5 Wastes of a Pastor’s Time
A pastor’s hours are precious. There are never enough of them for the administration portion of work, the spiritual preparation for preaching, the relationship aspects of the family and the personal aspects of ministry. I’ve never met a pastor who didn’t have too much to do and too few hours in which to do it. Let me suggest, then, a few speed bumps that most pastors face in time management, and for each a practical way to multiply your available hours.
Poorly-led meetings. No matter if you have a church staff or a core group of lay leadership, or both, meetings consume a hunk of the average pastor’s time. Leadership meetings, planning meetings, event meetings, budget meetings, elder meetings, worship meetings. Sometimes there are even meetings about meetings. The greatest time-waster with respect to meetings are those that have no clear agenda, or lack an agent to drive the meeting to accomplish its purpose.
Make sure each meeting has an agenda and a leader. If there are six items on the agenda, and a two-hour window, then allot an appropriate time for each and keep it moving. If you’re not a good meeting leader, appoint a meeting organizer to keep the meeting moving along. Don’t be afraid to stop a meeting if time runs out or you aren’t getting anywhere. “Sorry, our time is up. We will not be able to cover your items today.” It only takes a few times of communicating the importance of time management before other participants will fall in line.
Distractions during study. The most accomplished preachers will often talk about spending 20-30 hours of their week in study for the message. To most pastors that seems like either a utopia or a laughable pipe-dream. But the fact is that a pastor’s study in preparation to preach is among his most important focuses of time each week. Consistent interruptions will cause you to re-start your efforts and lose vital trails of thought, costing you precious time.
First, don’t study where you will be distracted. Many pastors do not study to teach at their office, but instead in their private study at home. Guard this time. Inform others of when your regular study time is, including your family. Make it sacred. Turn off your cell phone and don’t answer others during this time.
Failing to deal with consistent critics and complainers. Every pastor hears critics and complainers. Most pastors simply hear them and never actually deal with them. For this reason, most pastors also end up granting a regular audience for this small but vocal group to go over their “issue of the day”. You will be amazed when you add up critics and complainers how much total time you can spend on these issues—not only dealing with them directly, but having conversations with other staff and lay leaders on the various topics of complaint.
Best advice: Reach a conclusion on an issue, if possible. If you’re hearing constant complaint on a topic, set aside a time, address it, come to a conclusion or decision, then communicate that decision. Sometimes the thought is, “Well, I’ll just put up with him or her because it will be more trouble than it’s worth to deal with it.” See, you just wasted more time thinking about putting it off. Be a leader. Deal with it.
Electronic communication. I’m a smartphone addict and I love to be connected. Nevertheless, I’ve realized that iPhones, iPads, email, web surfing and other electronic pursuits cost much time. The two best pieces of advice with respect to electronic communication are these. First, keep it short. Keep emails short, avoid epistles, and remember that not everything warrants a response. Second, handle emails and electronic communications only once. Don’t save it for later if you can read and respond immediately.
No clear direction. Finally, perhaps the biggest time waster for a pastor—or any leader for that matter—is lacking clear direction in your own life, career and calling. In other words, what are the one or two things you believe God most wants you to be devoting time to this year, and what are you doing right now, today, to move forward on that? Because so few of us think in these terms, we lead days of constant distraction.
We start out with a few key goals in mind. Get to the office and we find a few fires to put out. Then we walk into the office next door to prop our feet up and solve the world’s problems. Oh, now it’s time for lunch. Then that meeting we were dreading, that went an hour long because of poor planning. Then the small family crisis. Before you know it the day is over and we’ve done little if anything to move our lives progressively forward to God’s high calling.
Start small. Write down one thing each day you must accomplish. Be willing to put aside other tasks to get this done. Take inventory of your free time—is it spent in the Lay-Z-Boy watching the game, or in pursuit of something worthwhile and lasting? Not to say all leisure is bad. But I will guarantee you this: The man who has truly given his life for the cause of Christ and done things in pursuit of his calling will find tremendous rest when his head hits the pillow. The other guy? He’s already wondering how he’ll get done tomorrow all that he put off today.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.