How to Save Time in the Ministry

How to Save Time in the Ministry (Part 1)

A MINISTER once polled his congregation through a questionnaire to discover how much time they felt he should be spending each week on various activities: sermon preparation, administration, counseling, committee and board meetings, church and prayer meetings, youth activities, pastoral visitation, shut-in visitation, and community activities. . .

-A pastor in the Oregon Conference at the time this article was written

A MINISTER once polled his congregation through a questionnaire to discover how much time they felt he should be spending each week on various activities: sermon preparation, administration, counseling, committee and board meetings, church and prayer meetings, youth activities, pastoral visitation, shut-in visitation, and community activities.

To his great amazement the answers averaged a total of eighty-two hours of work a week double the normal man's work load. One zealous member's list actually totaled two hundred hours of work per week, not realizing, obviously, that a week has only 168 hours.

Psychiatrists tell us that feverish activity to encompass all the related responsibilities is one of the major causes of ministerial breakdowns.

What should we do, then shirk our various obligations and settle for a mediocre ministry? In the words of Paul, "God forbid!"

Rather, what we need is to become more efficient, more shall we say "executive" in our activities. We need to improve the use we make of the hours given us. Here are six suggestions that have helped me:

1. Delegate Responsibility

As the early Christian church started growing and the apostles were smothered with increasing administrative, pastoral, and welfare responsibilities, a special meeting was called and a church election held. Seven laymen were chosen to take care of the welfare work and miscellaneous church business (Acts 6:2, 3). Thus God's workers could give them selves "continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (verse 4).

Our error today is often that of the apostles spending too much time table-serving, leaving insufficient time for the real work of the ministry soul winning, prayer and study, and "the ministry of the word."

A wise executive decides what is major and delegates what is minor. That is the secret of executive leadership in business. Likewise, a wise minister puts twenty men to work, rather than trying to do the work of twenty.

"But I don't know anyone who can do my work as well as I can," some ministers protest.

Perhaps not at first. But they can be trained and, given time, perhaps may do the job even better. These tasks may include church bulletins, mimeographing, filing, outside bulletin boards, janitorial work, record keeping, and telephoning members for special meetings.

Flow of Authority

People often look to their pastor for solutions to problems that other church officers could and should take care of. Someone calls late Friday evening to report in sick and unable to take his morning Sabbath school class, and the pastor spends the next hour on the telephone searching for a substitute.

How much better to have the teacher educated to call the Sabbath school superintendent. He or his assistant should take care of such changes in teachers.

Called out of town unexpectedly on conference business, one minister spent an hour trying to arrange for the midweek service. A better solution would have been to leave the matter in the hands of the head elder, whose responsibility it is to serve as the pastor in his absence.

An excellent method of educating church members in the channels of responsibility is to call a special church officers' meeting immediately following the annual election and there outline the various responsibilities.

But be specific! The Sabbath school superintendent is in full charge of the Sabbath school. The head elder is the assistant pastor, and is responsible for appointments in the pastor's absence. The head deacon is in complete charge of the physical church plant. All repairs, or suggestions for upkeep, are to be cared for through him. And on down the line.

Once the officers have this clearly in mind, present the same plan of responsibilities to the whole church. It may take a while for some members to adjust to such a program, but persevere. It will free the pastor of untold time-consuming trivia and petty problems.

One caution. Wayne Dehoney, a Southern Baptist pastor in Jackson, Tennessee, said it well: "In delegating responsibility, delegate authority too. Don't try to keep your hand on what you delegate to someone else." It's proper to supervise or oversee, but not to the extent of eliminating all opportunity for individual incentive and creativity. And above all, give credit wherever credit is due. Nothing inspires quality work like well-deserved praise.

2. Plan Ahead

One of the great time wasters in a minister's life is last-minute sermon preparation. You know that eight-thirty Friday night scramble for a topic and appropriate illustrations. Actually, most of the out line should be well in mind weeks and even months ahead.

