7 Ways to Improve Your Ministry and Your Relationship with Time

13 Feb

When I first got into campus ministry, at the university where I had been a student a decade earlier, I noticed how much busier students were than we had been.   Their pace can border on frantic for entire semesters at a time.  When I thought back to my own college days, I remembered skipping class from time to time for a self-declared Art Day when I’d drive to D.C., take in a few museums, and then come back refreshed.  When I asked students about skipping class most had never done it.  The few who had skipped did so in order to complete a paper for another class.

Those first couple of years I kept thinking the best marker of success in campus ministry would be to get students to slow down.  But I recognized I wasn’t modeling the slower pace I wanted for them or for myself.  I’m still not pacing myself well.  I’m still fighting with time (guess who always wins that fight?) rather than savoring it.  And I’ve begun to think I may never “win” this one but I may count on some incremental progress and the arc of change over the long haul.

I’d love to hear how you’ve encountered these issues and what’s worked in your life and ministry.  Here are a few things I’m finding helpful in my own ministry and spiritual journey – and I still believe modeling these healthier behaviors is good for students, too.

Schedule time for creative and prep work.  In my setting I preach every week and I need undisturbed time to study, pray, research, and write.  I used to try to fitting it around the other items on the calendar but for the past several years I have scheduled one day each week to work outside the office on sermons and other studies or programs I’ll be leading.  Our weekly schedule has this day written in, so every knows where I’ll be – and that it takes time to create and to prepare to lead.

Take all of your vacation.  It is not heroic or giving or servant-leadery to forego your vacation.  It is merely asking for trouble.  It’s almost never convenient to take a vacation and of course things will go undone or someone will need something the minute you leave town.  Let it be.  Explore the rest of your life and yourself and your soul.  See what it’s like to relate to God and others when you are not inhabiting your role.  Allow yourself to play and rest.  Though much of your vacation may occur when students are away in the summer or on other breaks, you might also consider taking a long weekend (when “normal” people take weekends) once or twice during the academic year.  A semester is a long time.

Participate in continuing ed opportunities.  Do at least the minimum required by your denomination.  Don’t feel everything you attend needs to relate to your ministry directly, in a linear way.  Campus ministry conferences are excellent and so are fundraising and homiletics events.  But feed your soul here, too.  Maybe a pilgrimage to Iona or a weekend silent retreat or swing dance lessons or a writing workshop is calling to you.  Listen to the call and trust that God knows what you need and this will somehow enrich you and your ministry by and by.

Take days off – every week.  This is the easiest one to slip for me.  If the sermon isn’t done or I just need to send a few more emails…Then there are those events (retreats, property workdays, community service projects) than can only happen on Saturday.  Of course emergencies arise, but we all know those aren’t the main culprits (the sermon is not an emergency coming around again every week).  On a weekly, non-emergency basis, plan for the weeks when your days off will be consumed by work obligations.  Take a day earlier in the week to compensate.  Missing days off may seem necessary in the moment but the accumulation of weeks and months on end without proper rest and space and distance from your ministry will eventually bite you in the ass.

Limit time spent on email.  You may need to expand this to other things with more power over you (phone calls, Twitter, etc) but email is a biggie for me.  It is too easy to check it before I’ve decided what I need to do for the day and then to be carried away by the concerns of everyone else, whether they’re pressing or not.  I have a line in my email signature stating I check email from Sunday through Thursday.  Only in rare circumstances do I look at it on my days off.  Students and Board members know how to contact me in an emergency and everything else can wait.  I’d like to get to the point where I only check and respond to email in two batches a day and stay off it the rest of the time, but I’m not there yet.

Be the one in charge of your schedule.  I’m not here yet, either.  One of the energizing and frustrating things about campus ministry is the number of constituencies we have – students, Board members, parents, local church folks, denominational authorities, college administrators – and how unaware of each other these folks usually are.  I never satisfy everyone’s ideas of where I should be and what I should be doing and when all that should happen.  But I keep trying to and then trying to stop it.  I am the only one who knows the breadth and depth of the work at hand and the only one who can make the best decisions about prioritizing my days and my weeks.  But there are too many weeks where I show up and let email or a phone call or the sudden appearance of someone wanting something dictate the flow of my day or week.  Saying “no” is in service to the larger “yes.”

Invest in training others and empowering leadership.  Speaking of saying “no,” some of the hardest things I do are the things I don’t do, the times when I refuse to step in and fix something or just do it myself because “it’s easier.”  Some of the most uncomfortable times in my ministry are when I stand by and let something fall flat or between the cracks and then wait….for the right person to pick it up and run with it.  Of course, I don’t merely wait.  I’m actively working with students to develop their own leadership.  The point is not to single-handedly run the best campus ministry show ever staged:  it’s to empower students (and others in the ministry) to take part in campus ministry with you.  And that’s much harder and better than just doing it all yourself.

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DeDeborah Lewisborah loves hiking, cooking, reading, and a good strong cup of coffee. She believes that a rainy day is one of God’s great gifts and that When Harry Met Sally can never be seen or quoted too many times.  She is an ordained elder in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves as director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Virginia.  She has been in campus ministry for 13 years and shares the journey with her husband and stepson.  You can find pictures of her pottery and links to other writing at www.deborahlewis.net.

 

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