In order to have time with Jesus, lead your family, and shepherd your church, your pastoral time management strategies must allow you to say “No.”
By Matt Henslee
Pastors must strike a balance in the tension between not sacrificing our families on the altar of ministry and not sacrificing our ministries on the altar of family. Yes, our families are our first ministries and next priority after our personal walks with Jesus. But if we’re not careful, we can let our families get in the way of effective ministry.
Conversely, it’s just as easy to allow our families to take a backseat or be left behind if we make our ministries the main thing. When we’re going, going, going and rarely home for dinner or constantly declining invitations to play catch, it shows we love our ministries more than our families.
I’m one of those pastors who wears many hats. I’m a preaching pastor, associational missionary, adjunct professor, church revitalization consultant, podcast host, and more. And, I’m often asked to write articles like this one, too.If we're not careful, we can let our families get in the way of effective ministry. Conversely, it's just as easy to allow our families to take a backseat if we make our ministries the main thing. — @mhenslee Click To Tweet
I’m also happily married to a wonderful woman, and we’re raising four beautiful daughters we adopted in 2015. After my personal walk with Jesus, Rebecca and our girls are my priority and primary ministry.
There are only three things that have allowed me to juggle personal time, family, and a wide array of ministry involvement: God’s grace, coffee, and time management (even if my calendar looks a bit like an end times chart).
A recent study by Lifeway Research on the Greatest Needs of Pastors found half (51%) of pastors say time management is an aspect that needs attention or investment today. Additionally, 43% point to navigating the tension between work and home as a challenge they face.
While I’m far from an expert in pastoral time management, I have over two decades of experience. I learned a lot from mentors and a ton from seminary. But my greatest training came from the trenches of gospel ministry. And there, I learned the art and value of saying “No.”
If we’re going to manage our time well enough to have time with Jesus, lead and love our families well, and effectively shepherd our churches, we’ll need to know when to say “No.” Pastoral time management is hard; there’s never a moment of any day we’re not our churches’ pastors.
However, no matter what our calendars reveal or business cards say, those of us who are husbands and fathers are never not a husband or a father. So, let’s talk about a few things it might be A-OK to say “No.”
1. Being at everything
Years ago, there was a week when I had an association meeting on Monday, a deacon meeting on Tuesday, a prayer meeting on Wednesday, and a football game on Friday (our eldest was in the marching band). Then two invitations came in. One was for an enchilada fundraiser for our volunteer fire department on Thursday; the other was for a birthday party on Saturday.
I decided I wouldn’t be gone for six consecutive evenings, so I said “No” to the association meeting and birthday party. Why? Since I decided something had to give, I chose to say “Yes” to the ones that offered the most ministry impact without cutting too deeply into family time.You don't have to be at everything. Weigh the pros and cons and give your yeses and noes accordingly. — @mhenslee Click To Tweet
For example, the association meeting was two hours away on a school night, so I said “No” since the girls wouldn’t attend. Conversely, the enchilada dinner meant community member engagement only a mile from the house, and the whole family could attend. So, I said “Yes.”
Pastor, you don’t have to be at everything. Weigh the pros and cons and give your yeses and noes accordingly.
2. Cutting your vacation short
Before you stone me, can I simply say it’s OK to disagree with me here? My mentor does, and we still get along great. Still, I think saying “No” to cutting your vacation short is OK.
But you can’t just cut and run without a plan. If you take this route, it’s not as if crises will say, “Since the pastor’s gone, we won’t happen this week.” No, members could still die, and leaders could be hospitalized. It happens.
If you turn off the notifications and fully unplug, you must communicate accordingly and delegate appropriate people to handle the inevitable crises. That might be easier if you’re one of many pastors on staff, but even solo pastors can entrust ministry to capable deacons or leaders in their stead.If you turn off the notifications and fully unplug, you must communicate accordingly and delegate appropriate people to handle the inevitable crises. — @mhenslee Click To Tweet
And although I always say “No” to cutting a vacation short, I remain the pastor. That hat never comes off, even if it’s traded for Mickey ears on our annual trip to Disney. I’ll check in on things while we wait in line or send a text or make a call if someone is sick. I’ve even ordered flowers for a deceased member’s family and then officiated the funeral upon my return.
Pastor, you’re not the only one who needs that time away; your family also needs it. Moreover, they need you.
3. Teaching all the things
In my roles as senior pastor, I was always the only one on staff. Still, I said “No” to being the teacher for everything. I preached on Sunday mornings and Sunday nights, which was more than enough to do for me to feel fine saying “No” to anything else.
I’d attend other Bible studies (and even offer some feedback) and go to our prayer meetings. But I worked hard to equip and encourage called and capable members to handle extra teaching times. Not only was that good for me, but it was also beneficial for hearers and volunteer teachers alike.
Pastor, you may have a diamond in the rough who just needs a chance to shine. Don’t teach all the things. Say “No,” and give that opportunity to someone else.As a pastor, you shouldn't teach in every opportunity. Allow others to grow and develop as teachers in your congregation. Click To Tweet
Allow me to close with this: Put God first, your family second, and your ministry third. And make sure your pastoral time management reflects that. You don’t have to be at everything, nor do you have to teach a class every day of the week. Give some things a “No!”
Finally, some weeks will go off the rails, and that’s okay; it happens. Look at the bigger picture. Give yourself some grace and room to ensure you’re keeping your priorities in line so you can thrive for years and decades to come.
Oh, and here’s a free pro-tip: Put your date nights and time with your kids on your calendar. Not only will that communicate to them that they matter, but it also gives you an easy “No.”
“Sorry, I’m already booked that night … can we meet the next day?”
Matt and his wife Rebecca have four daughters. He is the Associational Mission Strategist for the Collin Baptist Association in Texas, and coauthor of Replanting Rural Churches.