Several weeks ago Dave Miller published a post that presented a retrospective of his life. (Undergoing major surgery does give one a different perspective.) I understood Dave’s post to communicate that he wished he had achieved better balance in his life. Certainly, we all want to balance our lives and ministries, but that often proves to be a great challenge. How can we balance our lives?
I can still remember my years as a Master of Divinity student at Southwestern Seminary (1972-75). In our homiletics class, the professor said we should spend at least 20 hours study on each sermon. Preachers who preach three times each week thus would spend 60 hours each week on sermon preparation. A chapel speaker exhorted us to maintain a fulsome devotional life and spend at least an hour in devotional Bible reading and prayer each day. Another chapel speaker declared that Southern Baptist ministers are fat, weak, and out of shape. He encouraged us to spend 30 minutes a day exercising. My pastoral ministry professor told us that we needed to spend our afternoons visiting the hospitals, counseling hurting people, and doing church administration. My evangelism professor encouraged us to go out and witness several days each week. During those years James Dobson and his Focus on the Family gained great popularity, and he taught us to spend adequate time with our families.
My seminary buddies and I talked about these exhortations, and one friend added up the time required to fulfill all those expectations. The total came to 120 hours a week, or about 17 hours a day. Now, to be sure, all the activities mentioned above are essential, but that would not leave C B Scott much time to watch Crimson Tide football or me to watch University of Kentucky basketball.
What can we do realistically to balance our lives and do all the good things we were taught in seminary? Here are some suggestions for achieving balance.
First, remember the biblical principle of Sabbath rest (Gen 2:1-3).
The Lord rested on the seventh day of creation and made Sabbath observance one of the Ten Commandments. Of course, pastors and staff members cannot rest on Sunday, but it is important to take a day off each week. Doing so will prolong your ministry. I’ve heard guys say, “I’d rather burn out than rust out.” My response is—either way you’re out. Ministry is like a marathon race, not a sprint. You have to find a pace of life/ministry that you can maintain for 40 years.
Second, work out a time budget.
If you allocate your time carefully, you’ll be surprised how much you can do.
Third, avoid time robbers.
These are activities or habits that steal time from more important things. I read an article by a pastor who struggled with time management. When he analyzed his daily activities, he realized that each day he would walk to the post office to pick up the church’s mail. On the way back he would stop in the coffee shop and talk to folks there for two hours. He asked the church secretary to get the mail and freed up ten hours of prime working time each week. Fourth, delegate responsibilities to others, when possible. Enlist and train lay persons to do what they can do, and you can focus on doing what they cannot do.
Last, and most importantly, establish your priorities.
Our highest priority is our relationship with the Lord. So, make your devotional time a priority. You cannot give out spiritual food continually if you are not ingesting spiritual food daily. Second, don’t neglect your family. I heard Dr. Ken Hemphill share this story in a conference. He was at his church (FBC of Norfolk, VA) one day, and his wife called. She said, “Honey there is a couple in the church that is about to be divorced.” He replied, “Tell me who it is, and I’ll go right over there.” She responded, “It’s us.” He told his secretary to cancel all his appointments for the next two days, and he went home to reconcile with his wife. You won’t do your church much good if you lose your family. In his old age, a reporter asked Billy Graham what he would do differently. He said, “I would spend more time with my family. I was away too much and left Ruth with too much responsibility.” As a field missionary, I began scheduling family time, and I reserved those times for my wife and two children. Last, a time budget or time use plan will help you ensure that you are giving adequate time to sermon preparation evangelism, pastoral care, etc. We all struggle with achieving balance. Perhaps our Voices readers can share some tips that will help others.