Andrew W. Blackwood in his book Planning a Year's Pulpit Work (Abingdon Press, 1942) says: "A living sermon matures slowly. ... In order to give each message time to develop, according to the spirit of life in its seed, the pastor should have in his homiletical garden sermons in various stages of growth." Page 16.

In Planning Your Preaching, J. Winston Pearce (Broadman Press: Nashville, Tenn., 1967) lists seven reasons for advance planning:

1. Gives the Holy Spirit a better chance to do His work with and in the preacher.

2. Helps the minister preach the full gospel.

3. Tends to inspire a teaching ministry.

4. Aids in developing a better worship service (integrating hymns, special music, etc.).

5. Helps the minister to grow and remain fresh in his preaching.

6. Makes for timeliness in preaching.

7. Saves time.

The Pastoral Year

How is such planning accomplished? First take time to analyze the pastoral year. List the fifty-two Sabbaths, indicating relevant events in connection with each: Liberty campaign, Signs or These Times campaign, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, special offerings, et cetera. Next, list subjects that pinpoint the needs of the people in your congregation. Include one or more series of studies, perhaps expository in nature. Plan for practical as well as doctrinal subjects. Above all, let each grow out of personal study of the Bible.

Next, assign subjects to specific Sabbaths. At the same time prepare file folders for each subject into which you can drop pertinent data, illustrations, and materials discovered in daily reading, study, and observation. Also place a list of the Sabbaths with subjects on your office bulletin board for daily reference. A loose-leaf notebook with fifty-two pages numbered and titled to correspond to the posted list will also help in preserving pertinent materials.

Such a plan keeps one alert to relevant thoughts and allows the sermons to mature over several months' time. It also eliminates the last-minute scramble for subject and supportive material.

3. Make a Schedule

A former seminary president and professor at Wheaton College, Dr. Edward Hakes, once said, "When you budget time, you discover that you don't have enough time to 'buy' everything (as when you budget money), so you 'buy' with time only those activities worth 'buying'."

The pastor who complains, "I don't have enough time," is really saying, "I don't manage my time wisely."

Select Priorities

In planning for wise time expenditure, determine priorities. Set aside, first of all, time for prayer and personal devotion, then study of the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and select books. Next might come correspondence and administrative planning, then hospital and pastoral visitation.

Many pastors divide their weekdays into three rough categories: mornings study and office work; afternoons visitation; and evenings Bible studies or meetings. One day each week, often Mondays, should be totally free from pastoral responsibilities except in cases of dire emergency. This day is for the family.

One enterprising denominational leader actually puts down an appointment every Monday for his wife and family. Then when someone requests his services, he whips out his appointment book and replies, "Sorry, but I have another appointment that day. Can we make it some other time?"

Efficiency experts agree that keeping an accurate record of one's waking hours for a week will reveal many time wasters. It will help to sit back and evaluate such a record. Where can time be saved? What odd moments could have been utilized?

An effective method of reducing time spent in correspondence is to use the GrayLine "Snap-Away" speed letters with three parts: a white top copy, plus yellow and pink carbon sheets. The speed letter sheet is half the length of a regular letter and half of that is for a reply.

Or an alternative might be six cent post cards, purchased fifty or one hundred at a time. Such devices encourage shorter, to-the-point letters and save many hours.

Set Deadlines

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the late Charles Evans Hughes, set aside exactly nineteen minutes for lunch with such accuracy that the Capitol restaurant waiters could set their watches by his comings and goings. He understood the true value of time scheduling.

Crowing ministers should set goals for book reading so many pages a day placing pertinent notes in the files for future use.

If one does writing, he should set specific goals for achievement. Self-discipline is essential.

Flexibility, however, should be allowed in a time budget. The budget will serve as a guideline, but emergencies are to be expected, which will necessitate changes. Still, having a time budget will add much to an effective and fruitful ministry.

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-A pastor in the Oregon Conference at the time this article was written

April 1973

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