The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Busyness (page 1 of 2)

The Example of Charles Spurgeon (Why You are Not Too Busy to Disciple your Children at Home)

I write and speak frequently about the importance of parents intentionally working to pass on their faith to their children, because parents are the primary spiritual influences in the lives of their kids. Certainly churches and youth ministries should partner with parents and provide additional teaching and instruction in this regard, but the reality is that this should be extra: the primary spiritual training a child receives should come in the home.

That can be challenging, though, because we live in a time when everyone is busy, and extreme busyness can almost become a badge of honor. In addition to this being out of place with the biblical principle of Sabbath and the importance of rest, I think it is also problematic because it is frequently used as an excuse for why we do not do the things that we know we should. For example, Christian parents know that they should regularly read Scripture, pray, and talk about God with their children, but our lives are just so busy that these important tasks can get pushed aside by other urgent-but-significantly-less-important tasks.

But this excuse is just that: an excuse. The reality is that we can make time for the things we truly believe are important. I was reading a book a while back, and the example of the famous 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon impressed this reality upon me (the quotation below came from a footnote, but was so amazing to me that I wanted to feature it in this post):

Some may think Spurgeon lived in a much simpler era that afforded him more time to practice family worship than Christians would have today. I’ve conducted a great deal of PhD research on Spurgeon’s life and pastoral ministry, and can confirm this isn’t so. Spurgeon’s autobiography, as well as many first-hand observers, tell us that Spurgeon (1)  pastored the largest evangelical church in the world at that time (with more than six thousand active members), (2) preached almost every day, (3) edited his sermons for weekly publications, and thereby (4) produced (in the sixty-four volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit) the largest collection of works by any single author in English, (5) wrote an additional one hundred and twenty books (one every four months throughout his entire adult life), (6) presided over sixty-six different ministries (such as the pastors’ college he founded), (7) edited a monthly magazine (The Sword and the Trowel), (8) typically read five books each week, many of which he reviewed for his magazine, and (9) wrote with a dip pen five hundred letters per week. God gave Spurgeon an extraordinary capacity for work and productivity. And yet, despited the ceaseless, crushing demands of his schedule, at six each evening, setting aside a to-do list that few could match today, he gathered his wife, twin boys, and all other present in his home at the time for family worship.[1]

This is absolutely mind-blowing to me, and convicts me of at least two things: (1) I need to pray that God expands my capacity and increases my efficiency so I can do more work in His kingdom, and (2) if Charles Spurgeon could make time to pray and read Scripture with his children, then I certainly can as well. We all can—we just have to truly believe that it is important.

[1] Donald S. Whitney, Family Worship (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016): 73-74.

Hectic Youth Ministry

Things have been pretty quiet around The Doc File recently, largely because I am now squarely in the middle of the summer youth ministry grind. Looking back, I actually didn’t write a single post in the month of June, but that is not too surprising when I reflect on what my June looked like:

  • Portions of three different weeks were taken up by three different camps that we participated in: NWA Work Camp, Uplift at Harding University, and Green Valley Bible Camp.
  • Four different speaking engagements (one at Farmington, one at camp, one at a retreat, and one at an out-of-town summer series), all over different material.
  • A youth group lock-in the day after we got back from camp (I have been a youth minister for too long to make such a rookie scheduling mistake!).
  • Teaching two bible classes and/or making arrangements and leaving plans for substitute teachers on evenings when I have been away.
  • Making plans for our Vacation Bible School in July,  working toward several changes to our education program beginning in September, and organizing the 2017 Deeper Youth Conference in November.
  • In addition to these ministry responsibilities, we also made two trips to Little Rock in June for follow-up appointments related to Kinsley’s surgery.

It has been a busy month, and the reality is that things won’t slow down too much for a while. I am currently in Alabama for a few days of vacation surrounding Independence Day, but as soon as I return we will be back at it with 10 days or so of prepping and then doing VBS, followed by our summer youth trip.

