The Bi-Vocational Pastor: Time Management

timemanagementWhen I was studying in the education program at Shawnee State University, one of the things I remember being told on several occasions was that there is no type of field experience or classroom simulation that would truly prepare me for the day that I would enter the classroom. I recall being told on several occasions that the only way that type of environment can be experienced is to get a job and experience what it is actually like for the classroom door to close and to be on your own with a room full of teenagers. And while I feel like Shawnee State did an outstanding job of preparing me to enter the classroom, that statement could not be more true. As is the case with many vocations, the experience acquired in training simply does not equate to the experience acquired on-the-job, and this is no less true for the pastorate.

After I entered the pastorate, I quickly learned that there was no advice or seminary course that could fully prepare me for the journey on which I was about to embark. Therefore, the following series of posts are reflections about some of the more practical lessons I have learned as a bi-vocational pastor. Some of them I have drawn from other pastors and some I have learned the hard way… from my own mistakes. Hopefully you will find this series of posts to be helpful, and I would encourage you to share your own experiences as well.

While there are certainly a number lessons I have learned since entering the pastorate, there are several things in particular that I can immediately point to as some of the most important. But when I sat down to write this series of posts, it did not take long for me to decide what issue my first post would address: time management.

As bi-vocational pastors, we are essentially working two full-time jobs, continually striving to balance our time between work, sermon preparation, counseling sessions, and ministry meetings, not to mention prayer and personal devotion, spending time with our family, exercise, resting, eating, sleeping, and breathing. The days simply do not have enough hours, and it is easy to find ourselves worn out and beaten down, usually failing to give the proper attention to one or more of these various aspects of our lives. And since our job usually requires us to work a specific amount of hours each week, our families and ministries are usually the areas that we neglect. Unfortunately, there have been many weeks in which I have failed to devote an adequate amount of time and attention to my family, prayers, sermon prep, sleep, etc. Thankfully, by way of God speaking through those who are closest to me, I came to the realization that I simply could not keep up with my current approach to ministry. The way I was approaching ministry and managing my time was not healthy for me, my family, the people I serve, and certainly was not glorifying God.

As a result of coming to such a realization, I spent a considerable amount of time in prayer, asking God to help me find ways to serve him and serve others in a way that would be more glorifying to him. And while I confess that I still do not have all the answers, and by no means have the perfect approach to ministry, there are three things that I have learned are essential for a bi-vocational ministry in terms of time management:

1) Have a Plan – Every Sunday evening, I sit down take a look at the week and month that is ahead of me. I tend to be one who is absent-minded, so reviewing my scheduled appointments is helpful for avoiding scheduling conflicts. Approaching each week with a vision for how and when you will accomplish all that needs accomplished will go a long way toward maintaining balance in your schedule.

2) Maximize Your Time – When looking ahead at the week before me, I try to note the vacancies in my schedule. As an expert procrastinator, it is extremely helpful if I can identify the times in the day or week that I can use for prayer, personal devotion, spending time with my family, counseling, etc. For example, the quietest time in my house is after 8:00 pm, when my children are in bed. This is when I do the majority of my sermon preparation, reading, and devotional studies with my wife. If I try to accomplish these tasks at any other time, they typically are interrupted and little is accomplished.

3) Be Flexible – When I look at my schedule for the week, it is important to know which appointments can be rescheduled and which cannot. Obviously, Sunday morning worship, mid-week small groups, and my job as a teacher are not going to be items that will be rescheduled. However, the evenings that I set aside for sermon preparation (which is typically Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings) can and often do get moved to Friday evening. Although having a plan for the week is extremely important, it is also very important to recognize that, despite our plans, life happens. There have been a number of evenings that I have been called to go visit a member of our congregation who is ill, or to meet for an unscheduled counseling session, and certain items on my calendar had to be moved (note the importance of identifying vacancies as potential times for rescheduling).

Suffice it to say that having a plan, maximizing your time, and being flexible all go hand-in-hand. It is inevitable that we will come across unexpected situations that create scheduling conflicts throughout the course of the week. And while I am certainly not perfect in any of these aspects of my life and by no means have all the answers, having a plan that allows for maximization of time and flexibility has helped me maintain a much healthier approach to balancing time between family, ministry, and job. Having said that, I would encourage you to respond throughout this series with things you have found to be particularly helpful in your own ministry context.

Robie Day is the lead pastor at Grace Brethren Chapel in Piketon, OH, and also serves as the vice president of the Southern Ohio Pastors Coalition. He is a graduate of Shawnee State University (BA), Ohio State University (MA), and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (MA).

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