There’s a short prayer in the Old Testament, written by Moses, and recorded in the book of Psalms. Here’s what Moses writes:
“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”– Psalm 90:12
Psalm 90 is a Psalm of Lament, meaning it’s a prayerful response to a tragedy. In this prayer, Moses comes face to face with his own mortality. And he reminds us we’ve all got a limited number of days on earth.
It’s so easy for us to spend time as if it’s unlimited. We move from week to week and month to month as if we can turn the pages on the calendar forever. This prayer from Moses reminds us of something we know deep down: We have a limited time to do ministry.
We tend to think of stewardship as a money issue, but the principle also applies to time. We must be good stewards of our God-given time. It’s a limited resource.
The point of Moses’ prayer was not to depress everyone about the brevity of life. Numbering our days is a sobering exercise, but that’s not the full verse. The second part of the prayer contains the point…”so that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
The point of numbering your days is not to be depressed about how few are left, but to help you manage the remaining ones wisely, with eternity in mind.
So why is it that many pastors never seem to find enough time to do what God has called them to do? Why do too many pastors teeter towards burnout?
#1 – We Don't Identify the Difference Between Urgent and Important.
Dwight Eisenhower lived during a busy time in American history. In addition to being a five-star General, commanding troops at Normandy, serving as the President of Columbia University and eventually the President of the United States, he found time to play golf and create oil paintings.
Eisenhower famously said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Leadership expert and author Stephen Covey popularized Eisenhower’s decision principle in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In this book, Covey turned Eisenhower’s quote into a four-box matrix to help people decide between what’s important and what’s not important and what’s urgent and not urgent.
This is a great matrix for looking at all of your tasks and responsibilities. As a pastor, it might seem like everything is important and urgent. But with careful and prayerful consideration (and some outside advice), you can assign each of your tasks to a specific box. This clarity should help you plan your week and align your schedule around your goals and values.
- Box #1: Urgent and Important. (Do this stuff.) These are tasks that you will do immediately. They matter to your long-term success and they need your immediate attention.
- Box #2: Important, but not urgent. (Schedule this stuff) These things must be done, but time is not of the essence. But don’t make the mistakes – the tasks here are often the most critical to your health and growth. Things that fit your long-term mission and vision. You don’t feel pressure to get to them today, but they will set the pattern of days to come.
- Box #3: Urgent, but not important. (Delegate this stuff.) Most people spend most of their day in this box, even though most of these things could be delegated to someone else. Many times, tasks feel important but in reality they are just urgent. If you spend too much time in this box, you’ll rush around from task to task and project to project without ever making real progress. You’ll busy your schedule up in the name of doing good. You’ll neglect the Sabbath, and you’ll hurt your success.
- Box #4: Neither urgent nor important. (Eliminate this stuff.)These are tasks you must identify and eliminate. “Do I really need to do this,” is a powerful question every pastor should ask. Many times, you’ll find the answer to be “no.”
#2 – There Are Too Many Ministries Requiring Leadership and Attention.
There is a second reason you might constantly feel like you don’t have enough time.
It might be that you have too many ministries requiring your leadership or attention. You might have too much on your plate.
If this is the case, no productivity tool is going to help. There’s no new app or system or philosophy to help you get more things done in less time.
And it’s probably not a motivation issue, either.
You’re not lazy.
It could be that you just feel the weight for too many things.
Being too busy is actually a slow and dangerous fade. I’ve met pastors and leaders who are literally shortening their life by being too busy.
- Too many ministries mean you have to think about too many things…that’s not good for your mind.
- Too many programs mean you have to attend too many meetings…that’s not good for your family.
- Too many events mean you don’t have time to hang out with friends…that’s not good for your relationships.
There are a lot of bad things that can happen when a church is too busy. But one of the most dangerous things is what can happen to you when you carry too many church responsibilities.
This isn’t being burdened to reach the lost or being passionate about your calling. It’s a roadmap to burnout.
#3 – We Have an Unrealistic Job Description.
For many pastors, clarity is muddy from the beginning, starting with the job description.
I wrote about this in Streamline.
“The other day I read a job description for a part-time bookkeeper, receptionist, and preschool director. All one part-time job! That seems like a pretty particular skill set. “We need you to be great with kids and a preschool educational background would be best, but we also need you to understand General Accounting Practices and you must have three years of experience with QuickBooks.”
Then, there are the qualifications. I’m not sure the Apostle Paul would be qualified to be the student pastor at a 45-member church based on some of the job postings I’ve seen.
I’m all for encouraging a “get it done no matter what” mentality among your team, but you can’t ask everyone to do everything and expect anything to be done with excellence.
We give pastors a menu of ministries to lead and a wide range of responsibilities. Is there any wonder people don’t know what’s most important? Is there any question as to why we have trouble providing effective evaluation?
Job descriptions filled with hopes and wishes are silly. Effective job descriptions need to reflect reality.
When you look at your own job description, is it realistic? If not, perhaps you need to have a conversation with the Elders (or the person or group of people who hired you). It’s not about doing less work, it’s about being effective in ministry.
What should actually go on a pastor’s job description? Read this post and download the free guide.
#4 – There's a Lack of Thinking or Planning.
Some of the suggestions in this article might involve people outside of your control. For example, maybe your job description is unrealistic, but outside of quitting and finding a new job, it’s the way it is for now.
Maybe there are outside forces preventing you from cutting some of the ministry menu at this time.
While you’re waiting on the Lord for something to happen, there is something you can do now.
It will take a little time but I know it will help.
There’s something ironic or ridiculous about suggesting something that takes time in an article about why you don’t have enough time. I feel like the guy at the lawn and garden center who says the best solution to eliminating weeds in the front yard is to have a strong and healthy lawn in the first place.
But I promise a little more time spent on this will give you a lot more time to spend on that.
I’m talking about carving out a little time to spend on planning and thinking.
Just a little bit of time spent thinking or planning can increase effectiveness by a factor of ten. Think about this like the mental equivalent of sharpening the axe.
If you’ve got 30 minutes to write an email to the congregation, spend the first 20% of your time simply planning what to write. Get a halfway decent outline and the rest will not only be easier, it will be better.
If you’ve got 3 hours to write a sermon, don’t simply open the commentary or start writing. First pray, then prayerfully plan.
Don’t just dive into the work…plan your work. It will be so much better. Proper planning multiplies results.
That’s one reason I spend about 20-30 minutes on Sunday nights doing this little exercise. It’s a simple tool that lets me look back on the previous week and look ahead to the next week. Watch the short video to learn the exercise and download the PDF below.
This Sunday night review is my version of thinking and planning.
It makes my work time far more effective.
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