There are seasons when a ministry feels very intense. Quite often that intensity may be related to particular problems or issues that have surfaced in the church or in the community.
Sometimes that intensity is due to unforeseen situations. Perhaps you have recently presided over several funerals or weddings within a period of a few weeks. If you are a minister, you know that these can often take a lot of time.
For example, the average person sees you speak at a funeral and in that person’s mind there may not be that much time or work involved. However, the challenge of a funeral for a minister is not just the remarks expressed. A minister is often doing this work within the context of his own grief and sadness. After all, the deceased may have been a friend, a confidant, an encourager or more.
A minister may spend hours at the hospital leading up to a death. Then, that minister might spend time with the family discussing plans for the funeral and memories of the deceased. This minister may work late into the night preparing remarks for the funeral. If the funeral is in the morning, that minister will spend most of the morning (if not all of it) doing something related to the funeral. Not only will this minister speak at the funeral but then also at the graveside. After this funeral, this minister may eat with the family at the church building.
When I first began my ministry, I was shocked as to how much time could actually be spent when presiding at either a funeral or a wedding.
Sometimes, there will be several of these within a week. I remember a few weeks when I had several funerals or a funeral and a wedding and came away feeling exhausted.
Finally, there are times when ministry feels intense when I have said “yes” to too many opportunities. Maybe I am seeing too many people in my office for counseling. Perhaps I have scheduled too many meetings. I may have said yes to many speaking appointments.
The following are a few suggestions that you might find helpful when your ministry has become very busy. I have found these helpful; it did, however, take me some time to learn them.
1. Create space and margin around events, activities, and appointments that are intense and stressful. When I was a much younger minister, I would see people in my office with hardly any margin or space between appointments. Consequently, I would talk with a couple with intense marital issues during one hour. The next hour I might visit with someone with intense financial issues. The following hour I might talk with someone with addiction issues. I eventually learned that such a schedule only wore me out. By the time I got home late in the afternoon, there was very little of me left.
2. Write everything down. (I learned the value of this from David Allen’s Getting Things Done.) I went through a period during which I was not as disciplined about writing things down. Consequently, I once stood someone up for lunch when I did not show up at the restaurant. On another occasion, someone suddenly appeared at my office for an appointment that I had not written down. Embarrassing!
Now, I write down everything. I write down names, appointments, addresses, etc. I get these entered on my calendar or contact list. Besides helping me remember things instead of forgetting, this practice has reduced stress levels. David Allen says that when we write things down instead of trying to remember everything we alleviate our minds of unnecessary stress.
3. Consider your prior commitments before you say “yes” to something. It is so easy to agree to do a task or be present for a meeting. Yet, it might be helpful to think through whether or not this invitation is something that you ought to be doing.
4. Write the most important items from your to-do list for the day on your calendar. I have just begun doing this but can already see how helpful this practice will be. Why? Because when you feel very busy in your ministry, it is easy to let things slide while you attend to the loudest voice or demand. Then several days later, you may realize that in your busyness you have neglected some matters that are critical.
5. Work with some sort of organizational tool. (I use Workflowy.) This is where I have my master to-do list as well as my list of projects. I also have a list of things I am waiting for. I have a list of people I need to call and why as well as those I need to write and the subject matter. There are many very good tools. The most important thing is to find some tool and use it.
Maybe these will be helpful.
I would love to know what is helpful to you as you attempt to navigate busy seasons in ministry.