One of the most difficult aspects of our pastoral role involves stewarding the priorities of time and relationships in a manner that protects our value for sustainable ministry and community. Hardly a week goes by where we don’t receive multiple inquiries along the lines of “I’m having this issue (or challenge, or crisis, or problem, or question) and I (we) really need to meet with you and Nancy.” We say yes to more of these inquiries than we probably should. We love people and love to help people and, to be honest, sometimes it’s just hard to say “no.”
We’ve actually had people stop coming to Catch the Fire DFW because they felt they didn’t have enough access to Nancy and me.
One of the things I continually have to revisit in my own life are the relational priorities that require my vigilant protection, recognizing that every time I say yes to one thing, I’m saying no to something else. We must manage time in order to steward relationships.
I consider my relationship with God. This obviously has a great impact on my own growth and health as a person, in my capacity as a husband and father, and upon my capacity as a pastor. I ask myself, “Alan, would you be healthier and more effective as a person and as a leader if you spent more time in prayer, worship, and meditation, or less?” I’ve yet to ask myself that question and decide I needed to spend less devoted time to spiritual growth and intimacy.
I consider my marriage. It’s important to me that my marriage is healthy. Beyond the obvious personal investment here, there’s also a significant ministry issue at stake. The health of my marriage has a direct bearing on the health and sustainability of ministry. I ask myself, “Alan, does Nancy need more time with you than she’s currently getting, or less?” It’s a rare thing when the answer to that question is an obvious “less.”
I consider my children. I have two adult daughters and a teenage son. I ask myself, “Alan, do Lauren, Anna and Ted need more time with you than they’re currently getting, or less?” It’s a rare thing when the answer to that question is an obvious “less.”
I consider my role as a preacher and teacher. I ask myself, “Alan, would your CTF Family benefit from you spending more time in study and preparation, or less?” Again, I never actually feel like this is something I should do less of instead of more.
I consider our Elder Team: Nancy and me, Jon and Lauren Pignatelli, Steve and Bonnie Billingsley. I heard Kris Vallotton say once that “If it’s not family, it’s not kingdom.” The vision and mission of Catch the Fire DFW hinges upon the strength of our relational connections as an Elder Team. This means we need time together in prayer. This means we need time together in discussion regarding issues of church governance. But it also means we need time together that’s simply about cultivating friendship. And that means times where the six of us are together. But I also recognize that each friendship in this group stands on its own. I need time with Nancy (see above!), and Jon, and Lauren, and Steve, and Bonnie. Nancy and I enjoy time with just Steve and Bonnie. And we enjoy time with just Jon and Lauren. If anything, I need to devote more time to cultivating these relationships. Not less.
I consider my staff: Tammy Silvas, Chris & Summer Shealy, Kim Krommendyk, Ciera Shelton, Syna Cornelius, and Ron DeArmond. Nancy and I oversee Chris & Summer together. Nancy directly oversees Kim and Syna. I oversee Tammy, Ciera and Ron. Every one of those relationships is important to me, and though our assignments dictate emphasis, our church is healthier where those relationships are all healthy and strong. I can’t think of one person on that list that needs less of my time than they’re getting.
We have an amazing team of volunteers. And then we have volunteer leaders who are leading those volunteers. I could list names but I’d likely leave someone out. And more time with each of them would be a joy and privilege and benefit to us all.
And then there’s extended family. Nancy’s family. My family.
And then we have friends that aren’t in any way connected with our ministry assignments, and yet those relationships are precious.
And the house needs to be cleaned. And the lawn needs to be mowed. And someone needs to drive Ted to youth on Tuesday nights…
And there’s actually still quite a bit of administrative work that needs my(our) attention.
I remember one particular conversation a while back where someone was pressing hard for my time with what seemed a great sense of entitlement. My response: “Would you like me to take that time away from my wife or from my kids?” was probably snarkier than it should have been. But it presented a concrete reality that needs to be communicated and understood. Perhaps this blog post is a softer clearer attempt at that.
And Nancy. She really has some challenges. She is currently part of our “unpaid” staff (we have several of those) and has allocated 25 hours a week for sermon prep, church gatherings, elder meetings, staff/team meetings, oversight meetings, etc. The other 25 hours of her work week are devoted to homeschooling Ted. I teach Algebra a couple of times a week. But she teaches, writing, Latin, rhetoric, geography, literature, science…
My purpose in communicating this isn’t to claim that we are busier than anyone else. No, it’s to point out that we are as busy as everyone else. And like everyone else, we have to say no to things in order to say yes. Though hard, this is a concrete and necessary reality. The health and sustainability of our lives and calling hinge on it. The same is true for you too.
Sometimes, when we say “no,” it feels like we are failing to meet needs, and that’s a painful feeling. But when I think about it clearly, I realize that there are needs and then there are needs. Here’s what I mean. There are the pressing needs that many (including us) feel day to day, week to week, and month to month. Then there are solutions. One set of solutions may address some individual needs and yet actually perpetuate those needs in the long term. Another set of solutions may seem (in the short term) to not address some needs, and yet perpetuate a greater degree of health in the long term.
There are some who would celebrate our commitment to healthy boundaries in this way, until they’re the ones we end up not being available for.
Let’s say that someone has a need for a. They think to themselves, “I need to receive a from Alan and/or Nancy.” One solution is for Alan and Nancy to step up and try to meet that need. But in doing this, are we ultimately perpetuating a wrong and unhealthy view of ministry and kingdom? Do we really want to perpetuate a model that assumes effective ministry has to come from a senior position on the staff or in the church? Do we believe that it’s the job of the clergy to do ministry and the job of everyone else to receive ministry? No. I believe in body ministry. I don’t have a superior Holy Spirit. Effective ministry takes place when Nancy and I refuse to be the bottleneck; when we refuse to cultivate a ministry culture that is dependent upon us.
That’s what we’re attempting, albeit imperfectly. We are equipping. We are building processes and structures. As a young church plant, this is going fairly well and yet we have far to go. But more than this, we are helping people understand that they can know God as Father, that they can lay hold of and appropriate the provision of Christ in their own lives, that they can live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our desire is to build a community where effective ministry is springing up all around us. My desire is that much of the personal ministry that flows through me does so not because I am the pastor, but because I’m a believer trying to hear God’s voice and do what he says just like everyone else.
We invite you to join us on this journey!