Managing your time as a minister just may be the single most difficult issue you face. The problem of managing ministerial time has a long and not always hopeful history.
The minister’s need for Sabbath rest, time away from the job, and personal and family recreation was virtually ignored until the middle of the 20th century. Relatively little thought was given to ministers’ need for a life apart from their work. At that point, a number of cultural factors came into play, including changes in the secular workplace leading to an expectation of more balance between work and family life. In Christian circles the pastoral-care movement began to emphasize the need for ministers to be emotionally and physically healthy themselves in order to lead their congregations toward health.
Counterbalancing these factors that have moved toward support for ministerial time off is the persistent cultural expectation that a minister should always be available to the congregation. Nobody would fault parishioners for wanting their pastor with them at a time of devastating grief. Nor does anybody fault a church board for wanting the pastor present when important decisions are made, or the homebound for wanting the pastor to visit regularly. Nor does anyone deny that the pastor needs to socialize regularly with members of the church. Nor can one blame a family in crisis for wanting the pastor present in a time of need. The issue of ministerial time management grows out of this inevitable tension between the legitimate demands of congregational life and the legitimate need of ministers for a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
I contend that time management is best addressed sequentially, through a series of touch points that punctuate a minister’s relationship with a congregation—times when mutual expectations and intentions can be shaped and spelled out. Those touch points include the negotiation of an initial contract; the establishment of a ministerial schedule; the observation of contractual vacations, holidays, and sabbaticals; the minister’s daily self-management; and times of congregational change. For the most part, it is the skill with which we ministers address the issue at these critical points that determines our competence as time managers.
The problem of how you’re going to manage your time as a pastor begins before you ever enter the parish. Most churches don’t think of themselves as “hiring” a pastor. They think of themselves as “calling one. And they assume that serving as their pastor will be the consuming passion of your life. They’re correct. But that doesn’t mean they have a right to your attention 168 hours a week. What is required for competence in time management is the kind of mental toughness that recognizes that none of us is indispensable to the kingdom of God, but each of us is indispensable to our family and to our own mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being.
Time management is not an exact science. Nor is it the same for each person. But good time management can make the difference between a successful, fulfilling ministry, and one that seems to splash about aimlessly in the shallows. Most important, time management is a skill that can be learned, and learning it is worth the time.
Adapted from The Competent Pastor: Skills and Self-Knowledge for Serving Well by Ronald D. Sisk copyright © 2005 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
The Competent Pastor:
Skills and Self-Knowledge for Serving Well
by Ronald D. Sisk
Competence in ministry is a moving target. A ministry technique that works in one parish may not work in another. What works today may not work five years from now. But a competent pastor will be able to adapt to changing locations and changing times. This book is intended to help pastors, seminarians, and lay people who work with pastors understand themselves and others and to keep a realistic perspective on their work and their lives.
Gifts of an Uncommon Life:
The Practice of Contemplative Activism
by Howard E. Friend
This book of ten essays is a breath of fresh air, a source of inspiration, a wake-up call, and a bold challenge for pastors, congregational leaders, and church members—both active and lapsed—who long for a new perspective, even a touch of creative irreverence. Howard Friend offers fort
hright, at times disarming, candor as he shares his personal pilgrimage of activism rooted in contemplation. Drawing on a range of stories from the Bible and his own lived experiences, Friend invites us to meet real people—pastors, leaders, everyday folks—who dare to dream a new dream, journey toward a far horizon, walk with tireless determination, and press on with awesome hope.
Tending to the Holy:
The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry
by Bruce G. Epperly and Katherine Gould Epperly
Tending to the Holy invites pastors to embody their deepest beliefs in the routine and surprising tasks of ministry. Inspired by Brother Lawrence’s classic text in spirituality, The Practice of the Presence of God, this book integrates the wisdom and practices of the Christian spiritual tradition with the commonplace practices of pastoral ministry .
The Spiritual Leader’s Guide to Self-Care
by Rochelle Melander and Harold Eppley
The Spiritual Leader’s Guide to Self-Care is an ideal companion for clergy, lay leaders, and others who would like guidance about how to make changes in their personal life and ministry. Readers may work through one of the fifty two sections each week or adopt a more leisurely pace. The guide includes journal-writing suggestions, personal reflection questions and activities, guidance for sharing the discovery process with another person, an activity for the coming week, and suggested further resources.
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