Is this your strategy for church office hours?
I got an email from a buddy who just got a new youth pastor job. He asked a simple question. “I’m wondering if you have any nuggets of wisdom with how to be productive in a church office environment?” I sat down and rattled off a bunch of things that I do. Then I got to thinking, “Hey, I’m a blogger.” So I made a list and turned it into a blog post. As I made the list, I got to thinking… is this really GCYM stuff? This is not a post dripping in theology. I’d say it’s low on the “Book of Romans” scale but high on the “The Book of Proverbs” scale.
This kind of post can also feed some of our addictions to Strategizing and Success. With that said, there are a lot of us who are theologically grounded, our hearts are in the right spot, but our office hours are a hot mess. Maybe it’s an issue of our supervisors being hands off. (I think most of us have supervisors that trust us or are so overwhelmed with our own stuff that they are forced to trust us.) Perhaps it’s because we work with youth and have Xboxes in our offices.
If we think intentionally about our office hours, I believe we will be freed up do to the stuff that really fires us up. Hopefully these are 7 practical things we can do to be good stewards of time in a church office.
- Set up your Schedule:
I’m a big systems guy. Systems help me do the things that don’t come naturally to me. I am also a very relational guy, so sometimes my schedule suffers. What I’ve learned is that a system for my schedule is the key. I schedule what is important. There’s this strange pressure to just naturally think of things, but in all honesty I can easily forget. Prayer, time with people who are important to me, time to dream about what our ministry could look like; those things are IMPORTANT to me. Because they’re important habits, they’re on a habit calendar. I think about things in blocks of time. It’s important to get big picture and not become a slave to a system (McDonald has a great book called Ordering Your Private World that helps with big picture.) I don’t set appointments between 8am – 10am so that my morning is spent answering emails, and I’m available for someone on my team that needs to knock on my door. This is a new development for me, but I think it will build credibility with people in my office (especially people in an older generation). Ministry is highly relational and has a lot of freedom in most contexts. With the nature of my personality and with ministry schedules being vague I need to set up structure within unstructured ministry, or I will work myself into burnout.
- Develop Camaraderie:
At a new job it’s easy to isolate yourself. Wait, it’s actually always easy to isolate yourself. When I am highly relational with students and leaders but barely talk with other pastors or the church receptionist, I look like a jerk. Having an open door is good. Not just an open door policy but an actual open door. Play your music lower or buy headphones and face the door. For me, when I am on campus I’m there to be interrupted. If I’m in my office and the door is closed, people see the closed door and know to come back to me. Otherwise, the open door communicates that I’m accessible. I know this feels counterproductive, but THIS IS CRUCIAL! Be a team builder. Now, you can go too far and become a burden. Find a time to sense when people are hanging out for a bit and participate. Walk your hallways every few hours, even if you’ll only see admins. At the same time, if you find that you’ve been in someone’s office for 30 minutes and they’re avoiding eye contact and looking at their computer screen while you keep talking about sports/movie/facebook… you’ve gone too far. I think this will help us value other members of our church body and communicate value to people you already appreciate. This helps a church avoid being split up into factions. This can break down barriers that exist in our congregations. If we want intergenerational connections in our churches, we should start in our church offices.
- Carve Out Effective Study Time:
Here’s something that I’ve learned that ties in with having an open office. If I need to study, I go off campus. This enables me to be totally interruptible while I’m on campus; If I’m here then I am available. Off campus studying is great. I scan and make PDF’s of the sections in my commentaries that I am studying (and use Logos). Now, I get to create this culture at 1BL. However, you’re not at 1BL, so see what your supervisor does and try his style. I read recently that Spurgeon would study in bed until 11am… so maybe suggest that model to your boss. (I am kidding, don’t do that. You need this job.) Jokes aside, I made mistakes at my last church thinking that I didn’t need to bother my boss with these details and assumed we were on the same page. That approach lead to frustration and confusion that I could have easily avoided. Set up the big picture with your boss (“I’m thinking I’ll peel off campus during these times for message prep every week”). Day to day, always communicate where you are during office hours to your office gatekeeper (i.e. receptionist, youth admin). My study prep time is always at the time of day when I am feeling my sharpest. Sermon prep will disappear, so carve out good study time. At the same time don’t over study because you want to avoid people. Find your best study time and place, plan a weekly time and then protect that time.
