Every day in the work of the ministry is an opportunity to serve people, glorify Christ and build the Kingdom of God on the earth. The minister, whether otherwise employed or full time in a church or educational position, is in a unique position to seize this opportunity. There are at least a few things that a man in the ministry should be involved in on an ongoing basis. He should be devotionally reading the Scriptures for his own edification and that of his family. He should be constantly involved in Scripture exegesis to fulfill his commitment of accurately handling the Word of Truth. He should be a life-long learner regardless of whether he is a seeking a degree. He should be meeting with his people as a partner in discipleship, a mentor and a counselor. He will have weddings, funerals, visitations, etc. always creeping up on the calendar. All of this just touches on the ongoing, continual affairs of life for the minister, not to mention the more mundane tasks of administration and unexpected surprises.
How is it, then, that days come and go with so little to show for them? There may be many different answers to that question. For some, it is an issue of varied commitments. There are a great number of pastors who balance the demands of ministry, education, secular employment (I know, there is no such thing- but you know what I mean) and family life. These faithful servants have a special place in my heart. For others, it is an issue of discipline. They have the time and resources to be productive for the Kingdom but their affections are elsewhere and because they are not highly disciplined their time vanishes and they know not where it has gone. In any case, a twofold commitment is in order.
- A commitment to recognize that our short time on this earth belongs to the Lord and that the pursuit of anything other than Him and His kingdom is an inferior way to spend our time.
- A commitment to repent of our lack of discipline and to better priority and time management.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15-16 ESV)
Paul’s address to the Ephesian church is not primarily about time management for the preacher. Nonetheless, the application of the principles there is most appropriate for those seeking to make the most of their time for the glory of God. To give a succinct summary of Paul’s exhortation,
- There is a second person imperative which the NIV captures well- “be very careful, then, how you live” The divine commandment upon our time management is to give as much care to our stewardship of time as we would to the stewardship of an object of inestimable value.
- Our stewardship of time is, among other things, indicative of our godly wisdom.
- The goal of time management is to maximize the finite time that we have been given.
- Good time management and maximum effectiveness for the Kingdom is unnatural and a skill that requires cultivation and attention.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12 ESV)
Taken together, the commitment of the minister to time management in light of the exhortation of Scripture might look something like this: “I recognize that my time on the earth is limited and is best utilized in the pursuit of the knowledge of God, His glorification, the edification of His people and the growth of His kingdom. Therefore I will live circumspectly, as a man of God ever growing in repentance and wisdom, desiring to maximize my effectiveness for the Kingdom by appropriately managing my time in accordance with Kingdom priorities.”
O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! (Psalm 39:4 ESV)
Here are a few helpful steps toward better time management:
- Establish your priorities. If your role in the local church is preaching, then an example of a priority is developing your skill in exposition. If your role is that of a counseling and discipleship, then developing those skills is a top priority. Time management begins with identifying those things which are absolutely most important- this is where you will devote most of your time and activity.
- Identify activities that yield a high return on investment in relation to your priorities and do them! Much time is lost (read: used unwisely) because activities generating a high return are often relegated to the time that is not spent putting out proverbial fires and doing much less urgent/important activities. If, for example, developing skill in exposition is a top priority for the preacher then an appropriate starting point in time management would be to identify a number of activities that promote growth in that area and do them! These activities may include taking seminary courses in Greek and Hebrew Exegesis, compiling and reading through a list of 4 books on hermeneutics and 4 books on expository preaching, attending a conference on expository preaching, and meeting once a week with another local pastor to discuss sermon preparation and methodology.
- Schedule these activities a week in advance and give them absolute focus. Put your seminary class on the calendar and do not miss it unless something more important to the work of the Kingdom comes up. Block off an hour every morning for reading through the books that you identified and put on your list in the “Expository Preaching” category. Schedule, for instance, 9-12 AM, Monday-Thursday for sermon preparation (maybe 7-10 PM if you are bi-vocational) and and do it! During that time, close your email, turn notifications off on your phone, don’t return phone calls, don’t take visitors, and don’t get distracted. You are engaged in these high return on investment activities because they advance the priorities that you and the Lord have determined are most befitting of your time. Other than high-payoff activities and scheduled items (appointments, meetings, other time-sensitive activities), nothing goes on your weekly calendar.
- Handle the other stuff in the gaps. What I mean by this is simple. You have your critically important activities scheduled. In the time between those activities, go ahead and return phone calls, check emails, and put out fires, but for the sake of the Kingdom, do not let these take priority over more important, urgent, God-glorifying work.
- Keep the most important things first. This method of establishing goals/priorities, identifying high return on investment activities to achieve them, and being disciplined in your scheduling works in all areas of life. It works in business and the most successful people in the business world know this. It works in your personal life- set a goal, identify how to achieve it and then have the discipline to do it. As you use this method to improve your time management in ministry, don’t forget your ministry in the local church is secondary to your ministry to your family. Whatever your work/ministry/school/family schedule looks like, be sure that you honor the Lord by ministering to your family first and taking care of everything else in the appropriate order afterward.
- Finally, remember that ministry is not a mechanical exercise. You can develop proficiency in time management, but it is just a means to an end- maximum effectiveness in your work for the Kingdom. Nothing can replace hours spent pouring one’s heart out in prayer before the Lord, seeking with feverish desperation a good and sure word for His people.