Archive for the ‘Time Management’ category

Burnout

July 14, 2012

The Rural Ministry Blog is currently exploring the fact that every month 1,500 pastors leave the ministry due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within the church.  A recent article by Perry Noble stated “90% of the people that enter the ministry do not retire from the ministry.  They either quit or have some sort of moral/ethical failure that disqualifies them.”  In my opinion these statistics are frightening!  At no other time in history do we need effective pastors teaching and training their people, and yet we seem to be dropping like flies.  All of us entered the ministry desiring to not only retire from it, but to finish strong.  Yet if these statistics are correct, only 1 out of 10 of us will.  I don’t know about you, but I want to do everything I can to make sure that I’m not one of the 90%.

In my last two articles, I covered the topic of moral failure. Today I want to take a look at burnout.  The first step in dealing with burnout is defining the term.  One of the best definitions I have read is from the website helpguide.org:

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

Most of us have days when we feel bored, overloaded, or unappreciated; when the dozen balls we keep in the air aren’t noticed, let alone rewarded; when dragging ourselves out of bed requires the determination of Hercules. If you feel like this most of the time, however, you may be flirting with burnout. (source)

Because burnout is such a huge issue for those of us in the ministry it is absolutely imperative that we come up with a strategy to make sure it doesn’t happen to us.  Here are some tips:

Know your limitations. Let me give you an analogy to explain what I mean. I drive a Dodge Dakota truck that I am confident would go 100mph should I ever feel inclined to drive that fast.  However, if I was on a coast to coast journey and tried to go 100mph the entire trip, I am certain that my truck would break down long before I reached my destination.  Why? Because my truck is not designed to travel at that rate of speed for that length of time.  Our bodies are very similar.  God designed our bodies to be able to go “pedal to the metal” occasionally for brief periods of time. But if we try to live our lives “pedal to the metal” all the time we will find ourselves in a world of hurt mentally, physically, and spiritually. We need to understand our limitations and live within them if we want to avoid burnout. Just because Pastor So-and-so can work two outside jobs, pastor a church, lead three home groups, and survive on five hours of sleep a night, doesn’t mean that you can.

Learn how to say no.  Leadership expert John Maxwell said it this way, “If you can’t say no, your yeses mean less.”  Consistently over-committing yourself is just asking for trouble.  I must admit that this is a huge area of weakness for me.  I love helping people, and therefore hate saying no.  However, I realized a long time ago that I cannot do everything, and when I try to do everything my stress levels rise and my work quality tanks.  I’ve often had to say no to things that are very worthwhile endeavors to make sure I have enough time to do the things God has called me to do.

Take time for yourself.  All throughout the Gospels we see instances of Jesus leaving the crowds and going off by Himself to pray.  I am positive that there were people in those crowds that needed healing and deliverance, and the crowd certainly needed to hear the message that Jesus had. There was lots of ministry that needed to be done, yet Jesus left the crowds and went off by Himself to get alone with God.  If Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, the omnipotent, omniscient God come in the flesh, needed to leave the demands of ministry to go off by Himself, then so do we.

By the way, this time should not happen on a day off – it should be scheduled ahead of time and should be part of your normal work routine.  I schedule one day of solitude per month in addition to my normal days off.  Why do I do this?  Because a day off is generally when we catch up on all the things that need to be done in our personal lives.  So even though it’s called a day off, it’s not a day for rest and reflection.  By scheduling in a day of solitude, it allows me to get the time I need to relax and reflect spiritually.

Unplug. Take some time to disconnect from your cell phone, e-mail, twitter, facebook, etc.  Despite what some people in your church may feel, you do not have to be available 24/7.  I know that some of you are thinking “but what if they have an emergency?”  Let’s be honest about that for a moment; how many of these “emergencies” are real emergencies?  Yes, the issue is important to the person calling, but in the majority of cases it can easily wait for a few hours.  Set your cell phone voicemail and e-mail autoresponder to tell people that you will be unavailable and give them contact information for the person they should talk to in your absence.

I think all of us would agree that burnout is a very real problem that we cannot ignore if we wish to finish the task we’ve been called to.  While researching this topic I ran across several good articles that explore the issue further.  Here are the links:

Preventing Burnout: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, & Coping Strategies

True & False Burnout: Are You Deceived?

Are You Headed for a Ministry Burnout?

