In our fallible attempts to juggle all the responsibilities of various sizes and weights that are constantly hurled in our direction, the following suggestions may be helpful.
1. Make time to pray. I doubt any of us are any busier than Jesus was in his earthly ministry, yet he regularly withdrew from the daily commotion to invest time in prayer (Luke 5:16). It’s not that he necessarily had time to pray, but he obviously considered it important enough to make time to pray (cf. Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12). Why would any sensible person delve into the momentous task of doing God’s work without inviting God to be involved in it? “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all is possible with God” (Mark 10:27).1 It has been said that if one is too busy to pray, he is too busy not to pray.
2. Plan each day. Having a consistently updated to-do list, with the most important items listed first, is indispensable. The value of planning ahead ought to be self-evident (cf. Luke 14:28-33), and the biblical principle of sowing and reaping pretty much guarantees that poor planning produces poor results, while much better results are achieved with better planning (2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7).
3. Prioritize. Let’s be honest. There is no end to the unimportant, time-consuming activities that serve as potential distractions. If I lose my focus, rather than my allotted time being carefully invested in what really matters, much of it can be wasted. The weightier issues that deserve first priority simply cannot be relegated to the elusive “spare time” compartment (cf. Matthew 6:33; 9:62; 23:23).
4. Multitask. I am not suggesting that one tries to do several things at the same time if it weakens the quality of his work. But whenever possible, tasks can and should be combined for greater efficiency. For example, instead of spending hours of preparation on various topics for sermons, Bible classes, bulletin articles, blog posts, and teaching materials, why not develop a devotional lesson or tract based on a blog post that is an expanded bulletin article that is a condensed sermon or Bible class lesson? Were it not for multitasking, Nehemiah may have never seen the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt (Nehemiah 4:17-18).
5. Be flexible. Anticipate interruptions and plan accordingly. If my schedule is too stringent without room for unexpected disruptions, I will constantly be stressed out and frustrated because life just doesn’t work that way. Consequently my ministry, my family, and my mental health are adversely affected. As Paul planned his second missionary campaign (Acts 16:36), little did he know that his long-standing partnership would disintegrate, the first two targeted mission fields would be blocked, his customary strategy of initiating the work in synagogues would be unsuitable at the first location, he would be forced to prematurely leave the first three mission points, and he would face other unanticipated disruptions all along the way. Paul still made definite plans, but he was flexible enough to deal with unforeseen circumstances as they arose, while he trusted that all things would ultimately work together for good (Acts 18:21; Romans 8:28).
6. Exploit off-peak time periods. Essential tasks that demand my undivided attention are best reserved for times when interruptions are less likely. For me, getting up about four hours before anyone else in my family and before the phone starts ringing provides the best opportunity for personal devotion and in-depth study. It also enables me to be more flexible through the rest of the day and available to do other things as they come up. This obviously works best for the morning person, but later at night when everyone else is in bed may be better for the night owl. Jesus availed himself of both (Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12).
7. Be realistic. I have to recognize and accept my limitations. There may be preachers who always deliver fantastic sermons, teach well-prepared Bible lessons, write daily blogs, contribute weekly articles to various journals and websites, visit all the needy members of the congregation each week, counsel those who are struggling, actively pursue Bible-study opportunities with non-Christians, volunteer in the community, do funerals and weddings, participate in multiple gospel meetings and lectureships and campaigns throughout the year, and give quality time to their families. But I doubt it. While everyone is different and not all preachers are created equal (Matthew 25:14-15), wisdom and discernment must be applied to what can and cannot and should and should not be attempted.
8. Learn to say “no. ” More times than not my schedule gets overloaded simply because I think I have to agree to everything I’m asked to do. It is perfectly legitimate to decline invitations to do extra things, especially if I am already struggling to juggle the responsibilities I currently have. I may really want to participate in this lectureship, or preach another gospel meeting, or produce more articles and blog posts, or get involved in an online debate, or play golf with my buddies on weekends. But if any of these good things can’t be done without neglecting obligations to which I am already committed, respectfully declining is the right thing to do (cf. Acts 18:20; 20:16).
9. Delegate. It is humanly impossible for any individual to do everything that needs to be done. By ignoring this reality and attempting to do it all anyway, here is what invariably happens: (1) some important tasks get overlooked or receive less-than-quality attention; (2) burnout is more likely, rendering its victim incapable of accomplishing much of anything; (3) others are deprived of opportunities to serve and to grow; and (4) those who are depending on me suffer. Moses delegated (Exodus 18:13-25), Jesus delegated (Luke 10:1-2), the apostles delegated (Acts 6:1-4), and it is a lesson that gospel preachers today simply cannot afford to dismiss.
10. Be accountable. If I am finding it difficult to balance work and family and other responsibilities, I should ask someone to help keep me on track. Personally, I have no trouble focusing on work, so I have recruited my wife and children to remind me whenever they think I’m shirking family duties. If, however, the pendulum happens to swing in the other direction, I need a friend or church leader to hold me accountable. “Bear the loads of one another, and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
While learning to juggle isn’t easy and nobody perfects it overnight, the more we work at it, the better we get. I couldn’t juggle bowling balls in college, but after years of practice I’m much better at it now.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation.
Published in So You Want to Be a Preacher, ed. David Powell. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 2013: 220-29.