- Meetings have an End Time:
When I start a coffee meeting, I sit down and immediately set an alarm. I say “I’ve got to roll at “x” time and set the alarm right then and there. Then I fully focus on this individual, and when the alarm goes off it’s the alarm’s fault. I don’t spend the whole meeting trying to sneak a peek at my watch. I don’t out of nowhere say, “I must leave now”. I let the alarm communicate the boundary that I set up at the start.
- Find Rest:
Make rest a daily thing. I try and have something in the middle of each day that’s just fun and a bit of rest. Sometimes that’s reading the websites I like, or having some extrovert time (a good conversation not related to ministry). My wife is an introvert, so for her it’s walking at the park alone. Peel off to get coffee, power nap, update your fantasy baseball team, whatever. 10 minutes is all it takes, but a good pit stop makes me more effective.
- Get Stuff Done every day:
I know that sounds silly, but ministry is not the kind of job that ends; it’s ongoing. I use lists. I make a list for the day and just knock stuff off that list. Mondays in my context have a lot of meetings, (basically 10am – 5pm) so my list is very short on those days. The things on my list aren’t weekly tasks but things that I know I need to get done that day. I like to use iCloud Reminders. (I’m an iPhone guy so being able to use this app that has location features is PERFECT, but there are other great apps out there.) I am trying to move away from using my inbox as my “List” because that thing is never empty. If I want to do it, I put it on a list.
- Use apps and make a system to avoid forgetting:
If you’re like me, I am very forgetful. I need something to remind me of the important things. Here’s what I use, but you may find other apps or solutions that work better. The key is to find something you like and make it your thing.
- Notes: I’ll take notes during a meeting and send myself an email. Then at the end of the day, I cut and paste that content into the right Google Doc for meeting notes.
- Reminders: I take my notes and plug action points into one of my many iCloud Reminder lists.
- Diary: I know it sounds lame, but I have a ministry diary. This isn’t a bedazzled book that is under my pillow with Ryan Gosling on the cover. This is a Google Doc that helps me track what I oversee. As a Middle School pastor that was “Program, Volunteers, Student Leaders, Teaching, Ideas, Prayer.” It let me evaluate and dream in a single document.
- Calendar: The truth is If something isn’t on my calendar it doesn’t get done. Google Calendar is the brains, but iCal on my iPhone pulls from there. I’ve made different calendars on google calendar for family appointments, church appointments, personal appointments, personal habits, church habits, etc. This enables me to think of my time in blocks, which is helpful for me. After an impromptu meeting, I will take a second and enter it into my calendar and put POP as the first word, so I can look back and see if maybe I need to carve out some more regular time with someone.
Overall on this one, my point is to find some tools to help you remember all the important things that come with ministry. Be disciplined with this and you won’t be consistently apologizing for forgetting.
All this to say… I’m excited for you in this new gig. Being new provides a great time to consider priorities and let those define your time. Try stuff. Maybe journal a bit on it for the fall to see how productivity goes. Also, remember the first 3 months have a lot of things that pull for your time. Once you’re in a rhythm those things won’t be as time intensive.
Since you’re in a new gig I’d read (or re-read) Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields. It helps give the big picture. Bill Hybles just released a book called Simplify. He said “I am still learning that my schedule is far less about what I want to get done and far more about who I want to become.” That hit me between the eyes.
Hope some of this helps. Excited for you to pastor these students!
Let us know what you do in your office to be productive? Comment below.