7 Tips to Avoid Burnout

How about you? Have you ever experienced, or are you currently in, a state of burnout? How did it affect you and your ministry? Leave a comment below

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Reactive or Proactive?

June 22, 2011

I am convinced that one of the things that separates the great from the mediocre is in how they manage their time.  I can honestly say that this is an area of my life that does not come naturally to me.  By nature I am a very impulsive, free spirited type of individual.  In many ways this has been a great strength to me, but it has caused some struggles in the area of time management.  Years ago I discovered that there are basically two ways that we can live our lives: reactively or proactively.

When I live reactively, I live moment to moment with little thought for what’s coming up.  I am reacting to everything that happens around me, allowing the urgency of the situation to dictate the importance of what is happening.  I can tell you from experience that living reactively is not very effective.  When I live in reactive mode, I am always busy, but not necessarily accomplishing much of anything.

When I live proactively, I do my best to anticipate what’s coming.  I plan ahead and structure my time so that the urgency of the moment does not replace the things that are truly important.  Living proactively also means that I must take the time to identify and mitigate possible problems before they happen.  This can allow me to sometimes avoid the problems altogether, or at minimum it gives me time to think about a proper response.  When I live proactively, I am able to accomplish far more in the same amount of time.

Because of my personality type, living proactively can be a challenge sometimes.  My impulsive and free spirited nature begs to be allowed to live reactively.  When I spoke to my life coach about this, he helped me to realize that I cannot fight against who I fundamentally am – since I am fundamentally a free spirit I need to be, for a lack of a better term, proactive about my reactiveness.  Here’s what I finally came up with that works wonderfully for me.  I started with the concept of time blocking and made sure that I included time every day to be reactive.  About half of my day is structured and proactive, while the other half is left open for me to be my normal, reactive self.  When I follow this plan, I am amazed at how effective I can be.

What do you do to insure that you are being proactive rather than reactive?  Leave a comment below.

Setting Priorities

June 15, 2011

Setting priorities can be a tough thing to do, especially for those of us involved in rural ministry. There are always tons of things that need our attention – usually far more than we can ever get done. How can we make sure that we keep our priorities straight?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about setting priorities came from H.B. London. He said “there are only two things that last forever: the Word of God and the souls of men.” The first time I heard this I sat back and thought about my typical day to day activities and realized how much time I spend on things that are “wood, hay, and stubble” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) – i.e. things that really won’t matter in light of eternity. Many of these things are unavoidable, and very necessary in the daily running of a church, however way too often these things fill up our task lists until there is little time left for what really matters.

So how do we keep a balance? How do we make sure that our priorities get the attention that they deserve? It all basically boils down to having good time management skills. When we practice good time management, our priorities fall into line fairly easily. So the next obvious question is how do we effectively manage our time? That’s not an easy question to answer. Different tools and systems work better for different people. Over the course of the next few Wednesdays I will be writing about the specific things that have helped me manage my time. In the meantime you can check out two previous blog posts, The Law of the Vacuum and Too Busy to Matter for some practical tips and encouragement.

How about you – have you ever struggled in keeping your priorities straight? How have you overcome this struggle? Leave a comment below.

Efficient vs. Effective

June 8, 2011

Prior to entering the ministry full time I worked in the computer industry.  I remember one meeting about 12 years ago in which my boss spent a significant amount of time explaining the difference between two words – efficient and effective.  I can honestly say that that meeting was a life changing moment for me.

Here’s the difference: Efficient means “doing things right” while effective means “doing the right things.”  Although initially that could sound like the same thing, it most certainly is not.  Here’s how it was explained to me – Imagine that you’re in a boat on a lake and the boat starts leaking.  If you’re efficient, you might grab a bucket and start bailing water.  In fact, you could get a whole team of people with special, ergonomically designed buckets that are all very efficiently bailing water on the boat.  With the right kind of training and leadership they could easily be the most efficient water bailers on the planet.  While all this efficiency is going on, an effective person would just plug the hole in the boat.  Bailing water is okay, but plugging the hole is smarter.

