There’s a short prayer in the Old Testament, written by Moses, and recorded in the book of Psalms:
“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.
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 gets to the heart of the lesson… “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.
I know you have a wide variety of tasks on your plate. One minute you’re a preacher and the next you’re a counselor. One day you’re visiting the sick and the next you’re raising money for a project. The demands on your time are no joke.
So how are you going to steward your time? What should your weekly schedule look like?
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix
Dwight Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and became the first Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1951. That’s a pretty good job title, but he went on to become the 34th President of the United States.
Among his many achievements was signing the bill that authorized the creation of the Interstate Highway System, a program partly designed to facilitate the evacuation of major cities in the event of a war at home.
He also established Alaska and Hawaii as the 49th and 50th states and signed the bill that officially formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
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 was productive for decades at a time.
Naturally, we should learn from his methods. He famously said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
This quote gets to the heart of time management, where it’s easy to fill out schedules with things that are urgent but not 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 church leader, 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.
These are tasks that you will do immediately. They matter to your long-term success and they need your immediate attention.
Much of what you do on a weekly basis will fall into Box One. The goal here is to get this stuff done quickly If it’s a task you’re not looking forward to, putting it off will actually drain you even more.
So if you can do it quickly, do it right away. The energy you spend thinking about doing it could be spent accomplishing it.
Box #2: Important, but not urgent.
These things must be done, but there’s not pressure to do them right away. So the focus is on scheduling.
Pastors and church leaders who are effective at stewarding their time focus most of their time on box two living. They focus their energy on the things that are truly important for their life, health, leadership and church, and refuse to let urgent but unimportant tasks monopolize their time.
Here are some things that should go in Box 2.
- Long term planning. If you want to be a successful pastor, you must carve out time to think about the future. You can’t communicate a vision you have neither prayed through nor thought about! Planning for the future will never seem urgent, but it’s incredibly important.
- Ministry evaluation. If you want to get better at what you do, you must force yourself to do honest evaluations. Ministries, programs, volunteers – they all need feedback and evaluation. By the time you feel the urgency of these things, it’s too late. You need to schedule this type of work. Here are some evaluation forms to help you take action here.
- Staff Development. Nearly everybody we’ve talked to understands the importance of leadership development, but very few actually put time for this into their schedules. If you spend your staff meeting talking about short term issues and never devote any time to development, you’ll continue to see the same results. One of the best ways to do staff development is to work through the Church Fuel One courses together as a team. Whether you have a small staff, a large staff or a volunteer staff, you can do this.
- Prayer, Study and Preaching. If preaching and teaching is one of your responsibilities, you must devote considerable time to this. Like with other important tasks, there will always be things that appear more urgent and demand your time. That’s why you must schedule your preparation time and guard it diligently. Put it on your calendar and let everyone know you’re unavailable for anything else.
- Sabbath. Honoring the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. In other words, God takes rest seriously. If you’re running ragged (or bragging about how busy or tired you are), it’s not just unhealthy…it’s sinful. Have you ever noticed that some of the most productive people in ministry don’t use social media to talk about how busy or tired they are?
These important, but seemingly not urgent talks need to be scheduled on your calendar. No matter what system you use – a paper planner or digital calendar – block off and schedule time first.
Box two won’t fight for your attention. It’s content to stay on the backburner. But if you want to be a great leader with a handle on your schedule and calendar, you’ve got to get intentional about living life in Box Two.
Box #3: Urgent, but not important.
Most people spend most of their day in this box, even though most of these things could be delegated to someone else.
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.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:12 that it’s the job of the pastors “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
While you should never abdicate the responsibility to do real ministry in your church, you don’t have to do ALL of the ministry in your church.
In fact, hoarding all of the ministry opportunities isn’t good stewardship and actually robs people from fulfilling their divine call. God has placed other people in your church and called them to do ministry. Your primary job is to lead and facilitate, not do everything.
Box #4: Neither urgent nor important.
You can delegate some of the activities in box three, but it’s time to eliminate much of what sits in Box Four.
Box Four activities are the enemies of Box Two Living. The first things to hear a resounding “No” from you should be the tasks that are neither urgent nor important.
Everybody needs downtime, and chances are there are some unproductive activities in your life that help you unwind. Maybe it’s video games or hunting or reading novels. Some of these activities renew mind, body or soul and they can help you be a well-rounded leader.
But if they are consuming too much of your time, they are enemies. You probably don’t need to eliminate everything from box four, but you should minimize their impact on your schedule.
So What's Next?
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