I don’t say any of this to be whiney or to complain, and honestly, most of the youth ministers I know have summer schedules that are this bad or even worse. Spouses of youth ministers sometimes joke about being “youth ministry widows” or “summer widows” because they go so long without seeing their spouses who are continually jetting from one event to another. I do wonder, though: is having a hectic summer packed with constant activities the best way to do youth ministry? What I am about to say may seem self-serving since I would like to slow down a bit in the summer, but I am seriously starting to think that the answer is “no”:

Hectic summer youth ministry is expensive.

This is the most practical consideration on the list, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. I try really hard to keep our youth ministry activities affordable, but the reality is that, the more you do, the more you spend, especially when you start talking about camps and extended trips, or families with more than one student the youth group.

We have a policy in place where we never want a student to miss an event because of cost, and thus, we make provision for students who can’t afford a certain event; at the same time, just because we have that policy in place doesn’t mean that students and parents always take advantage of it, and I am confident that some students miss out on certain events due to cost without telling me.

Hectic summer youth ministry separates children from their families.

I have written before and also spoken many times about how I believe that youth ministry should be built upon the twin pillars of the physical family and the faith family (where “physical family” refers to moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, etc. and “faith family” refers to the church congregation), and that it is these two groups that, ideally, pass on faith to young people. This means that youth ministry should work hard to strengthen the ties between a student, that student’s physical family, and the student’s faith family.

Unfortunately, the hectic summer youth ministry model that we have been talking about doesn’t necessarily do a great job of that. Sure, constant youth activities can work wonders to strengthen ties within a youth group, but unless you are very intentional about about including parents and other adults from church in meaningful ways, what you can end up doing is providing a full list of activities that cause your students to largely check out on their families and their church family for a couple of months, which is never good.

Hectic summer youth ministry encourages activity without reflection.

When I think about it, having an overwhelmingly busy slate of summer youth activities makes perfect sense in light of our larger cultural problem of constant busyness. People seem to be busier now than ever before. We have made being busy in some sort of virtue or badge of pride, as if it is healthy to constantly be burning the candle at both ends, rushing around from one activity to another without time to catch our collective breath. A hectic brand of youth ministry fits right in with the surrounding culture.

Part of the problem with such busyness is that it deprives us of the time for reflection (and in time, I think it progressively deprives us of the desire to reflect and then even the ability to do so): how can you sit and process the experiences you have just had when you have to immediately turn around and run to the next thing? I don’t want to make too much of this, but isn’t it possible that continually going from one thing to the next without ever reflecting on what we have done actually makes us shallow, attention-deficient humans?

Concluding Thoughts

To be honest, at this point I have more questions than answers. Considering our own youth ministry schedule, I think we have done a pretty good job of not overloading students throughout the year, but I think the summer is undoubtedly hectic at times.

I have tried to mitigate that somewhat by providing some down times during the summer where there is not much going on. June is crazy, and July ends that way, so I intentionally don’t schedule much around the 4th of July (hence, me being on vacation for a few days!) or after the first few days of August, in hopes of giving students time to catch their breath and be around family. Perhaps these down periods are sufficient, but I am also planning on critically evaluating our summer schedule for next year, and seeing if it would be beneficial to pare down a little bit in an effort to make the summer a little less hectic for our students.

Life’s Busyness and God’s Peace

Yesterday and today have been a couple of particularly busy days in what seems like an unending stream of busy days.

