Redeeming the time in ministry

The end of the year is always a great time to pause, reflect, and consider how you are using the time, talents, and treasure God has given you.

For us pastors, there are endless demands, and if we’re not careful, we can become driven by the tyranny of the urgent. The “best” can be sacrificed on the altar of the “good.” Here’s a list of questions I’m asking as I take time to audit my schedule and ministry duties:

  • What does the Bible dictate as my main priorities?
  • What does the Bible say about stewardship of time?
  • What tools can help me to be more productive?
  • What are my strengths?
  • How can I sharpen and develop these for maximum use?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • Are these things I need to delegate to others, or take time to improve?
  • What are the necessities in life? The absolute non-negotiables?
  • What activities are moderately beneficial?
  • Which activities have the lowest cost-benefit ratio?
  • What are the greatest time-wasters in my life – the time and energy ‘vampires’ in my life?
  • What buffers do I need to put in place to avoid the tyranny of the urgent?
  • Which activities have the highest cost-benefit ratio?
  • If God gave me 50 more years on this earth, what would be my life goals and dreams?
  • What are practical steps to achieve these goals?
  • What do I want to learn about?
  • What do I want to read?
  • What is a realistic schedule to keep to attain these goals – daily, weekly, monthly, annually?
  • Where can I cut corners, better multitask, and become more efficient?
  • Where do I need to slow down, use greater attention and precision?
  • What is my plan?
  • What people serve as an example of effective use of time?
  • What kind of accountability do I need to put in place to do these things?

All of these need to be answered with humility, in the spirit of James 4:13-17.

Last week I read through an old paperback called How to Save Time in the Ministry, by Leslie B. Flynn. Quoting one Christian executive, Flynn writes, “Pruning away unnecessary and unprofitable activities, like canceling subscriptions to some popular magazines and resigning positions in some organizations, seems advisable action to take once a year, and should be ruthless” (p. 44). That is exactly what I’m in the process of doing right now.

How to Save Time is a helpful book on time management, particularly for pastors like myself. His chapters address issues like the value of time, the importance of delegation, planning ahead, short and long-term scheduling, developing efficiency, starting earlier, punctuality and the need for rest. If I could suggest one improvement, it would be for the author to expand his biblical theology of time. It’s obvious Flynn has done his homework on the subject. The book is brimming with rich anecdotes on time management, but he devotes very little attention to explain what the Bible actually has to say about time (pp. 10-14).

Most amusing was Flynn’s description of the “cutting edge” technology available during the 1960s: “[The preacher] should investigate new methods in office equipment, including dictating machines, intercom devices, and copying machines…addressograph, folding machine, electric typewriters, Thermo-Fax copy machine, paper cutter, automatic sealing and stamping meter, tape recorder, adding machine, Kardex files, and for the larger church an electric bookkeeping machine” (pp. 52-54).

My, how computers, cell phones, and the internet have changed our lives! I feel rather spoiled and convicted, that to whom more has been given, more is going to be required! Entering 2010, we have unprecedented technology at our fingertips. Are we maximizing these tools for God’s glory, or are we frittering away the precious time we supposedly save through new gadgets?

This has been a very helpful and thought-provoking little book. I picked up 5-10 tips that may really improve my use of time. Next, I’m going to tackle David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.

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