Church planters are among the busiest people I know. They are spiritual guides, entrepreneurs, ministers, recruiters, fundraisers, shepherds, evangelists, marketing managers, preachers, and financial administrators. And that's before lunch on Monday. Add to this the responsibilities of family life and just enough sleep to keep us alive, church planters quickly realize they must approach their time like a bowhunter stalking an angry bear.
My own experience in church planting has been a continual re-appraisal of time management strategies. I had learned much about structuring my day and ordering priorities in my previous life as a product manager for WebTrends. At that time, the company actually paid to send me to a two-day seminar on time management, a very helpful thing for a 24-year old product manager in way over his head.
When I began church planting, things moved slowly at the beginning. I had to work hard at making good use of my time, since there wasn't much happening around me that I wasn't personally initiating: 501c3 applications, meeting and talking with potential team members, reading, communicating with supporters, meeting people in the community, refining our ministry plan. But as things got rolling and more and more people got involved, I began to see more and more demands on my time. Delegation seemed like the natural thing, but I quickly learned that while delegation is critical to building a team and sharing vision, it actually takes more time away from you than actually doing the work yourself. And with each passing week, more and more ministry systems came online that required at least my cursory attention.
Then Melissa and I had our first baby. Then we launched public services. Then we began hosting large events for the community. People called the church and visited the website. Prayer meetings and Bible studies spontaneously appeared. Community leaders wanted my time. Worship leaders needed guidance. Crises erupted in people's lives. Equipment needed to be purchased. Bills needed to be paid. Newsletters needed writing. On and on; and while I learned to trust the others around me and to delegate more and more, my schedule continued to be more and more pressed.
This is simply normal for church planting. It is a material reality that there is more to do than the available time and energy will allow. Theologically, we know that time is a gift from God, marked out in clear rhythms in the fabric of creation itself. Genesis 1 with its cadences of clearly marked days, punctuated by a holy time of rest, reveals time as a gift intended for our good. Time is the holy stage upon which we act out our purposes in God: just enough for us to complete the tasks given us, to enjoy the gifts of creation, and to rest, knowing God is with us. If we are lax with our time or frivolous with our setting of priorities, we profane time by taking it for ourselves. And if we overtax ourselves, acting as if we are the only ones God can use to accomplish His purposes, we profane time by taking it for ourselves.
This is a clear and continuous call to humility and faithfulness in our living in time. We are to be faithful in our calling, striving with all that we are to accomplish those things without overreaching, thinking that our strength or wisdom is sufficient for any good thing of God. This is a large part prioritization: knowing who we are and what we are called to do, and then working toward that goal, doing what we can and trusting the rest to God. This sort of Christ-like focus is clearly evident in Luke 4:42-43: "At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent." There will always be more tasks, more people to help, more ministry to be done. But what am I called to do?
In my search for faithfulness in my own calling as a church planter, I have often sought out ways of growing in the area of time management, focus, and productivity. I am not by nature a structured person and church planting has had a way of challenging me to grow in that area. I frequently find myself falling to either extreme: being too lax with my time or frantically running myself into the ground with tasks. My greatest find so far in faithfully using my time has been the practice of GTD, which stands for "Getting Things Done", a productivity system based on a book written by David Allen. It is sort of the iPhone of productivity systems, having a large cult following and a thousand enthusiasts posting information about it on their blogs. GTD helps you think clearly about all of the incoming demands for your time and do the things that need doing. The rest will be waiting for you when (and if) you have the time. In a series of posts, we'll explore some of the ways GTD can be applied to a church planter's approach to time and task.
But for now, let it suffice to say church planters are called to faithfulness in their stewardship of time and energy. A frazzled world is looking to us as witnesses to God's restoring work in Christ. If we are lazy and disorganized with our time, or if we are frazzled and overworked, we miss the chance to demonstrate God's redeeming power in time itself. Let us lead those entrusted to us toward faithfulness in God's gift of time.
(cross-posted on sanctus.cross.)