When you begin working in leadership, especially as a staff member in a church, you do so with the understanding that sacrifice and service are part of the calling. The biblical narrative seems to endorse the idea that selflessness is a core tenet of Christian leadership: Jesus once taught the disciples that anyone who wants to be great must serve everyone (Mark 10:44). Ministers are often lauded for being on call at all times of the day and night. We answer the phone and return emails while we are on vacation. Some of you will remember how a previous generation of clergy published their home telephone number and address in the weekly church bulletin. At a time before mobile phones, these ministers wanted to be available whenever needed.
Availability is certainly essential to building trust, but is there such a thing as being too available? When do we need to be unavailable? Study after study confirms that ministry is hard work. Perhaps ministers make the work harder than it needs to be by not being able to say “no.”
One way that leaders evaluate personal growth is by the number of new opportunities that come our way. Are we being invited to serve on boards? Are we being asked to lead retreats or to speak at special programs? These are all good things, but too much of a good thing is not good. We need to add another metric to our self-evaluation, which is: What am I learning to say “no” to? Am I appropriately unavailable? Being available all the time for everyone may say less about our call to serve and more about our need to be needed.
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Before you go…
I don’t know where the idea came from, but there’s something I’ve done since day one of ministry. For the past 24 years, I’ve made it a practice not to schedule meetings or go to the office before mid-day. Sermon preparation is usually the first order of business for me, and I always wanted to create solid boundaries to do that important work. Obviously, I don’t stick to this rule 100% of the time. But I’ve done it so consistently — perhaps 85% of the time — that any exceptions to the rule are a nonissue.
Each of us has to figure out how to implement a consistent pattern of unavailability that we can practice as a spiritual discipline. On one occasion, Simon and the other disciples looked for Jesus and they couldn’t find him. He had gone off by himself to pray (Mark 1:35-37). Do yourself and your people a favor and be unavailable sometimes.
You can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at email@example.com. Until next week, keep leading!
Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity
‘Leading and Thriving in the Church’: A new podcast from Alban at Duke Divinity
In the second episode of “Leading and Thriving in the Church,” Prince talks with David Emmanuel Goatley, president of Fuller Theological Seminary.