A former prime minister of the UK, Harold MacMillan, was asked to name a statesman’s greatest challenge. He reputedly replied, “Events, dear boy. Events.” Anyone with discernment about how they work and set their priorities will identify with that.
During my corporate working life, I often started the week optimistic about what I intended to achieve. I had a weekly plan, scheduled meetings and appointments, and a list of things to be done.
But then “events” intervened. Situations arose requiring my immediate, undivided attention. My plan for the week was thrown off course, and no matter how much I tried, I could not recover it. I frequently ended the working week later than planned, exhausted, and weighed down by what remained undone.
Why Do You Work?
The frequency of “events” for church planters is high. Feelings of being overwhelmed are likely exacerbated when—as is so often the case—you work from home without ready support from colleagues facing similar pressures. Rather than balancing work and rest, we are called to both work and rest to the glory of God. Click To Tweet
In his book The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness, Tim Chester questions whether we rest to work or work to rest. He concludes that neither reflects the biblical pattern. Rather than balancing work and rest, we are called to both work and rest to the glory of God. Chester then poses the challenge, “If your life doesn’t reflect the biblical pattern of work and rest, something is wrong.”
What can be done when you feel constantly under pressure? First, examine what’s driving your stress. Are you pushing hard to please people, to satisfy your own or others’ expectations? Remember that you’re united with Christ, and nothing on earth can change that union—you can’t make God love you more, nor can you make him love you less. If you feel continually overwhelmed, speak with a trusted fellow pastor or counsellor.
But there are also some practical steps that can help:
Pick Your Priorities
In my experience, the first step to dealing with overwhelming pressure is understanding the situation. When demands seem excessive, listing everything that must be done can reduce stress. The next step is to prioritise that list. But what criteria should determine the priorities?
When we’re up against it, we generally prioritise based on deadlines. Like a juggler, the aim is to make sure no ball is dropped. This is an unsatisfactory form of prioritisation. You become focused on deadlines, controlled by the calendar. Urgency defines your priorities rather than importance.
In this context, “importance” is about whether you need to do something personally. You have specific gifts and a God-given calling—your aim is to focus on these. Other things, which other people could do, are less important for you.
You can consider urgency and importance together and set priorities based on both. Each thing that needs to be done can be placed in one of the four quadrants of a matrix:
Put things that are important for you to do on the upper row, with urgent tasks on the right and less urgent ones on the left. Other things go on the lower row, to one side or the other, depending on the deadline.
When under pressure, a lot ends up in the top-right quadrant. These things definitely need to be done, they need to be done by you, and they need to be done now. This is firefighting. It’s neither physically, mentally, nor spiritually healthy to continually exist here, with most of your work in “the tyranny of the urgent.” If we’re constantly overwhelmed by the urgent, how can we give proper attention to the non-urgent things vital to life and ministry? Click To Tweet
But what about items in the lower-right quadrant—things of low importance but high urgency? Are there others around you who are gifted in these areas? These tasks may offer an opportunity for you to delegate.
The boxes on the left hold items that are less time-sensitive. Activities listed in the lower-left quadrant (low urgency and low importance) can be reviewed and discussed with others. Can they be delegated, or should you take them on? Perhaps they’re things which would be nice to do, but not yet. Or, possibly, they’re things that have always been done and continue out of routine, not because they’re valuable. Maybe some tasks in this quadrant should not be continued at all.
Pursue What’s Important
The top-left quadrant is the productive area—this is where you want to be. Here, you’re doing things that play to your strengths without undue time pressure. Of course, if you’re slow to progress them, they will eventually gravitate to the top right.
We all—but maybe especially church planters—need to intentionally structure our lives and ministries so we’re predominantly working on highly important but non-urgent tasks. This is essential to teaching God’s Word and shepherding his people. If we’re constantly overwhelmed by the urgent, how can we give proper attention to the non-urgent things vital to life and ministry? Amid the pressures of a church planter’s life, wise planning and time management should not be seen as “extra.” Click To Tweet
Getting to this position will not happen overnight, but using this approach, you can reduce the pressure on yourself and give others meaningful opportunities to serve. It may also help you be realistic in planning what you can achieve week by week, accepting that “events” will inevitably intervene.
Amid the pressures of a church planter’s life, wise planning and time management should not be seen as “extra.” All our time is the Lord’s. May we steward his time well, navigating the challenges of ministry as we rest in Jesus and prioritise the most important things for his glory.