The Odd Hours of Ministry
Balancing your time, and making your schedule work
Fresh out of college and into the workforce, the one thing that seems to strike everyone is the schedule. Working a full 40 hours a week for the first time can feel exhausting, confining, isolating and even depressing. When your first Friday comes, you understand exactly why everyone looks forward to the weekend.
I remember my first real job — the one that required me to show up at a certain time, stay at my desk while I worked, and leave no later than 5 p.m. The biweekly paychecks were the only reward for such a demanding schedule.
Then I took on my first ministry job. The reins loosened, the handcuffs came off, and the constraints of the clock fell away. I no longer punched a timecard. My supervisors even encouraged me to get out of the office, out where my people were so I could minister to them one-on-one. It was fantastic!
That is, until it wasn’t. Saturday evenings at the church, prepping for the next day. Locking up on Wednesday nights, waiting for the last members to leave. Midweek services that required an early arrival and late departure. Not to mention the meetings that happened on any given weeknight.
The flexible schedule of pastors doesn’t mean they work less. In many cases, it means extra hours on the job. And at home. And while you’re on vacation, thanks to laptops and Wi-Fi. But the odd hours of a minister can also mean a certain type of freedom when we leverage them the right way.
Odd Hours and Even Time
The thing about the odd hours of ministry is that it’s easy to allow work to interfere with other areas of your life. Take family time, for instance. If you’re a pastor, you probably have at least one story of having to work on vacation. I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken a call, answered an important email or even set aside a few hours for a ministry project while on the road with my wife and kids.
It’s not just vacations, though. Weekend commitments to church services may mean your kids can’t be a part of traveling sports. Midweek services can put a damper on other get-togethers too. I remember being a kid and never watching the Super Bowl live because we had Sunday night church.
But you can actually leverage those odd hours for your benefit. What day do you take off during the week? It’s probably not the same as most other people. That can at least mean shorter lines while you’re running errands. Slow down the pace during the hours you’re not working.
Your odd hours don’t have to define you. They can even work for you. Leverage your schedule to maximize your priorities. Work is definitely one of them, but it can’t be the only one. Find time within your schedule to make personal growth a priority.
Make your schedule work for you; don’t work for your schedule.
Balance out your schedule, and your odd hours can mean you have time throughout the week for other interests and obligations. A weeknight activity may mean you can clear out of the office early, pick up your kids from school and spend a quality afternoon with them. A later start time in the morning could mean a workout or coffee meeting with a friend.
Make It Work
The key is to make your schedule work for you; don’t work for your schedule. That’s the principle Jesus taught His followers and the religious elite of His day in Mark 2. The Sabbath ritual was the deciding sacred time that ruled all other schedules. Leaders tightly controlled and strictly enforced adherence to the rules surrounding the Sabbath. But Jesus reminded them that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (verse 27).
Are you allowing your odd work hours to rule over you? Or are you taking control and making it work for you? Here are a few guidelines on the subject that have helped me through the years:
Have clear limits. Keep track of how many hours you spend working, and then make sure to set limits. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re focused on a project. Take out your schedule and block off areas of time that cannot be touched with work responsibility.
Make up for lost time. When you do work over your allotted time, make up for it elsewhere. Is there a major project that most in the church are working on, like Easter? When it’s over, give everyone an extra day off. And consider allowing those who have midweek responsibilities to come in at noon the next day.
Keep office hours light. Set guidelines for who needs to be in the office, how long they need to be there and what times they’ll be available. Make it flexible enough so they can leave when needed. It’s hard to reach people from your desk chair, after all. But be disciplined so no one takes advantage of the flexibility.
Those two principles — discipline and flexibility — seem to work against each other from time to time. But you can partner them for greater influence. I can recall times when I counted down the hours on the clock until I could leave. I also remember not wanting to go home because my job was so much fun. Being disciplined while I was in the office allowed me the flexibility later on to balance my time.
Take control of your time by taking command of your schedule. If you can, set appropriate hours for yourself. If the hours are already set for you, stay committed to them and advocate for fairness. But always be present while you work, when you’re with family and friends, while ministering in the community or during your quiet time.
Your hours may be odd as a minister, but your time is also valuable. Treat it that way.