A few weeks ago a leaked memo from comedian and TV host Steve Harvey sparked a tidal wave of response on social media. I don't want to pile on Harvey. Enough of that has been done, and he's had a pretty rough year after the Miss Universe fiasco. But it goes without saying that his memo caught the attention of people in leadership. In it, he basically told his staff to not bother him anymore, and to not catch him off guard or try to approach him without an appointment. The most telling line in it was "It is for the good of my personal life and enjoyment."
Unfortunately, it's too easy for us in leadership to wall ourselves off from those around us. Life gets busy. Deadlines approach. The never-ending demands and cycles of ministry require us to give constant attention to preparation, study, and detail. Because you'll wear a number of hats in ministry, you can find yourself being frustrated by the "interruptions" that can happen.
But unlike Harvey who puts up walls for the protection of "his" time, in ministry it's really not your time after all - it's God's. And we don't get the benefit of demanding walls around what's not really ours to start with. Knocks at the door, hallway conversations, prayer requests, and late evening phone calls are opportunities, not interruptions. Yes it means you won't get done what you'd hoped for. That's where you depend on God to provide during these Divine Appointments. Rather than wall your time, manage it and block it.
Communicate with your team - Sometimes you'll need to be off the grid for lengthy prep time or to really focus on a project. Or you might have a high priority meeting. Communicate with your team, especially your assistant. That way you're not "unavailable," you're engaged somewhere else.
Embrace the flexibility - Unlike many other jobs, we don't have a time clock. The bummer is that you're always "on call" but the perk is that you have a lot of flexibility in your schedule. Take advantage of that. I'm writing this in my living room before leaving for a meeting.
Guard your time loosely - It's a reality that in ministry so many deflect responsibility because "it interrupts family time." That's a hard sell because we ask our volunteers to work their regular jobs, invest in their families, and give time for ministry. When we guard our time loosely, we acknowledge that there will be times that there are cancelled plans because of the unique demands of our calling. Again, embrace the flexibility. One of my seminary professors shared his key: whenever he did a funeral, he'd use the honorarium to take his family out for a fun day. It got to where his kids wanted him to do more funerals because it meant they'd go to Chuck-E-Cheese!
Be quick to pray - Last week I had a drop-in that ended up with a gut-wrenching story and many tears shed. When you find yourself caught, work on building the discipline of praying before. You never know what you might be able to do in those moments.
Use your vacation time - I say this to churches too, make sure your ministry leaders have generous vacation time and that they use it each year. There's no telling how many thousands of unused days there are in ministry. And the results are likely contributing to the rise of burnout. When you don't rest, you're telling God you have it under control and don't need Him to work when you're not. The Sabbath is for our good. And that Sabbath includes time away, when you're really away.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.