The New Pastor’s Schedule: by PW

I was talking to another staff member’s wife and they had only been in ministry a few months. They were exhausted. Spent.

She said to me: I remember your husband saying something to mine about how we need to whittle down what he is to accomplish in the first few months and not try to do it all. Well, those
words are now being heard. We need a vacation. We’re exhausted and we don’t
have the finances to get away. How do you do it? We need to have time together.

The whirlwind of starting ministry and getting to do what you have always wanted to focus on is so big in the beginning. But, you have to come to the point where you realize that
everything you touch in ministry could use more. It leads to more things you
see that you could do. Worthwhile things. There is always more to do. But you can’t do it all, and you can’t do it all right now.

We have lived the ministry life enough years to try to protect our schedule during specific times of the year, etc. I have often stated that it is an endurance race.

How do you explain how to live this life to a new ministry family?

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  • The first ministry site I started serving at 12 years ago, I received two of the most valuable pieces of advice regarding the life and ministry of the minister (and family).
    1) You should only ever work 2 of the 3 time periods of the day… which means that if you know you’re going to be out in the evening… don’t come in until noon… or be out in the afternoon.
    2) If you wait to go home until all of the ministering has been done… then you’ll never go home. There will always be one more person, with one more need, that you feel compelled to stick around for. We need to humbly remember that God is God and we are not. He wants to use us, but will not be able to if we are burnt out, stressed out, or distracted because of a lack of connection at home.
    The patterns you set early in ministry will stick with you for a while… so choose wisely!

  • When I began in the ministry I did campus work. I found a natural rhythm to this work; busier at the beginning of the semester, slower toward the end, and periods of rest and planning during some summer time. When I transitioned into pulpit ministry, I didn’t find a rhythm initially. Sundays kept coming. I found having a sabbath day helped. I would remember my place (it’s not all up to me) and I would (usually) rest. Also, the pastors retreat network offers three sites where those in full-time ministry can recharge (free of charge). There are other groups that offer similar programs for ministers.

  • I’m frequently criticized for not having a very good pastoral manner, but I think we need to add to this discussion two other factors outside of needing good time management and more rest (although sometimes the best spiritual activity is just to sleep better!)
    One would be pride and the other would be identity issues. Sure we have been called to the ministry and what else would we ever want to do! But often it is some form of pride and/or an unstable identity that attaches itself to “doing” all these things, being busy, and not making health boundaries. If we are receiving unhealthy vanity affirmations or trying to stave off insecurity then we are bound to be unhealthy in our time management.

  • Rick in Texas

    Pete Wagner advised a group of pastors years ago at a seminar that it is crucial to
    -divert daily
    -withdraw weekly
    -abandon annually.
    Without that discipline ministry can kill you. If you can’t do that, ask yourself if there are other places where this kind of addictive behavior plays out. Because that is what ministry can be.

  • I have learned that there is a rhythm to life and ministry and that being ‘simple’ in one’s commitments is very important to staying sane. Vacations, a day off that is taken, and other things are vital.

  • Beth

    I second days off, rhythms, working 2/3 time periods, and will just add a couple new things:
    When I started out in ministry 15 years ago a seasoned clergyperson advised me to make a habit of asking “How good does it have to be?” and told me that the answer was always “Good enough.” “Good enough,” for, say, a funeral for a beloved youth group member tragically killed in an accident = the absolute 100% best you can possibly give. However, for things like, say, a brief meditation on the beauty of the earth at a garden club meeting, or this week’s “from the pastor” paragraph for the weekly email, “good enough” is simply “good enough.” Pushing yourself with demands for your best in every single ministry responsibility will make you crazy.
    And one more, specifically for a first year in ministry at a new congregation. My first year as a senior pastor another senior pastor advised me, “basically, the thing they want to know your first year is ‘Does she like us?’ Program’s fine, but to build for the long haul the more important thing to accomplish right now is communicating that you like them and you’re glad God called you here.”

  • I am not sure what technique is best for you in your situation. It may be the two out of three periods in a day process or whatever. You can experiment or change processes as needed. Most churches are fairly understanding about that.
    The one thing I am sure of is this – it is essential for you to create and adhere to your boundaries. Ministry by its nature has no completion phase. You are never done. There is always more to do. There are always gaps that need attention. If you do not draw lines around your life no one else is going to do it. They are not mean spirited or trying take advantage of you. They simply do not know or take the time to notice. And frankly, it is not their job, it is yours.
    Determine how many hours the job requires. Andy Stanley has set a hard line at 45 hours per week. This can be done for any position. Set the hours abnd live by it. Maintain the boundaries. Don’t apologize for it, and be clear about it. Sure some weeks require more, then other weeks will require less. But over 3 months or 6 months make sure the balance is maintained. Watch the boundaries. Oh and understand that if you work yourself into exhaustion the church simply asks for more. You trained it to. It will gladly accept whatever you give it.
    If you do not set the boundaries you will pay the price, and so will the family and the church. Unfortunatley I learn my lessons the hard way. Some sort genetic defect. I tended not burn the candle at both ends, I just set the whole thing on fire. Goofy thing is, the end results of my efforts weren’t all that great. The pay off didn’t match the price. So please let me pay the bill for you on this one, set your boundaries, don’t let them go. Techniques are fine, but unless you have the foundations they just don’t work.

