The Practical Secret to Faithful Ministry (pt. 3)
In the first part of this little series on faithfulness, we revealed the practical secret to a faithful ministry: using a calendar (not merely having one). In the second part, we began with five principles on how to actually use a calendar, from what kind of calendar you might use to actually making time to calendar. In this last part, let’s discuss three last suggestions that are crucial for effective calendaring. I hope number six brings some relief!
6. Plan Your Rest
All this planning can make a man tired. I’m an introvert. Sometimes just looking at my to-do list or my calendar can drain me of energy! I’m not alone. And the only thing worse than that is if you stuff your calendar and it gives you energy! You, my friend, are likely to be tempted to over-work. So, whether you’re drained by lists or driven by them, it’s imperative that you not neglect your rest. The best way to avoid neglecting rest is, you guessed it, put rest on your calendar.
My friend and co-laborer Matt Schmucker taught me a little dictum: “Rest before you get tired.” Matt is a relentless planner with significant administration gifts. He gets lots of things done. So I listen to him when it comes to faithful productivity. And I find that I have to work hard to protect times of rest for myself and for my family. Otherwise, I’m overrun with important things and urgent issues and I find myself in that introvert’s purgatory where the mind is never shut off or turned in for respite.
How do you rest before you get tired? Look at your weekly calendar. Is there a regular “Sabbath rest” somewhere? Block out a full 24-hour period where there is no work whatsoever and protect that time like a mama bear with her cubs! Different people choose different days. It doesn’t matter. Choose a day that works for you or move the day around (it’s your calendar!). But make sure that weekly Sabbath is there.
Next, flex your schedule. Some days are long days. Sometimes we plan it that way; other times the unexpected happens and you’re logging twelve or fourteen hours. What do you do then? I try to find some time in the next week or so to recoup those hours. I tend to think that 40-45 hours per week (not including the services of the church) is a reasonable work week. When I hit hour 45, I’m checking my tank for energy and looking ahead for rest. So if I work a 12-hour day on Tuesday, if I can, I’m likely to take a couple hours off on Wednesday. Flex your schedule so you’re not digging an energy hole called “burnout.”
Finally, take all of your vacation. I have to work on this, too. Somewhere along the lines I got the notion that carrying over time off and having a full bank of vacation days was “normal” or “good.” Meanwhile, I worked week-after-week with barely any breaks and often not flexing my schedule. Do that for a few years and you’ll start to feel the stress and strain of trying to be omnipresent and omnipotent. So, sit down with the family and plan the use of your vacation for the next year or at least six months. Put it on the family calendar and watch people look forward to it. And more than that, watch how knowing vacation is over the horizon enables you to meet each week with a healthy zeal.
7. Spread People, Squeeze Tasks
Finally, faithful ministry is about people. It’s about having time for them, caring for them, seeking them out and investing in them. We shouldn’t have calendars and to-do lists so full that our people feel like they’re “bothering us” if they want some time with us. We’re “doing it wrong” if we end our calendar planning sessions and we have a thousand tasks and zero people scheduled.
So, spread people throughout your calendar and allow generous amounts of time for them and squeeze your tasks into as small amount of time as reasonable. We do this each week by scheduling lunches and dinners with members of the church. We try to have people in our home 2-3 evenings per week for table fellowship. I like to have about as many discipleship lunches per week on average. These are not primarily sessions for counseling or crisis care (see below). These tend to be the positive, energy-giving times of mutual edification and encouragement. For your own encouragement, be sure your calendar is not filled with emergencies and people with significant needs. Spread around time for visitation with all the sheep and investment in people who seem to be doing well. This is the time to cultivate relationships and even discern who might be ready for leadership or increased ministry opportunity.
8. Keep Office Hours for Counseling and Crisis
Everyone will want to see you when it’s most convenient for them or their employer. So they’ll put work and other things ahead of meeting with their pastor, expecting the pastor to be “always on call.” Don’t give in to that pressure. It will inevitably mean neglecting your family life and your own rest. Keep office hours so that you can keep family time.
Teach the people to think of coming to see you much like they think of going to see a doctor or even taking their car to the mechanic. Doctors and mechanics have office and shop hours. Come after those hours and they politely apologize for not seeing you and ask you to make an appointment. We make that appointment because we know that if our bodies ache there’s trouble that needs to be checked. If our cars make a noise there’s a bigger repair bill if we neglect it. So we prioritize these things over other everyday concerns.
Michael Lawrence taught me that Christians should treat a pain or noise in their soul with the same urgency as they do their bodies and automobiles. Which means, they should prioritize coming to see their pastor over their work schedules if at all possible and come during office hours. Everybody wins. You get some work-life balance and they learn not to give anything in exchange for their souls, not even the whole world.
Well, that’s it. That’s the practical secret to ministry faithfulness day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year until the Lord Jesus returns or calls us home. Use your calendar well and you will schedule your way to faithfulness. Plan your work, work your plan, and do it over and over again. May we all hear the Lord say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”