Managing Time and Setting Boundaries While Remaining Accessible

For Baptists Today
5/24/10

Managing Time and Setting Boundaries While Remaining Accessible
By David W. Hull

I love the song by Kyle Matthews called “A Rhythm to Live By.” Phrases from the song keep running through my mind:

I need a rhythm to live by

Time for work and worship, rest and play

I need a rhythm to live by

So my feet can keep the beat of my heart

Help me find the balance I was made for, from the start

(from the CD, The Main Event, 2008)

One of the toughest challenges in ministry is time management. There is never enough time to do all that we think we need to do. How can we find this “rhythm to live by” that is vital to healthy ministry?

The Bible is a good place to start. Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (NRSV) The word that is translated “making the most of” has as its root the Greek agora. The Agora was the marketplace of the Greek world.  This idea of “making the most of the time” could also be translated as “spending.” Just as you might go to the marketplace and exchange money for an item you want, so with our lives it is wise to think of spending or investing our time that produces something valuable in return.

Using this biblical instruction as our frame of reference, good time management is spending our time wisely. We need to be asking the right questions. What is our purpose in life and ministry? Do we understand what “the will of the Lord is” for the work that God has called us to do? If so, what items in the marketplace of life will we say “No” to so that we will be able to say “Yes” to what matters the most? Boundaries help us to say “No.” Accessibility keeps us in tune to say “Yes.” The “rhythm of life” is the right balance between these two ways to spend our time.

Boundaries

I do not know who coined the following expression, but it has helped me to set boundaries in my ministry. “To be healthy, we should divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually.” Think about these three ideas as a way of setting boundaries.

Divert daily. Determine the most important tasks in your ministry. These may be priorities that are critical to your mission. They may also be tasks that only you can do – nobody else has this assignment on a regular basis. Then, invest time each day in this task. In fact, you may need to divert from other opportunities so that you can focus on the thing that matters most.

As a pastor, I am the primary preacher in our church. No other person stands up four times a week and preaches/teaches to the congregation. That means I must divert from doing other things so that I can invest some of my best time and energy into the task that only I can do. I choose to have my study in my home, separate from my office in the church. This forms a boundary. It allows quiet time for study and prayer away from the noise and congestion of the church office. I study at home in the morning – diverted away from many good things I could be doing at the church building in order that I can invest my best efforts to a task that only I can do. What is most important in your ministry? How are you diverting from some of the other attractions in the marketplace of life to ensure that your very best resources are invested in what only you can do?

Withdraw weekly. God commanded that we observe a weekly boundary in our lives. It is called the Sabbath. For those of us who minister in congregational settings, our Sabbath will never be on Sunday. It is clearly a day of work for us. However, that does not excuse us from keeping the commandment. After a week of work we need to withdraw and find time for “worship, rest and play.” My Sabbath is on Friday. When is yours?

Abandon Annually. I have heard a self-righteous pride among ministers who brag about never taking a vacation. “After all, the Devil never takes a vacation,” they say. The response to that should always be, “And look at the shape that he is in!” A much better way to find rhythm in our lives is to get away for a period of time each year. I learned long ago that one week of vacation was not enough time for my soul to rest so that “my feet can keep the beat of my heart.” For years, our family has taken two weeks of vacation together at the beach. It is a ritual now – sacred time that is far away from home and church. What will you be doing to “abandon” this year? Amazingly, the church will get along fine until you return!

Accessible

“Help me find the balance I was made for from the start.” Balance is crucial for a healthy ministry. Something that is out of balance will fall. Too many wonderful ministries have fallen for lack of balance. While boundaries are important so that we can invest time into what matters most in our ministry, there is another side to this coin. Ministry is about people. We must be accessible to the needs of people. If we are perceived as always “diverted, withdrawn, and abandoned,” we will not have a healthy ministry. We need to develop practices that work for us in finding this rhythm between boundaries and accessibility. Here are some of my practices. See if they would be helpful for you:

Walk slowly among your people. Take time when the church gathers on Sundays and Wednesdays to move among the people of the congregation to listen and speak into their lives. You will always be busy; never be in a hurry. This will create an open door for accessibility and communication.

Be reachable even when you are inaccessible. When I study at home, I do not answer the home phone. I am alone and quiet in my study. A boundary has been set. However, my cell phone is right beside me, and I can be reached in a moment’s notice from the church office if I am needed for an emergency.

Be a master, not a slave, to new technology for communication. Use new technology such as a smart phone to be very accessible. Master this new technology by keeping some boundaries in place. For example, I never answer the cell phone or text messages during a meeting. I want to be very accessible and present to the ones I am with at the moment. Then, right after the meeting or appointment, I check messages and get back in touch with the one who is trying to reach me. Mobile communication is a wonderful tool for ministry. Use it . . . but do not let it use you.

Schedule times to be available to colleagues. If you supervise staff or work closely with volunteers, set regular times to meet with them individually. While your boundaries may mean that you are not always available, these regular meetings will be times when important conversations can happen about the work that you do together.

These things have helped me to find a “rhythm to live by.” What will you do to “make the most of the time” that God has given to you?

— David Hull is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama.

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Please site David Hull, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.

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