Through my academic, professional (non-ministry), and military careers, I have always had to pay particular attention to managing my time. Partly this is because of my own tendencies towards wanting to do as much as possible as soon as possible (something that friends and colleagues have chided me about for years, and a few employers have been more than willing to take advantage of). But partly it is because I have had a series of academic and professional careers that have been time-intensive: from majoring in History and Political Science to being an Intelligence Analyst to being the Operations Manager for a Special Events Company. I always had deadlines, and the “mission” always seemed to be larger than the time available to complete it in. One boss admitted to me that she artificially compressed timeframes for projects assigned to me, because when time was critical I led my team to do better work at lower cost…
Our society is trained to Time Management. There are whole library sections dedicated to time management, in business, in school, in life, in families… even in ministry. Perhaps especially in ministry, as the role of the minister has become more and more complex as the resources of most churches have become smaller and smaller. I’ve read more than a few of those time management books over the years, along with countless articles and a few seminars. They usually cover topics such as prioritization, organization, attention to detail, and most importantly… discipline.
In part, it was concern for time that caused me to step away from writing publicly here at Celestial Lands a year ago, as well as stepping away from public writing in other spheres. I also intentionally stepped away from actively working with organizations such as the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy… because I was concerned about Time, and how well I was managing it. With my Senior Minister back from sabbatical, I was learning a whole new role, and for awhile that was time-intensive.
Over the last year, however, I have learned a lesson about me in ministry. Ministry is not inherently time intensive. I know that some colleagues might disagree with me on this, and am willing to admit that this perception of mine is shaped by how time intensive my previous professional and academic life was. But in reality I have quite a bit of time available to me in ministry. Even when I was the solo minister of a church and was responsible for preaching each weekend, I still had more time available to me than at any previous point in my adult life.
And yet, I noticed that even with more time than I have ever had before, I found myself unable to meet all the expectations of me. I found myself unable to do all of the things that I expected of myself. I found myself at times staring at the task list on my computer, knowing that I had the time for the items that awaited me on it… but I did not have the energy.
While I had plenty of time, I was lacking in spiritual, mental, emotional and physical energy to accomplish what was before me. I have found that time is no longer my limiting factor but rather energy… and it has had me wondering whether or not this has always been true, and was just masked by the culture of managing time.
I have moved away from thinking about time management, and am now focused on developing for myself good patterns of energy management.
It is a far more complex project, the management of energy, because energy is far more complex than time. It is far more complex than adding to my time management time for rest. Sometimes rest itself can be an energy drain, a reflection I often have when someone comes back from a wonderful vacation trip. I get tired just hearing about all the things they have done and places they went on their vacation!
I am discovering how to be intentional about managing my spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical energy… and it is a learning process. The patterns of it go in contrary directions to much of what I have learned are good practices in Time Management. Add to that the necessity that I have, as a minister, a need to have some emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical energy reserves at all times, to be able to respond to crises that arise in the community and in the lives of our congregants… my “break glass in case of emergency” energy, as I have come to think of it.
Another complicating factor in energy management is that “rest” is not the only source of energy renewal… and for me perhaps not the most important one. While “time” continues on (an hour block of time is an hour block of time) different tasks and activities have different energy results. Some activities that might not take much time at all can have a huge cost in energy. A contentious Board Meeting might only take two hours of time, but might sap up a massive amount of mental and emotional energy. An hour long appointment with one congregant might be a significant drain of spiritual energy, while an hour long appointment with another congregant might lift my spirits and be an actual net energy gain, not a loss. And just as a contentious Board or Committee meeting might sap away a lot of energy, other meetings of the same Board or Committee might leave me energized and ready to take on the world.
And, an outlay of one kind of energy can have odd effects of the availability of other kinds of energy. I have found that when I make a significant outlay of physical energy, say I go on a 5 mile walk with a 40 lbs pack in the morning, I see a decrease in my physical energy, but an increase in my emotional and spiritual energy. I find that when I am very emotionally drained, I have an increase in my mental energy, and a desire to work on “thinking” projects and be successful at them.
I am learning how to actively manage my energy. Partly this has been giving myself permission to make a priority of engaging in activities (such as public writing) that I know result usually in a net energy gain for me… but where I have been most surprised has been the effect of this realization upon scheduling. I am learning to look at my upcoming schedule, and organize it in such a way to ensure that I have the energy I need for events throughout the week. Paying attention to this, I am becoming better at being able to predict what different activities on my schedule are likely to do to my energy levels… and to move events around and add activities to do my best to ensure I have the energy I need at the time I need it. A simple example of this would be seeing an activity scheduled for an evening that is likely to be a drain on my emotional energy, I have invited someone to lunch that I have been meaning to connect with, whom I know I will be excited and overjoyed to spend such time with. It has meant reading a heartwarming/breaking story during a morning that I know I will have to have some good “thinking” energy later that day. It has meant seeing my own energy levels drop below a level that I need for a meeting, and rescheduling that meeting for a time when I have the capacity to bring the energy that the meeting needs.
And, in all of this learning, I have begun to wonder if congregations function the same way. If effective ministry requires actively planning for the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical energy of the congregation by actively planning events that raise energy when needed, and arranging events to happen with the congregation has the energy necessary to engage them… while keeping an emergency energy reserve available for when the congregation really needs it. I have come to wonder if what needs to drive programming, development, and projects in congregational life is not an assessment of need, or time, or even interest… but the available energy, knowing that with some work you can build the energy if you need to.
It is a new lens on congregational life that is changing the way I view this thing we call church…
Yours in faith,