A pastor’s schedule is a difficult thing to manage. You are never truly “off.” It seems as if there is always an emergency that must be addressed, a member to be met with, a fire to extinguish, and someone to encourage. Also, you are supposed to write and preach a Scripturally faithful and winsomely delivered sermon, every week.
The tyranny of the immediate is a real thing. I suspect that many pastors struggle under the weight of this tyranny, feeling that if we do not respond to every issue that comes up and contour our schedule to meet every demand, that the worst-case scenario will occur.
This is simply untrue. Most things can wait, though some things cannot.
Here is how I have attempted to experience freedom from the pressure.
- Have a day-by-day and block-by-block schedule. If you prioritize specific days or time blocks for sermon or ministry planning, you will be far more productive. I fine-tune my sermon on Fridays. Unless a life-and-death emergency arises, I do not deviate from my Friday schedule. I simply cannot serve our people well on Sundays unless I defend my time on Fridays. Establish which day is your “finalize the sermon” day and let your membership know that unless something arises that only you can address, you will be unavailable. This is not harsh— prioritizing the ministry of the Word is one of the ways we love God’s people well.
- Say no more than you say yes. All of us want to say yes to every request for our time. You simply cannot. Develop a grid for evaluating what requests on your time that you will agree to and which you will decline. Make sure people understand that grid so that they do not feel slighted but recognize you are trying to guard your time.
- Believe that God is sovereign. Most issues that need your attention can wait. Yes, your attention may be needed, but often it doesn’t need to be immediate. We feel a sense of urgency largely because we subtly assume that we must/can/will fix whatever has arisen as an issue. Do not allow every unforeseen issue to derail your day.
- Prioritize care for your church membership. You can only direct your attention and care to a limited number of people. Certainly, you love and care for all those who gather with your church. However, if someone has committed to the local church family, you should prioritize them as if they are family, because they are!
- Develop leadership systems that empower those around you. Most of the pressing needs of the church can be met by someone other than you. The only thing preventing those needs from being met is a system of empowerment.
The tyranny of the immediate can lead to an incredible amount of stress on a pastor and his family. This can be avoided with some basic planning and schedule-management techniques.
Dayton Hartman is lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He is an adjunct professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Columbia International University. He is the author of Church History for Modern Ministry , Lies Pastors Believe, and the forthcoming book Jesus Wins.
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