We as ministers want to be of assistance to people and we want to be available/accessible. Both of those are good traits as long as we have strong boundaries.
I haven’t always had good boundaries but I am continuing to define and strengthen them. My online university teaching as well as trying to get my coaching business up and running has highlighted the need for this trait.
Part of issue is in the fact that ministers don’t punch a clock and much of what they do is not time-determined. For example. I need to go to the hospital to visit. It doesn’t really matter (unless the hospital has policies or something is going on with the patient) if I go at 11:00 a.m. or at 3:30 p.m. Likewise, we have administrative tasks that must be done. But whether I do them this morning or this afternoon (or tomorrow) is not (usually) of vital consequence.
I always told people: “I have a lot to do, but most of it is flexible in terms of when it has to be done.”
And so, when someone would call wanting to schedule a meeting or a counseling appointment, or whatever, I would be more than willing to bend MY schedule around theirs. And if I already had two meetings today and someone wanted to meet today, I kind of made a face but went ahead and scheduled them today.
The sermon prep or the administrative task, or the pastoral phone call could wait until tomorrow. Or the next day.
“I have a lot to do, but most of it is flexible in terms of when it has to be done.” meant that the things that were high priorities usually got pushed into whatever time (if any) remained.
And that lack of boundaries resulted in two consequences:
- A lack of productivity on my part; or at least peak productivity, because when I did those things they were usually at times when I was tired or rushed;
- Heightened stress, because I knew those things still needed to be but were not getting done.
So who paid the price? I and my family did. I did in terms of my physical and mental health and my family did in terms of quality time with me.
In the past year I have been teaching for four different online universities, and at times up to seven different classes at the same time. And I really enjoy it—most of the time. HOWEVER…each of the schools has very strict rules about what has to be done on which days. There are time limits on returning e-mails and minimum number of discussion posts (and requirements of what has to be IN the discussion posts) for each day. There are guidelines about how long I have to grade and return students’ assignments. On an average, my online classes take me, oh 6 hours per day. (My educated guesstimate).
But I am still in community groups. I am seeking to network. I am seeking to make appointments with ministers about coaching. I am still taking my coaching training. I have practicum coaching sessions that have to be done each week. Plus I am learning an entirely new skill set in terms of setting up and running a business. Our financial picture demands that I get my coaching business up and make it profitable ASAP. I am presenting two workshops this weekend for a group of churches in southern Oregon. I am in a Men’s Bible Study and meeting with another guy about starting a second one.
I have friends who want to have coffee (and with whom I want to have coffee). And Jim Wallis is coming to town this week and I really would like to go hear him speak at Powells City of Books.
What does that mean? It means that I HAVE to say no when people want to meet quickly. Twice this week guys have called & wanted to have coffee. They were not high priority meetings, but would be good to do and potentially have some business advantages. In the old days I would have let them set a time & worked my schedule around it. In both cases, I asked for a couple of times they could meet in two weeks. I didn’t say “No, I won’t meet.” But I did fit it into MY schedule. And I am also aware that those weeks I may have to do the same with others who call.
I simply CANNOT fill my schedule with meetings that other people want to have on their schedules. Emergencies happen. But a small percentage of the calls I got as a minister were the absolute “drop everything and run” type of emergencies.
God has given us all the same amount of time. Some of us just do more with it than others do. I want, and need, to do more with it.