Making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:16
A couple of weeks ago, Kellen posted “Plan or Die” on the Cross Connection Network. It struck an area in my life that God has been at major work on–time management. One of the transitions I struggled with as I moved from life as a SEAL to life as a pastor was managing my time. In the Navy I had no use of a personal calendar. But as I transitioned to the pastorate, I quickly learned that I needed a calendar to keep straight the many meetings, appointments, and various events I was now juggling to keep. This was my main struggle that forced me to make the leap from the flip-phone to a smart phone as paper pocket-calendar served me no purpose as I wouldn’t keep it in my possesion.
With my new smart-phone, a Palm Treo (this was before my iPhone conversion), I was now able to fill my schedule and keep up with everything. It was sweet. I was living out (misinterpreted and applied) my favorite verse, “…making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16) by filling it packed full. This went on for years, until (well, it’s still a struggle technically) I preached on the parable of the soil found in Luke 8. The verse that really convicted me was Luke 8:14, “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” This verse continued to convict me following the message…which is rare as I am normally convicted during my study time leading up to the message! I felt like the Lord was telling me to examine my schedule.
That Sunday night I laid my schedule for the upcoming week out on my desk. I felt like I was to check my hours of the upcoming week to see what things were choking me out. Although, I felt safe doing this as I thought I had a “light week” ahead and I though it would reveal a reasonable workload. As I went through my calendar seeking to tally the running hours for the week, I was shocked to discover that this “light week” was really a 50+ hour work week! The Lord clearly made His point with me–this was not what He expected of me and nor was it good for me or the church.
Kairos, not Chronos. Back to Ephesians 5:16, “…making the most of your time.” Whether or not I misunderstood the Greek here, my life certainly misapplied the intention this verse. I applied this verse by understanding “time” as chronos meaning to fill up my calendar with as many things as possible. This is wrong as the word is actually kairos meaning “to take full advantage of every opportunity” (Louw-Nida). It may just be me, but this changes everything concerning how I view planning out my week because it forces me to prioritize things which, in turn, forces me to eliminate things (from the schedule of course)!
“Plan your dive, dive your plan.” This was a saying we used in the SEAL teams concerning our dive plans. The concept is pretty simple. Plan your dive carefully. Then carry out the plan. To deviate from the plan would certainly result in major problems and failures along the way. How does this apply for me concerning my schedule today? Did you catch the title of this post? That’s how many hours we have each week. No more, no less. We will never get them back once they pass, but how we use them will play forward in eternity for good or bad.
Coming up with a plan. First, I confess, I have been slacking on planning my week. I could give you a bunch of good excuses, but I won’t. Typically what I try to do is account for every hour of the week. I plan out things like: a day off, family time, exercise, sermon prep, writing, and people time. As I plot these out, I am careful to keep a running tally of the work hours that have accumulated. My goal is to land somewhere between 40-50 hours of work and then as the week plays out I will note unforeseen events in my calendar.
Flexibility of the plan. If you are a pastor, you must be flexible and available. As I write out my week, I understand that I have to be flexible. Crisis’ come every week and I have purposed in my heart to be available as much as possible to my people. By mapping out my week and the joy of a smart-phone, I can make mid-course corrections as they come. Simply realizing how much time goes out has caused me to be more careful in saying “yes” to things and guarding things like family time that could so easily be stolen away. Simply being aware of the running tally has unveiled my ignorance concerning the use of the time God has given to me.
Benefits of the plan. The first thing I noticed was exactly what Kellen said in his blog, “I have more free time.” I was shocked! I simply became more efficient during my appointed times because I knew what the whole week looked like. I have spent more time with the family on Saturdays than I ever did before.
The second thing I noticed was a clearer conscience. The pastorate is an odd calling. It is not like other professions. We don’t produce a product per se, we are never really finished. I think because of this many pastors burn the candle at both ends the the expense of their personal health and the health of their family. We go and go and say “Yes”, “Sure”, and “No problem” (Jesus would, right?) when we are really burning ourselves out. By keeping a running tally of weekly hours I see how much time I put into things. Ultimately this helps me not to feel bad to turn off my phone and to play with the family.
I think Kellen’s title, “Plan or Die” is really appropriate when it comes to going the distance in the ministry. Our families need us to plan our weeks and then to abide by our plan. How are you utilizing the 168 hours that God is giving you this week?
Thanks, Gunnar. Something I realized as I was reading this is that the newer generation of pastors seem to be more geared toward time management than men my age (59). I don’t know if it’s generational, personality, time of life, or training. I get done what needs to be done, but I don’t do it w/ the kind of reflection and time-consciousness that has been written about here. This is by no means a criticism – merely an observation. Here’s a poll for the readers of this blog – what is your age and do you plan out your calendar and manage your time with the same kind of meticulousness that both Kellen and Gunnar have written about here?
I’ll be 38 in September. Just for the record, I don’t think I’m this way naturally…I have to force myself to stay on the calendar. I was killing myself doing too much. In many ways, I think looking at others…especially some Pastor’s kids and realized that I needed to adjust for my personal health and accountability if that makes sense? I am curious about the age thing though…and this may be a season.
And with my children grown and gone I don’t feel the pressure of being home at such-and-such a time. An empty nest really impacts your time.
And just for the record, I should probably manage my time the way you do, but I don’t.
Tim, I’m 32… And while I do plan my week I often feel that it is in vain.
I agree with what you, I do think that this persuasion is largely generational. Furthermore, I wonder if it’s totally necessary. I think that there is a desire among guys in my generation to be “more effective” and that our gauge of effectiveness may not be entirely right.
I can attest to the fact that I tend to try to cram far more in my day/week than is probably necessary or even a reality. In addition, my actual schedule almost never ends up looking like my planned schedule, yet most everything gets done and quite a bit more that wasn’t in my plan.
