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3 simple time management tips for pastors

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“How are you doing?”

One of the most common responses I hear from pastors to this casual question is: “Busy.” Most of the time the tone is innocuous, so I chalk it up to small talk. As the conversation unfolds, it usually becomes clear their answer was either an appeal for admiration, sympathy, or help.

Lifeway’s Greatest Needs of Pastors study found half of pastors say time management is an aspect of their personal life that needs attention today. Which, to me, means the other half of pastors are lying about it.

Time management is time stewardship. Regardless of our respective responsibilities, we all have the same, limited amount of time to spend. Here are three time management tips for stewarding it well.

Budget your ministry time

This will be difficult for those of you who believe pastors should be available for their members 24/7. This naïve approach to ministry is not only patently unbiblical (i.e. the fourth commandment) but also disrespectful to your other church members or staff. John the Baptist told people repeatedly, “I am not the Christ.” Turn to a mirror right now and say the same thing out loud before you read on. Otherwise, this post won’t make any sense to you.

With many pastors serving at normative-sized churches with fewer than 100 in attendance, pastors often play multiple roles within the church. There are a few steps you can take to budget your ministry time well while spinning multiple plates.

  • Stack meetings on Wednesdays and Sundays. You’re the primary leader in your church, so it’s not too much to ask for necessary meetings to revolve around your schedule.
  • Push sermon prep to the front of the day and week. Don’t take calls or texts when you’re studying. “Devote [yourself] to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4, CSB).
  • Clarify to yourself, staff, and church what a real emergency is. If everything is an emergency, then nothing is. If you’re returning texts in traffic, during a meal, or in the middle of a face-to-face conversation, you have a problem everyone knows about except you.
Budget your family time

We recharge with our families only when we create boundaries that protect our time with them. Some of you may be waiting for a more convenient time to connect with your family and disconnect from your ministry. But waiting for perfect conditions will only lead to imperfect excuses.

It’s our choice whether we steward our time or allow it to be stolen. No pastor sets out to be a superhero, but if the cape fits, take it off and go be a hero at home.

Unless you’re a student pastor, summer is a great opportunity to take a vacation with your family because the church and school calendars are less crowded. If possible, string two Sundays in a row together or at least two weeks away.

I recently shared this idea with a group of urban pastors, and I could hear a couple of them gasping at the idea. I told them that if the church fell apart while they were away, they could charge me a convenience fee. After some polite laughter, I reminded them one of their responsibilities was to give ministry away (Ephesians 4:12). Pastor, you are either equipping people or enabling them.

Budget your personal time

Jesus and His dozen apostles were exhausted from a ministry sprint that included a resurrection (Jarius’ daughter) followed immediately by the execution of John the Baptist. One thing ministry peaks and valleys have in common is that they both leave us exhausted and in need of a recharge.

I don’t know how many times I’ve experienced the burn of burnout only to look at my calendar and see how long it had been since I’d taken a real break from my ministry routine. If you’ve gone more than three months without taking a break from preaching or teaching, you’ll experience this burn.

Who speaks into your schedule consistently? Allow a handful of people from your family, ministry, and friendship circles to call a timeout for you when you become blind to your own limitations. I realize this is much easier to write about than to do. Ironically, it usually takes some effort to get rested.

Intentional timeouts are usually a result of some advanced planning. Finding a remote cabin or retreat center that’s accessible and affordable is something you probably don’t have spare time to look into. Why not ask for help? If you belong to an association of churches or a denominational organization, ask them to help you find a remote place.

Jesus called for a ministry timeout for one simple reason: His disciples were tired. Self-care is strategic, not selfish (1 Timothy 4:16). Apply these time management tips this summer for the purpose of reconnecting with your family, recharging your soul, and recalibrating for a fantastic fall of ministry.

This article originally appeared at Lifeway Research.