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The Pastor’s Schedule: Jim Martin Advises

JimMartin.jpgRecently we had a conversation about the pastor’s time schedule, and Jim Martin, a friend, posted a comment I thought deserved a separate post. So here it is…

This is such an important concern. Working with a church can eat you
alive without the kind of boundaries talked about in the above

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
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.
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posted September 22, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I just heard Andy Stanley talk about this in an interview he did for a very recent Catalyst podcast.
He stressed the importance of knowing your strengths, your church’s focus, your staff’s strengths, your season of life, your ability to say “no”, and “cheating” where needed.
By “cheating”, he means that, due to all that needs to be done, something is going to lose out (get cheated)- if you don’t set the boundaries. In his case, he does not want his family to lose out, so he caps his work week (unless an emergency or rare situation), in order that he does not “cheat” his family.

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Clay Knick

posted September 22, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Jim is wise, as usual! Love his blog.

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posted September 22, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Very, very good.

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posted September 22, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Sabbath-keeping is an oft overlooked rhythm in the life of a pastor (and followers of Jesus). It is a gift from God, a chance to imitate God’s rhythm and to create healthy, God-honoring boundaries.

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Travis Greene

posted September 22, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Brilliant. Thanks.

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Jeremy White

posted September 22, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Thanks for posting these valuable insights. I am a pastor of a large church (who has also served in two smaller churches) and I now cringe when I hear pastors whine about how demanding their schedules are. Embarrassingly, I used to whine about it myself. The truth is, many vocations are demanding on a person’s time. A church leader, like any wise person, will ignore Jim’s advice at his or her own peril. As someone who has struggled with perfectionism and people-pleasing, I know from experience that these disciplines and boundaries don’t always come easily. But the initial “stress” involved in getting a grip on your schedule is well worth the long-term peace of mind in knowing you are getting proper rest, giving your family and friends adequate time, and taking care of your physical and mental health.
Anybody needing encouragement to give yourself permission to move away from these self-defeating (and ministry-damaging) tendencies should read “Abba’s Child” by Brennan Manning. Put the false-self to death and become comfortable with the fact that you are not Jesus! (Thank God…) :)

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posted September 22, 2009 at 11:50 pm

It’s a very challenging conversation for me.
On the one hand, I understand the argument about boundaries. I am completely at home with the principle that if I am not first and foremost able to care for and minister to my family, then whatever else I do is likely to be empty, powerless and ultimately self-defeating.
Alternatively, I make it my ambition to confront, challenge, and undermine the concept of “professional ministry” whenever and wherever I can. It seems to me that whoever enters pastoral or congregational leadership of any kind and expects to work 9-5, for 40 hours per week is just asking for disappointment. If a person simply wants to work comfortably in a Christian environment, I suppose that’s possible, but I would hardly call that a pastoral call. There is a sense in which God owns all of our lives and has the right to interrupt our schedules whenever he desires. Of course, this sense is probably only heightened for those whose primary or only vocation is to care for a flock. There is a price to be paid for a life of utility for the Kingdom.
So, at the risk of being misunderstood, I would counsel all of us to think clearly and carefully about the “boundaries” we impose, lest they derive from a faulty sense of entitlement to a lifestyle that is defined more by the American Dream than by the Gospel itself.

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Jeremy White

posted September 23, 2009 at 12:51 am

Great post Jeff (#7)!
I agree wholeheartedly. And additionally, the discipline of boundary-setting allows for us to treat interruptions as potential divine appointments rather than stress-inducers. I can’t remember the last time I invested as few as 40 hours in a week of vocational ministry (other than while on vacation), and yet – with God’s help – because of my decision to consistently show my wife and kids that they won’t get my leftovers, my need to respond to various crises are never met with resistance or bitterness by them. They know my heart is with them even when I can’t physically be there.
Thanks for your admonition. Since pastors tend to have so much discretionary oversight of their own schedules, it is quite easy for some to become lazy as well. When it’s time to work – we work hard. And when it’s time to rest and invest in the family – we should be just as committed.

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Bob Smallman

posted September 23, 2009 at 7:55 am

A while back I made the comment — in a Bible study with retirees — that most pastors I knew were convinced that they were overworked and underpaid. And all the retired teachers in the group looked at one another and laughed!
In my first church I resented the “fact” that while I was working my head off trying to make the church go, the adults in my congregation didn’t seem to want to take the time to be at all the events I was scheduling. When I left that church to return to seminary, I took a job in a factory that eventually led me into a management position where I found myself working long hours, getting calls at home late in the evening, and taking the blame for things that went wrong when I wasn’t at work! What I learned from that valuable experience was that pastors are not the only ones who work hard. Indeed, nearly anyone in a position of authority these days is putting in incredible hours and dealing with enormous stresses. So one of my first goals upon coming to my present parish was to cut down on unnecessary meetings and not expect everyone to be at everything!
I long ago quit whining about the schedule I keep (I’m writing this at 6:30 a.m. in my office at church!), because I realize that most of the professionals in my congregation are working as long or longer than I am. So I won’t get a lot of sympathy.
On the other hand, after nearly 40 years in this “business,” most of which I’ve served as an accomplished people pleaser, I’ve come to realize that there aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to do everything that everyone wants of me. (Nor can I meet my own expectations of myself!) So I’m getting better at taking appropriate time off (just don’t tell my wife about this post!) and observing some of the boundaries that Jim talks about. I’m a couple of years away from retirement (depending on how the stock market rebounds!), and I think I’ll have it all figured out by then.

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Andy Rowell

posted September 23, 2009 at 10:40 am

I learned a lot from Eugene Peterson and his provocative approach to the pastor’s schedule.
On church planting when he did not yet have a church, “I took my appointments calendar and wrote in two-hour meetings with ‘FD’ three afternoons a week” (Under the Unpredictable Plant, 49). He read Fyodor Dostoevsky.
And when he got overwhelmed with the details of ministry. Elder to him, “How about you let us learn how to run the church and we let you learn how to be a pastor?” (Under the Unpredictable Plant, 39). Peterson said ok and stopped attending meetings.

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