I’ve been asked this question at least three times in the past month.
Here’s the latest inquiry (edited for the purposes of this blog):
How do you do it?
You serve as a minister, raise a family, run triathlons, and still find time to write books.
I am in a similar boat. I am a minister. I have four young children. I run (I just did my first 5k this last weekend). And, I am an aspiring writer.
However, I am finding it difficult to build a schedule that will allow me to do all these things, and not die from exhaustion. And so I am seeking out some advice from you as someone who is doing it and doing it well.
Could you shed some insight into your schedule? When do you find time to write? Do you have any other bits of advice for guys like me?
I know you’re busy, and I certainly don’t want to add to your list of things to accomplish. Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have a minute, though, and are willing, I would sure love some insight.
Grace to you, and peace,
I’m going to answer this emailed question publicly because I think it might be helpful to others as well.
Here are the facts:
I’m a Lead Minister at a growing church (that I absolutely love), I’m a husband (for almost 19 years), I’m the father of four children, I’m a writer who has written about a book a year for the past 5 years, a blog here a couple times a week, I write a couple of articles a year, I speak at 10-20 special events a year, I serve on the editorial board for Christian Standard (meets twice a year), I started a TV program this month, I race triathlons (although not as much as I used to), I now have three dogs and a cat, and . . . I think I’m doing a terrible job of time-management.
Even so, here’s a simple list of why I think I can get a lot done in a little time:
1. I believe that I have God’s blessing on my life, family, and ministry. To quote a line from one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire, I feel “God’s favor” on my ministry. Do bad things happen to me? Of course! I just feel that without God–and his blessing–my life and ministry would be an unproductive joke.
2. I’m surrounded by good people. My wife is an amazing woman with a tireless work ethic. I don’t know how she does all that she does, but I do know that I couldn’t do what I do without her. In a recent email to a young minister’s wife, my wife wrote this in explaining how she decides what to do and what not to do, “I choose only a couple of things to do. My main focus and primary ministry is to Arron and my family.” My wife’s ministry to me allows me to minister more effectively to others. Besides my wife, I have a great Admin and I regularly hire people I trust to help me finish important tasks (editing, researching, etc.). I couldn’t do what God allows me to do without the help and support of some amazing people.
3. I try to have time with God every day. My regular time with God energizes me in every way possible.
4. I know how to say “no.” I’ve learned that I have to be very careful about over-committing to things that will pull me away from what I really feel called to do, which is to communicate the love of Jesus to people through speaking and writing. A few years ago I was on about five boards. I resigned from all but one. I say “no” to a lot of speaking requests–especially if they will require me to be away from my church on Sundays or will pull me away from significant family events. I used to be afraid to say “no” when a group asked me to speak because I was afraid they’d never ask me to speak again. That was silly for me to think that way. I’m now more concerned that I not miss “divine appointments” than I am about not missing “good opportunities.”
5. I’m lazy . . . so I’ve become creative at getting a lot of work done in a little time so I can relax when I need to.
6. I work smarter not harder. I don’t work on my car. I don’t landscape my yard. I don’t know how to fix most of the things around my house. I’m just not real handy, but this has also freed up a lot of time. I know someone who spent an entire day changing his brakes. I respect that guy for so many reasons. Not the least of which is that he saved money, which is great stewardship. But I pay to get my brakes changed because…as I mentioned in #5, I’m lazy and I don’t want to spend a day under my car changing the brakes when I could be spending that time with my family or writing a book or hiking or watching a movie with my wife. I’m not rich, so it hurts to pay to have things fixed on my car or around my house, but I won’t hesitate to pay a professional to do something that is too complicated or time-consuming for me. For the record, I did replace my toilet last month and saved a ton of money . . . but I still wish I had those 6 hours back.
7. I try to exercise regularly, but I rarely play golf. I try to exercise early in the morning or late at night so I don’t miss any family time. I’ve done a ton of triathlons and a couple of half-Ironman distance races and done most of the training for those races before my kids were up or after they went to bed. I can get all of the exercise and training I need in two hours a day. I love to exercise but I’m careful about not going overboard. For example, I enjoy golf but not as much as I would if I didn’t feel so guilty about spending 4-6 hours (including the lunch break before the back nine) during the middle of the day or on my day off playing a game. The last few times I played golf I had the same recurring thoughts, “I could have finished a chapter of a book today,” “I could have finished a sermon today,” “I could have done something with my kids today.”
8. When I’m home, I’m home. My first ministry is to my family. The energy I get from quality and quantity time with my family fuels my ministry. I fight hard to be home by 5:30 or 6 every day and then–when I get home–to get out of my work clothes and get into my kids’ worlds asap. I’m very protective of our family time. Every minister has to deal with emergencies when they come up, but over the years I’ve become more skilled at determining “emergencies” from non-emergencies. Many “emergencies” can be handled with a simple phone call as opposed to a personal visit from me.
9. I’m accountable to mentors. I’ve been blessed to have some great mentors and these mentors help me to keep my life in balance. I talk with them on a regular basis and run almost every important decision or opportunity by at least one of them before making my decision. They help me to keep grounded and to maintain my focus on what’s really important.
10. I do what I have to do to get the job done without hurting my family or my ministry. When I have a huge project or book to finish, I will go to bed at 9 pm and get up at 3 a.m. until the job’s done. This allows me undisturbed time to focus on the task at hand while–at the same time–not interfering with my family time or work schedule. This is a small sacrifice that I can make to ensure that the “main things” remain the “main things.” If I have to work on a book on my day off I clearly communicate that to my wife and get her permission before doing so. She is one of the wisest people I know and she helps me to keep my life in balance.
Let me repeat something I wrote earlier: I think I’m doing a terrible job of time-management.
Even so, I’ve shared a few of the reasons for how I can do what I do.
Before I get back to work, here are some verses I think about often:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.