Still others go and read ancient church history and theology books. All this in the name of recharging our lives to better serve the people God has called us to.
So often our days can seem to be overwhelming. The amount of work that must be completed is daunting. Many of us take work home after hours and on weekends. The truth is that this will mentality deflate you and will lead to burnout, stress, anxiety, and performance based self-worth. This is not healthy, so we must prioritize what is important.
I suggest making two lists, one of work priorities, and one of your life priorities. For the first, categorize what needs to be done soon and work that out and then focus on what is farther out. When it comes to the second list, prioritize what is important and what should have the majority of your time. Share this with your spouse, or someone close to you, and have them honestly answer if your life reflects this.
A lot of these suggestions can be dependent upon your workplace and those who are in leadership over you. You could try to make changes but ultimately they may rebuff your suggestions and attempts. So what then? Are we to simply exist in a burdensome world where work and the stress of life are destroying us? The answer is a resounding no!
We must always find our worth and value within the love and redemption of Christ. When work becomes too much to bear, when life gives you lemons, when you have had enough, hit the pause button. Step back, reassess where you are at, check your spiritual walk, and if need be, make a decision. Take a vacation, perhaps speak to your boss about what is going on, maybe look for a new job, make sure your heart is in the right place.
The long and short of this post: make sure you are being cared for spiritually, physically, and emotionally. When your priorities flow out your relationship with Jesus then you see what is important and what can be cut back, so that you can feel more at peace with life and all it throws at you.