In addition to my regular Friday duties (working on getting the bulletin published, preparing for Bible class on Sunday), there is a lot going on right now which is combining to stress me out:
  • This weekend I have the opportunity to teach and speak at a youth rally. That’s great, but it means preparing two lessons and the accompanying presentations to go with them.
  • Since I’m taking my youth group to the aforementioned youth rally, that also means making all the preparations necessary before leaving on a trip.
  • I have a lot of reading to do for my grad school class. I always seem to have a lot of reading for grad school, and it is one of the first things that gets squeezed out when I have other tasks to accomplish.
  • Next weekend is the Ark Retreat, a combined youth retreat with several area churches, and one of our big spring events. It’s always a lot of fun, but demands a lot of planning ahead of time.
  • The weekend after the Ark is our church’s Day of Service and Friends & Family Day—a great weekend, but a busy one that requires a lot of work beforehand from me.
  • The weekend after that is our youth group Camping & Canoe Trip—more fun, and more planning as well.
  • The weekend after that will be our Graduation Banquet at church for our High School kids. More fun and fellowship, more busyness.
  • Somewhere during the time span I have just referred to, I have two papers due for grad school and a final exam to take as well!
  • What about the stuff going on in our broken world? Bombs and shootouts in Boston? Deadly explosions at fertilizer factories in Texas?
  • And, to be honest, all of this is overshadowed somewhat by the constant concern I have for my little girl, who continues to have seizures and deal with the daily realities of congenital muscular dystrophy. Daily realities which are physically and emotionally draining.

Sometimes, when I’m really, really busy, I remember the benefits of taking a deep breath, slowing down, and remembering that God does not call me to a life of frantic, breathless activity.

I love the words from the hymn penned by Edward H. Bickersteth:
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark word of sin:
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed:
To do the will of Jesus this is rest.
Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round:
On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.
It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus calls us to heav’n’s perfect peace.

Perspective is a wonderful thing. I am seeking perfect peace today, and wishing it for you as well.

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Dealing With Interruptions

This post has nothing to do with ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. It’s a good show though.
In response to a post I wrote about time management where I mentioned having interruptions at work, one reader pointed me to a great quotation from Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders (thanks Karen!):
“One busy man told me how he mastered the problem of interruptions. ‘Up to some years ago,’ he testified, ‘I was always annoyed by them, which was really a form of selfishness on my part. People used to walk in and say, ‘Well, I just had two hours to kill here between trains, and I thought I would come and see you.’

That used to bother me. Then the Lord convinced me that He sends people our way. He sent Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch. He sent Barnabas to see Saul. The same applies today. God sends people our way.

So when someone comes in, I say, ‘The Lord must have brought you here. Let us find out why He sent you. Let us have prayer.’ Well this does two things. the interview takes on new importance because God is in it. And it generally shortens the interview. If a visitor knows you are looking for reasons why God should have brought him, and there are none apparent, the visit becomes pleasant but brief.

So now I take interruptions as from the Lord. They belong in my schedule, because the schedule is God’s to arrange at His pleasure.’”

I think it’s a great quotation, and it underscores the fact that sometimes, interruptions happen for a real reason. I say sometimes and not always because I don’t believe the popular mantra that “Everything happens for a reason.” But a lot of things do happen for a reason, and a little bit of probing and discernment can usually help you to see that.
It also underscores the fact that, if someone has interrupted by schedule with a real need, their need is more important than my schedule. If we claim to be servants of God, then we need to serve Him in all areas of life, and that means to serve Him with my schedule as well.
One last note on “ministry interruptions”: a wise and experienced minister once told me that when church members come by randomly just to shoot the breeze (and thus, interrupting his study time), he will enlist their aid in some ministry responsibility (making a visit, working on some project, etc.). In his experience, this has either led to productive visits where work is completed, or a reduction in those kinds of visits!

