If you are a pastor or some other kind of Christian leader would you say that you drive your schedule or that your schedule drives you? How much control do you exercise over external demands and expectations?
Furthermore, what does your schedule do for you? Does it function to facilitate organisation and activity or Sabbath, spiritual life and wisdom? If you are anything like me you tend to use it for the former rather than the latter. It is very telling that my diary organises my meetings and appointments rather than my spiritual life. I don’t know many people who use it for both, or indeed for spiritual life.
Our diaries describe our normalised patterns of life. And and normal patterns or habits reveal what’s most important to us. Its worth looking carefully at our diary to see what it reveals about our spiritual walk with God. How can we use them to help us live lives of quality and depth rather than massive running around.
Our diaries might show we are really good at organisation. Many pastors juggle a huge number of difference commitments and people with amazing multitasking skills. But what would a diary look like that schedule enough space for praying, worshipping and seeking God? What would a diary look like that is being used well to produce a spiritual life of quality? As the Bible says, like a tree planted by streams of water whose roots go very deep?
Most pastors I know work up to the limit of their capacity pretty much all the time. They believe - rightly - that it is good to work hard for the Lord in the service of the gospel. But many struggle with the sheer subjectivity that plagues so much of the work. It is very difficult in pastoral ministry to know when you have done enough or to evaluate whether it is good or bad work. The frequent answer is simply to do more hoping that means it is better. This leads to living at the outside limit of capacity, with no margins, all the time. Of course it only takes an unexpected pastoral crisis or two to push us over the edge.
I’ve read a few books recently about Getting Things Done time management principles. They all work with the idea that working efficiently frees up more time, reducing exhaustion and providing space. The trouble of Getting Things Done material for pastors is that it assumes there is a finite workload that can simply be managed better. If we perceive there to be an infinite workload - or at least an impossibly large one - so that no amount of efficient working will ever free up time then there is no incentive to work efficiently. Any time freed up will always immediately get refilled. The demand perpetually exceeds supply and eliminating the truly unnecessary is difficult because there is always a real person on the other end of it.
I think the answer is to use the diary to demarcate the spiritual input part of our lives before we put in other things. To prioritise life with God before meetings and to normalise sabbath, prayerfulness and worship. And space for thinking. Wisdom is a by-product of seeking the Lord with faith and fear. And seeking the Lord is a product of deliberately making space to do so.
We get spiritual input from one of 5 places:
- Directly from God
- Care that we do for ourselves or in small groups of friends
- Within our church or ministry environment
- From wider networks, for example at conferences
- From specialist pastoral carers
What is your mechanism or system for ensuring you are getting appropriate spiritual input in each of these areas (or at least 1-4)? What is your lifestyle in each? How do you use your diary for each? Or what is stopping you and what will you do about it? Note that number 4 alone will not sustain you if 1-3 aren’t working for you.
Over the weekend I spent a few hours with a man who builds networks for pastoring pastors in Latin America. For him the key was accountable groups of friends who deliberately, intentionally pastor each other. I wish everyone in pastoral ministry would have a group like that. But whether you choose that method or some other, we all need some accountable system for maintaining spiritual vitality whether it one to one, in a small group or some wider context. Without it eventually running out of steam is practically inevitable and with it goes our discipleship, wisdom, worship and the ability to do the job. When our discipleship dries up we can’t fulfill our pastoral calling either.
Ministry can be so busy that there are potentially an uncontrollably large number of inputs into our lives. And it is so people-oriented that a large number of those inputs lead to situations that remain open loops rather than leading to closure. Allow an ever increasing number of inputs and open loops and life eventually overwhelms us. We start to run just to stay standing still and eventually we can’t sustain it any more. Our diaries can be a critical tool for a wise, God-directed life if we use them to help us be proactive, not reactive, about our life-choices and spiritual-life-choices.