All that to say, I want to be the most effective with my time, which at this stage of life—with 3 kids under 4—seems to be constantly pressing. Making and keeping a calendar seems to keep me moving in the right direction.
Miles, your first sentence explains why I don’t plan my week in a meticulous, hour-by-hour manner. I am becoming less disciplined as I age while at the same time I have more experience. Sermons come easier. I don’t have to re-read all I read at my first pass through a book. I have more time for reflection and contemplation. And like you wrote, most everything gets done and then some. And just wait till those three kids are 8,9, and 10 and above. Daddy taxi-service is just around the corner, not to mention the birthday parties, youth group activities, sporting events, practices, school events, etc… Time management has just begin for you, my friend. I have to go rest – I’m tired just thinking about all that again.
Thanks… I’m tired now just thinking about it too.
One of your points very much interests me. You said, “Sermons come easier. I don’t have to re-read all I read at my first pass through a book. I have more time for reflection and contemplation.” I was reading an article last night which cited a study done recently by LifeWay Research.
They polled 1,066 pastors regarding sermon preparation; a similar study was done in 2001 revealed that the pastors spent an average of 4 hours per week per sermon. The change over the decade is interesting…
Amount of Time in Sermon Preparation Each Week
Less Than 5 Hours — 8%
5 to 7 Hours — 23%
8 to 10 Hours — 25%
11 to 15 Hours — 23%
More Than 15 Hours — 21%
More than 70% of pastors polled spent 8+ hours a week preparing each sermon. It would be interesting to get an age sampling in such a study. Or perhaps a “years on the job” sampling. I too have found that my prep time has decreased over the years, not because I have less time, but because I need less time. Quite honestly there have been times in which I actually felt a sense of guilt for spending less time preparing for a message than I did 5 or 10 years ago, as if spending less time meant that I wasn’t being as diligent or hardworking. The reality is that experience in a given trade (if you will) does have benefits. In this, like in so many areas of life and work, repetition is the mother of all skill.
It often surprises me the direction the comments go on a given post. First, I have not obtained this standard. I am with Miles that often the planning was done in “vain”, but I don’t really think so as it first caused me to look at the big picture of my week early on. But the schedule is hardly a governing document in my life.
Second, the cause of my scheduling was not a drive to be more effective (but in hind-sight I guess it was). But it was set up to guard my time as I was getting burned out by over committing. I think in some respects it is because I was mentored by a great godly man who can say yes to everything and seem not to get frustrated. I however was saying yes, but getting burned out because I was simply cramming too much in by happenstance. The calendar became sort of a guard rail for me to insure I was caring for my own personal health and well being. I saw that I was on the road to some major stress related health crisis like so many guys go through.
Three, yes experience can make us more effective at preparation, scheduling, planning, etc, etc…but that mean we are necessarily mean that we are making the most of our kairos. In May, I went out to Alistair Begg’s church for a pastor’s conference. He warned the pastors of some common pitfalls–1) prayerlessness, 2) Gap between life and doctrine, 3) Inflated egos, 4) despondency, 5) jealousy, 6) laziness, 7) misplaced affections (love for the work and not the Lord), 8) aimlessness, and 9) fads. I find that I am prone to just about all of these and in a weird way scheduling has helped me form a bit of accountability in the way I live my life…
Not sure that this makes sense…I’m running out of time 🙂 as I have to run to SWAT training for chaplaincy duty!
One of my saving graces is a big capacity to say NO. I think also that an ingrained sense of what is important vs what is pressing has been helpful. Often, the things that press aren’t the things that are important. In thinking about this, I don’t think mainly in terms of time as much as tasks needing to be done. I don’t feel conscious of time, but of task.
I see the logic in this. I have a calendar (which syncs between every device), while my wife has a list. She loves lists. They don’t necessarily have time makers on each bullet-point, but they all get done. She is incredibly good at time management, which has a lot to do with her line of work as a Nurse.
“NO” is a very good word! In realizing what God has called me to do vs. what He has not called me to do I’ve been able to be more effective at saying “no.” Making a transition from an assisting pastor role to a head pastor role was an interesting move too. Whereas I once was the guy doing many many tasks to support the work of others, now I’m supported by a great group of people who can free me up if I’m diligent enough to delegate tasks to them. The transition in my mind was (and in some ways still is) the most difficult move of all. I’ve had to recognize that while my tasks have decreased significantly from a couple dozen, the fewer tasks I am now face with require much more of my attention and diligence.
To all this I want to add that the place my actual calendar has been the most effective has been in scheduling time to not work. I’m, by nature/culture/upbringing a total workaholic. If I don’t intentionally schedule time for family, rest, recreation, exercise, etc… I just won’t take it. In that, it is helpful.
Tim and Miles, I really like your last two comments. Clearly the issue ultimately the skill of prioritizing demands…time management is a secondary issue. I would be interested to hear thoughts from the older guys concerning lessons they have learned about prioritizing demands in the pastoral ministry.
I second that request… although I assume I know what some of those answers may be.
Well, one answer is: I don’t prioritize my demands, they prioritize themselves. Some things are inherently more important that others. My challenge isn’t to prioritize the demands but to recognize which demands have priority. I don’t prioritize the pulpit – it is a priority. I don’t prioritize funerals, ’emergency’ counseling, or family time. My wisdom is in submitting to their demands.
Hey guys! I’m way late to this party as I’ve only been able to read this post today. It’s all of those prioritized demands ruling my life. 😉 Obviously, I’m with you on this, Gunnar. And I agree with the common point I think yall are hitting: A plan is where you start, flexibility is how you move, and greater effectiveness is where you land. Wrong? Right? Unclear? You guys are a blessing to read each week.