  • I would definitely echo what has already been said here. If boundaries are not set from the beginning, it is only more difficult to set them later down the road.
    It’s taken a few years of ministry to finally admit I can’t do it all and to really be okay with that admission. Now, not everyone else is okay with it, but I’m learning to deal with that. At a staff retreat one year, I was greatly moved by the speaker who shared her thoughts on the importance of healthy boundaries in ministry, especially for those with families. She put it quite plainly – make the boundaries necessary for you to attend to your family calling with fidelity, or your family will begin to resent the church. Those were profound words for me.
    Here is a prayer that I have found helps me snap back into reality when I start to lose focus. It’s attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero:
    It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
    The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
    it is even beyond our vision.
    We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
    of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
    Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
    that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
    No statement says all that could be said.
    No prayer fully expresses our faith.
    No confession brings perfection.
    No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
    No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
    No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
    This is what we are about.
    We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
    We water seeds already planted,
    knowing that they hold future promise.
    We lay foundations that will need further development.
    We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
    We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
    in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
    and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
    but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
    an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
    We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
    between the master builder and the worker.
    We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
    We are prophets of a future not our own.

  • Dru

    Great advice. Would add one comment from a slightly different direction. Theology of the church and therefore what a pastor is and does is important on this topic. “When you know who you are, you’ll know what to do”. I think Eugene Peterson is a genius on this stuff, his “Working the Angles” is worth a read and many rereadings. Meetings, programs, sermons, services are not the things that need to give shape to a ministry. He says it’s prayer, scripture and spiritual direction. He’s been a lifesaver to me.

  • Clay Knick

    Rhythms, patterns, & stop. Stop! Take a day off and don’t worry about it. Do not go into the office and don’t call anyone. No one. Create space, a life outside the church (hobbies & the like.) Stop! Just stop going and going and going. Don’t answer the phone. Screen calls.
    Stop! Remember the Sabbath.

  • Creating a rhythm and pattern is important. I would also suggest that those in ministry should heed the advice that I was given early on. Speaking of priorities, someone said, “Only you can be a husband to your wife. Only you can be a father to your kids. Someone will one day come after you and be the pastor of this church. So don’t make the mistake of missing out on the ministry that is uniquely yours (to your family), because you become so engaged in a ministry which is not yours to begin with and won’t be yours to end with.”

  • Lyle Mook

    Good stuff!
    Humility and seeking to be a Secure leader is key. Insecurity will make a bottleneck against the equipping of others ( and thus knowing the joy that it’s not all about you).
    Eph 4 gives the Job Descr. as Shepherd/teacher.
    Shepherd well. Teach well. Find ultimate security in Christ alone.
    I also set a pattern of not scheduling more than 2 evenings w ministry responsibitites in any week.

  • My 2 Cents

    I have noticed that there is a delicate balance between participating and being enthusiastic along with others, thereby sharing in ministry. While on the other side, as a pastor’s wife, if I have a task, someone else will not step forward and use their gifts in that area. The congregation members will not step up in the area where they feel like you have locked up the job already.
    This is tricky in ministry period: to try to build up a proficiency in an area of ministry and yet keep it open to new people trying their gifts in that area. Generally speaking, people do not want to replace you in a ministry that the pastor’s wife is doing.
    So, if I am NOT to burn out, it means I need to leave room for others to step into areas where I might be inclined to serve. I have to learn to be involved and yet know how to hand it off to someone else for their good as well.

  • Rick in Texas

    Building on Kent’s good words about hours. Communicate those hours per week boundaries to those in your church to whom you report. Ask them to hold you accountable. But don’t wait for them to hold you accountable. Bring a monthly report to your meeting with them. Let them see that you worked 11 hours on Thursday; that you worked 53 hours for the last 2 weeks; keep a running column where they can see how many comp hours you are entitled to receive back. And take comp half days or days to gain those hours back.
    Dru is right about reading Eugene Peterson. Josh is right on the spot with the remark about the ministry to your family that only you can fulfill. And as for evenings out, whether you use the three blocks per day system or the x number of nights system, follow it. Write into your calendar for time off and when someone asks about your availability say “I’m booked that evening”. They don’t have to know with whom – yourself, your spouse, your kids. Just that you are booked.

  • This issue raises a concern that I have had for a while – the lack of mentoring relationships in the pastorate. Why aren’t there other pastoral couples who can walk beside such a family who are beginning in ministry? Is the number of those who could provide the hard learned lessons in such short supply that they don’t exist? Why isn’this in the culture of the leadership of the church organizations? Being a pastoral family has become far more difficult in this time, it just make sense to provide someone to help negotiate the pitfalls that are going to come. Just a thought

  • This is such an important concern. Working with a church can eat you alive without the kind of boundaries talked about in the above comments.
    A couple of suggestions:
    1. There is not end or completion to this work. Consequently, you must set boundaries. You may work all day and then it is reasonable to be home in the evenings.
    2. Put all commitments on your calendar. Appointments, children’s ball games, dates with wife, coffee with a friend. Someone asks are you busy, “Well I’ve got a commitment at 3:00 but I am happy to visit with you at 4:00, etc. Treat your family commitments like any other commitment.
    3. Cluster meetings, counseling if at all possible. There are some people who just can’t meet with you during daytime working hours. I will often get together with them on Sunday afternoon. I will also use the 2:00-4:00 for meetings. So I might have a meeting and then fifteen minutes later meet a couple for something that is more counseling in nature. I have done this for years and it has really helped eliminate the need to be gone one more evening.
    4. Set your schedule by being proactive instead of being reactive. You decide when you are going to the hospital or when you are going to study. Some pastors will flinch at the slightest bit of criticism “Well our last pastor was at the hospital so much that the staff knew him by his first name.” Some might hear this and think they are supposed to immediately rush to the hospital because of a veiled criticism.
    5. You will have emergencies. There have been a number of times that I have dropped everything that I was doing to rush to the hospital. A serious car wreck. A massive heart attack and the person is near death. A drug overdose.
    Bottom line: Be intentional and do the work. Set boundaries and know this is right. On the other hand, try to please everyone and do everything that everyone would like to see you do and you will end up totally exhausted and a poor model of what it means to live a balanced life.