By John Harrell
Details and Deadlines
I once served in a ministry that involved managing lots of details on tight deadlines across long days, occasionally for weeks at a time. Not long into that period, some of the people on my team came to me and said, “We love you; we just don’t know where you are or what you’re doing most of the time. Where are you?”
What a wake-up call. My task-driven nature, especially when the stakes are high, can cause me to lose sight of the relationships that are involved in things that are worth doing well.
Christian entrepreneurs often face a dilemma: do I spend an hour with the people I’m trying to serve, or do I invest those 60 minutes to build the infrastructure that will serve them for the long haul? The kids need someone to join them at lunch today, but I’ve got to call a few more volunteers for that thing next Tuesday. I have a chance to be on the front lines with hungry folks people in town, but the free-food truck needs a tire replacement. How do I invest time—with the people, or getting ready for the people?
The answer, as with so many things, is yes. There’s no sense serving humans for whom Christ died if we’re not with them enough to care about them; we call this “knowing our Who.” But there’s also no sense in making them feel less-than by failing to do the mundane, everyday work to sustain the ministry that serves them and affirms their humanity too. (The people you love know when you’ve not replied to their emails in three weeks.) So how to do both?
Finding Your Rhythm
One way is to practice what we like to call the Rhythmic Week. We declare certain time blocks (say, Tuesday morning) to be about the mechanical stuff, and others for the ministry of presence (having lunch with that donor, going to the varsity game). When we program all-purpose “Flex” blocks in there too, we allow an overflow for when we get interrupted and need more time to finish.
A few years ago I started devoting part of each workweek to cleaning up the emails and paper that I’d accumulated and laying out the following week’s time-blocks. My important relationships improved as a result, in part because I knew there was going to be time to deal with tasks that had piled up. It made me a better husband, worker, and pastor.
Your people are counting on you to be incarnate with them, like Jesus is with us. And they’re also counting on you to tend to the stuff that keeps the ship afloat (Jesus doesn’t stop being in charge of creation when he puts on flesh).
What can you do today to devote time to both?
John Harrell is ordained in the Free Methodist Church – USA and serves as MINC’s Lead Project Manager. He lives in Illinois and also checks email there.
- To learn more about what we call the “rhythmic week,” see our cofounder Mark DeVries’ book Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It (InterVarsity, 2008), 114–117.
- David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity, rev. ed. (Penguin, 2015) and Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life (Penguin, 2009) describe what Allen calls the Weekly Review, which I alluded to here.