BALANCING TIME AND MINISTRY
The popular TV series, 24, was filmed in real time. In each season, the hero, Jack Bauer, had 24 hours to save the world. And since the world is still here, he obviously pulled it off. Whether he was waiting on Chloe at CTU to send some schematics to his palm or if he had to get from one place to another in a heartbeat, one of his oft-spoken lines was this: “There’s no time!”
Ministers use that a line a lot too. I did ministry during my last year of college and during my seminary years—some part-time, some full-time. There was class to attend, reading to do, tests to take, papers to write, youth to counsel, events to plan and attend, youth services to prep, hospitals to visit, phone calls to make, leaders to develop. “Sheesh! There’s no time!” I thought that would change when I graduated and got into full-time ministry without seminary to worry about. It didn’t. Ministers, especially teaching ministers, live with deadlines, not the least of which is what one of my mentors called, “the unrelenting return of the Sabbath.” Tony Campolo preached a famous Easter sermon called “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming.” If I was going to preach a sermon on ministry and time I might call it “It’s Monday but Sunday’s Coming” … and Wednesday. “There’s no time!”
So how do we balance ministry and time? Here are some thoughts:
Make time every day for Jesus. There is no substitute in a minister’s life for Scripture and prayer, for listening and conversing with the Lord who loves you and calls you. Never sacrifice that for anything else.
Don’t shortchange your studies. It’s easy to rationalize that more souls are at stake in your ministry job than in your schooling. But God has you in school, so give it ample time. You are not only gaining knowledge and skills that will help you be a better minister, you are learning how to discipline your time and manage multiple demands at once: an important skill for ministry.
Ministry takes time. It takes time to build relationships. It takes time to build people. It takes time plan and enlist and train and prepare. If you think you can do a 9 to 5 ministry, go be a banker or something. Ministry is hard work and requires a lot of time.
The life/ministry, family/ministry balance is a myth. Ministry has intense seasons where you will work more hours and invest so much blood, sweat, and tears in the work that your “life” side will be shortchanged. Remember Jesus’ words in John 9:4 – “We must do the works of him who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” But there are also ministry seasons that provide a little more downtime. Take advantage of that time when it comes. But you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you think you’ll ever be able to strike a perfect balance.
Understand there are different kinds of time. The Greeks had two words for it: chronos (calendar time, the persistent tick, tick, tick of the clock) and kairos (time as opportunity, pregnant time that could give birth to something significant). Chronos asks, “What time is it?” Kairos asks, “What is this time for?” Avoid surrendering to the urgent lest you miss the lasting. That inconvenient “not now!” phone call, that unscheduled interruption, that providential path-crossing at the Dairy Queen, that after worship conversation, just might transform a life. Ministry is less about time management and more about life management. Kairos time is life time. Be wide open to kairos opportunities in your ministry. You’ll make the most of your time when you do.
Be ready to give your ministry the time it requires. As a pastor, if I’m interviewing an intern or potential staff member and their first questions are about office hours, vacation time, and comp time, that’s a short interview, and I scratch them off the list. I’m more intrigued by potential ministers who are more interested in work time than time off. It’s important to talk time off, but save it to the last of the discussion.
Make time for rest. Take advantage of days off when you can. Use your vacation time. Turn down the amperage a couple of notches in a slower season of ministry. Figure out when you need rest, and make time for that too.
Ministry is many things. One of them is time. Spend it well to the glory of God.
This article was written by John McCallum, Pastor at First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, Arkansas