You can be very efficient without being effective.  I think that one of the reasons we are seeing so many rural churches in decline is because they are not being effective.  They can be very efficient at what they do without being effective at all.  How can we make sure that we are being effective?  Here are some suggestions:

1) Pray.  I know that this may seem trite, but the fact of the matter is that God still communicates to His people today.  He wants our churches to be very effective in reaching the lost.  We all know James 1:5, putting it into practice is the biggest step towards being an effective church

2) Never say “we’ve always done it this way.”  If you keep doing what you’ve always done you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.  The message of the Gospel never changes, but the methods we use to proclaim that message must change.

3) Be careful when reading books and attending seminars.  Don’t get me wrong, I love books and seminars, but the temptation for many is to think that if they just did everything the author or speaker did, then they will get the same results.  The bottom line is that what works in one community does not necessarily work in another.  We should glean the best ideas and adapt them to our community

4) Don’t be afraid of failure.  If you try something and it doesn’t work, then stop doing it and try something else.  If you don’t make the attempt, you’ll never know how effective it will be.

Can you think of anything else we can do to insure we are being as effective as possible?  What is currently working in your community? Leave a comment below

Rural Resource – Too Busy to matter

May 30, 2011

I do an extensive amount of reading and often come across very interesting books, articles, blog posts, etc.  Each Monday I will be posting a book review or article link that I think would be of interest to the Rural Ministry community.

Today’s article comes from the Leadership Freak blog written by Dan Rockwell.  Dan is a pastor, blogger, and leadership expert that I’ve had the privilege of knowing for about 13 years.  Dan’s blog is a must read for anyone interested in becoming a better leader.  It’s written primarily to the business world, however virtually everything Dan writes about applies very well to the church world as well.

There are numerous articles on Leadership Freak that could be featured here, but the article I’ve chosen today is one that I think especially relates to the Rural Ministry community.  In this article, entitled Too Busy to Matter, Dan states, “If you don’t intentionally take things out of your life, life will do it for you. Sadly, the things that fall out are frequently the things that matter most.”

To read the full article, entitled Too Busy to Matter please click here.

Disclaimer: The books and articles mentioned on the Rural Ministry Blog are things that I feel contain content relevant to the Rural Ministry community.  This does not necessarily mean that I fully embrace or support everything that the author embraces or supports.  For more information on this topic please read this Rural Ministry blog post – Eat the Meat and Spit Out the Bones

The Law of the Vacuum

April 12, 2011

The law of the vacuum is a scientific concept that states that nature abhors a vacuum, and that when a vacuum is present all nearby particles will rush in to fill it.  This concept also applies to time management – if you do not maintain control of your schedule, thus creating a “time management vacuum,” people, events, tasks, etc. will rush in to fill it for you.  Good time management skills are important for everyone, but especially so for those in rural ministry.  I remember the early days of my ministry when the church staff consisted of my wife and I.  Like many of you, I was the senior pastor, youth pastor, worship leader, gardener, custodian, and receptionist.  Being busy was never a problem, but I learned the hard way that there’s a big difference between being busy and being effective.  I didn’t realize how much of a problem this was in my life until I came home one afternoon and my wife asked me about my day.  As I thought about it, I realized that I had been busy all day long, but couldn’t think of anything that I actually accomplished.  I was in a time management vacuum.  I had no clear time management plan and was just reacting to circumstances and situations around me.  It was no wonder that nothing seemed to be getting done. I had no plan of action!

You will never be successful if you do not develop good time management skills.  Take a look at any successful leader and you will see someone who has a clear time management plan.  The thing about time management is that it’s purposeful.  You have to make it happen; it doesn’t just happen on its own.  There are several seminars, books, blogs, and articles about time management.  I do not recommend one system over another as different systems work better for different people, however there are some common things that are vital to any time management plan. Here are a few in no particular order:

  • Find a system that works for you and use it! Even the best system will be worthless if you don’t use it.  I’ve discovered that when I follow my time management system I am far more effective than when I do not.
  • Everything goes on the calendar.  Church events, study time, exercise, devotional time, family time, date nights, kids’ soccer games, holidays, etc.
  • Do not commit yourself to anything until you have checked your calendar first.  I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve double and even triple booked myself because I didn’t check my calendar before committing.
  • Don’t overbook yourself.  If Jesus had to leave the crowds to go off by Himself on occasion, why should we think we can act differently?  We must have time to recharge our spiritual, physical, and emotional batteries if we want to be successful.

Remember: you have enough time to do everything that God wants you to do.  We don’t need more time, we need better time management.

What time management tips have you found particularly helpful?  Leave a comment below.