Shepherd’s Care: Time To Be Respectful

This is the final “Shepherd’s Care” post for 2018.  It will resume on January 4th, and the series about time and ministry will continue.

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If indeed time is the precious commodity of our time, we must not only be good stewards of it ourselves, we must be respectful of other people’s time as well.  Here are some ways to do that.

First, keep meetings to a minimum.  I have lost count of the times I have read leadership literature which says many of our meetings are unnecessary.  One of the ways ways we can give the gift of time to others is not to make the ministries of the church dependent on meetings.  Meetings should be about authorizing things, not operationalizing things.  Meetings should be held to answer the question, “What shall we do?”  

Meetings should be about mission, not mechanics.  The “how” aspects can be decided other ways.  This requires authorization and trust on everyone’s part, but it is necessary if time-consuming meetings are to be reduced. Meetings should focus on discernment, not details. Hand off vision to task groups.

Second, keep task groups small.  Don’t invite ten people to attend task-related meetings when three or four can get the job done.  Task groups will recruit others to carry out the particular ministry, but a lot of people are not needed to decide operational matters.

Third, no matter the type of meeting, keep it within a reasonable time frame.  This requires a stated agenda that is followed so that “stream of consciousness” does not hijack the reason the meeting was called in the first place. Along with this, agree to limit conversation by asking for one view and one alternate view. Additional input is given only if it adds to what has been said.  Some meetings run too long because of repetition that is redundant. Nail down the big-ideas needed to make necessary decisions and then leave.

Fourth, learn how to use social media to your advantage.  Technologies like Skype or Zoom enable people to meet without showing up at the same place.  Imagine the joy of not having to leave your home to attend a meeting.  Social media can also be used to form working groups who can share ideas, make plans, and implement things without even having to call a meeting.  Again, here is where trust and authorization enable ministry to be planned and executed differently.

Fifth, keep ministry to a minimum.  That may surprise you, but I believe it is true.  Looking at the weely schedule of activities printed in church bulletins sends the message, “This is a very busy place.”  But what theology of time is defining the activism?  Respecting the time of others means asking, ” Why does the church exist? ” And asking it may reveal not everything taking peoples’ time is essential. When time is precious, doing essentials is necessary.

Sixth, spread out who does what.  Invite people into limited duty.  If people cannot be found to conduct a ministry, don’t try to get “the faithful few” to add one more thing to their church activity list.  Just say, “That’s a good idea, but right now we don’t have the folks to do it.”

The preceding items are only illustrations meant to spark your own creativity with respect to honoring other people’s time.  But there is an even deeper gift of time that you can give your people…

Define ministry as life-oriented, not church-related.  This means moving time into vocation and away from institution.  Cultivate and celebrate the time people are spending being disciples other than when they are at church. If serving Christ is too closely linked with holding an office in or attending a meeting at church, people will always feel, “I don’t have time for that.”  But if they are taught and encouraged to view all time as vocational, they will see they are in ministry all the time.  Service anywhere is service for Christ.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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