Pastor, own your calendar or someone else will!
We all have those moments when someone says something that resonates deeply with us. We often don’t even know why, but something tells us: “Pay attention here.”
It was almost 40 years ago. I was a youth pastor with about two years of ministerial experience and had the privilege of attending a pastors’ conference in Chicago at Moody Bible Institute. The theme that year was “Rest.” Over the course of that week, I sat under the teaching of some of the greatest leaders of that time.
While there were hours of excellent expository preaching, scores of workshops on church growth and the latest outreach programs, one statement – one simple statement – stood out for me: “Pastor, if you don’t own your calendar, someone else will!”
The preacher, a megachurch pastor from Florida, went on to say how grateful he was that he learned this lesson early in his ministry life. He talked of the importance of writing in his calendar not just his church responsibilities, but carving out time for his family and his own soul. It was his way of building margin into his life. This was a principle that had served his congregation and his family well over his many decades of ministry. No one felt cheated. All felt cared for. He was determined that the tyranny of the urgent would not drown out what was most important.
For some reason that I didn’t even understand at that point, I knew this was a sit up and take notice moment. I had this sense I would pay a price if I failed to heed his advice. I left that conference with the resolve that, as best as I knew how, I would own my calendar.
I had no way of knowing that in a few years I would leave the church where I had served as a youth pastor, move to a multi-staff, multiple service church where I would be the senior associate for 20 years and then step into the lead position for the next eight years.
Thankfully, because I had taken that pastor’s counsel to heart, my calendar held not just board meetings, ministry planning days, special events, staff meetings and appointments with parishioners, but my family life events as well. Our vacations were scheduled in BIG BOLD PRINT, my son’s baseball games that I coached for 12 years were all there, my daughter’s ski racing events that I helped train were written in ink.
When a parishioner contacted me to talk about an issue, they would invariably ask, “When is the next time you are available?” If it wasn’t an urgent matter, I never felt the need to alter my scheduled commitments, especially my family events. I simply informed them of the next available meeting time. When there was some urgency, and it required an evening meeting, I would meet them before or after my personal obligations.
Here’s one important point I learned by adhering to this concept of owning my schedule: Sometimes people who thought they needed to see me ASAP, didn’t! They just needed an extra day or two of depending on God. I can’t tell you the number of times I’d get a phone call on a Thursday where a congregant said they needed to see me. I’d look at my calendar and tell them the first opportunity was the following Tuesday. They’d say, “Thanks Pastor, I will see you on Tuesday.” Then on Sunday that same individual would find me either before or after service and say, “Pastor, I won’t be coming in on Tuesday. As I’ve been praying since talking to you, I’ve sensed the Lord gave me the answer, the direction, the guidance I need!” I’d smile and say something like, “That is so awesome!”
If I had changed my schedule to accommodate them, I would have robbed them of a very precious experience. For these people, the delay in talking to me brought about the delight of hearing from their Heavenly Father. My response, “I will see you then,” brought about God’s invitation, “I will talk to you now!”
I recall one man telling me that when I first told him I couldn’t see him until after the weekend, he was a bit unsettled. But as each day passed, he sensed the love of the Father providing an assurance of his care and then the answer to his prayer. The smile on his face that Sunday morning and the look in his eyes told me more about his experience than his words described!
I often wonder what would have happened in the ensuing years if I had ignored that pastor’s advice of almost 40 years ago. I wonder what the price would have been. And who would have paid the most?
I recently heard of a young ambitious pastor writing a note on a chalkboard in his office that simply read, “Save some for home!” Such great advice. Save some for home. Owning your calendar will help you do just that!
Marshall Eizenga is one of the program directors at the Alberta Kerith Retreats location with his wife, Merrie. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.