Reflecting On A Busy Summer and Managing Time

We are now a week into August, which means that soon school will start back up, and my hectic schedule will calm down to some degree. As a minister who works with teens, my summers are always very busy, but this summer has been even more crammed full of activity than most—really, dating back to about April, I haven’t hardly had time to catch my breath!
In general, I think it’s good to be busy, but there’s also such a thing as being too busy. And the problem with being too busy is that it often leads, at least in my case, to things like burnout, irritability, and neglected relationships (in addition to much less frequent blogging!). I’ve already been thinking about some specific things I can do or not do to ensure that next summer is a little less crazy than this one, but in a general sense, I’ve also been thinking about Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix.
Covey presents his Matrix in his famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. As a disclaimer, I haven’t actually read the book, but I have been exposed to this part of it in a couple of different settings and have found it to be quite helpful.
Considering the different activities that occupy our time (and which, added together, constitute our busyness), Covey categorizes all activities according to how urgent and important they are. An urgent task is something that is inherently time-sensitive and must be dealt with quickly, while an important task is basically something that carries lasting value.
When these two qualities are charted, you end up with Covey’s Time Management Matrix (see below), which groups all tasks into one of four quadrants.
(My thoughts on these quadrants are based on Covey’s, but are somewhat different because my observations come from a ministry context rather than a business one.)
Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent– Items in this category are of crucial importance and must be dealt with right away. This would include things like:
  • When you get in a car wreck (even a minor one), contacting your insurance company and seeing about repairs becomes a major priority.
  • When two teenagers (or adults) are having some sort of conflict which is causing disunity or division within the youth group (or the church congregation as a whole), you deal with the problem sooner rather than later if you know what’s good for you.
  • When you have a term paper to write that is worth half of your overall grade and it is due in a week, you budget whatever time you need to get it done in time.
Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent– Items in this category are of great importance, but because they are not time-sensitive or attached to deadlines, a lot of times they end up getting neglected:
  • Talking to a teenager about problems he is having at home or at school.
  • Taking the time to sit down and plan a quality youth group event or church-wide fellowship activity.
  • Immersing yourself in the study of the Word of God.
  • Spending time with the most precious baby girl in the world.
Quadrant 3: Urgent but Not Important– Tasks in this category are really not important, but they are time-sensitive or somehow attached to a deadline:
  • Phone calls are inherently urgent, because the phone rings right now, and it’s hard to leave a phone call unanswered because it might be important. But so many times they are not important at all—“Would your youth group be interested in doing our fundraiser?” “Can I sign you up for a free trial ______?”
  • When you are in the middle of studying for a sermon or Bible class, and a church member comes in and interrupts just to shoot the breeze. Invariably the conversation starts with, “I know you’re busy, but…” (To be fair, sometimes church members stop by to talk about things that are actually important instead of just checking in on you out of boredom or curiosity. When church members are giving you important information or are in need of some sort of counsel, that would fall in a different category.)
Quadrant 4: Neither Important nor Urgent– Items in Quadrant 4 are not important, and don’t really have a deadline attached to them either:
  • Reading promotional mail about an activity that “maybe I should look into someday.”
  • Playing solitaire on the computer.
  • Checking Facebook or Twitter a dozen times a day.
  • Watching reruns of The King of Queens.
The reason that all of these categories matter is that where you spend the majority of your time determines, in large part, how effective and even how happy you are.
Some people live almost exclusively in Quadrants 3 and 4, spending time on things that are essentially unimportant. Covey says that people who live this way are basically irresponsible. You know people like this—they can’t hold down a job and you cannot rely on them for anything. It isn’t a good way to live.
If we have any feelings of responsibility at all, we have to spend some of our time in Quadrant 1, because there are certain things in life that pop up that you just can’t plan for. However, what happens to a lot of us is that we spend too much time in Quadrant 1, constantly shifting from one crisis or deadline to another. As I have discovered (again) this summer, that is a stressful way to live, and can easily lead to burnout.
And it’s also a vicious cycle—when we spend so much of our time dealing with matters that are urgent and important, that typically leaves us too exhausted to use our remaining time wisely. So, rather than spending that time planning for future events (and thereby preventing those events from becoming frantic, last-minute crises that we have to deal with), we tend to just sit down and watch TV, or doing something else that requires no effort (Quadrant 4).
According to Covey, the key is to spend the majority of your time in Quadrant 2. You deal with Quadrant 1 problems as they emerge, but you minimize the number of those problems by planning ahead (for example, knowing the deadline of your paper several months in advance, you budget your time so you are not working on it at the last minute). You recognize Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 activities as being essentially unimportant, so you seek to either delegate or eliminate as many of them as possible.
By spending the majority of your time in Quadrant 2, your relationships with other people are strengthened, important tasks are still tended to, and your stress level goes down.
All that’s left now is to put all that I just wrote into practice. 🙂
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