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Keeping Your Head Above Water

Michael Bechtle

Someone once compared children's ministry to standing in the middle of a freeway during rush hour. You're surrounded by chaos and it never lets up.

Like the strings on a guitar, you need a certain amount of stress or tension to produce what you were designed to produce.

Sound familiar? You might not be able to stop the chaos of ministry, but you can take steps to lessen its impact on your sanity. Try some of these randomly listed, proven ideas for getting your personal and professional life in balance.

  • Plan your day once a day. Plan your week once a week. Plan your month once a month. Plan your year once a year.
  • Twenty percent of your activities will give you 80 percent of your results. Put these 20-percent activities first in your day so you'll get the results no matter how many interruptions come along.
  • Don't use valuable space around your desk for things you aren't using. Move all noncurrent files away from your workspace, reserving your desk and nearby files for active items.
  • When planning an event, list all the small steps needed to make it happen. Then assign dates to each step, working backward from the event. List these steps on the appropriate dates of your calendar.
  • Carry one sheet of paper in your notebook or organizer for each meeting you have to attend or lead. Whenever you think of something to bring up in the meeting, write it on that sheet to keep everything in one place.
  • When starting a new task, find someone who knows how to do it and ask for help. Don't reinvent the wheel.
  • Balance the stress in your life. Like the strings on a guitar, you need a certain amount of stress or tension to produce what you were designed to produce. Too much, though, and you'll "break."
  • Carry a loose-leaf organizing system and use it like a portable desk. Use a monthly calendar for appointments and time commitments, and a daily calendar for activities.
  • Someone has said, "If you have eight hours to chop down a tree, take six hours to sharpen your ax." Recognize the importance of planning and thinking.
  • Don't schedule the activities of your day-just prioritize them. That way, when you get interrupted, go right back to where you left off.
  • Keep track of your successes. The negative always overshadows the positive. Write one thing you did right every day.
  • Write an annual report or summary of your position but do it a year ahead of time. Write it as though it were history. Then work on it all year. That way, you've set goals that are measurable and specific.
  • Trade ministries with someone for one Sunday every six months, preferably in a different church. It gives you a fresh perspective on your ministry.
  • Find people whose ministry is to be a permanent substitute teacher, ready to fill in no more than four times a quarter at a moment's notice. It's good for those who can't commit to a weekly ministry, and it takes the pressure off you in an emergency.
  • Instead of taking minutes at a meeting (which no one reads), take "Action Notes" -- a list of all the decisions that were made, who was assigned to carry each one out, and the due date. Distribute copies to each participant.
  • When you have paperwork that's related to an activity (written on your daily calendar) or an appointment (written on your monthly calendar), jot down next to that entry a simple code telling you the location of that paperwork; for example, "Look over curriculum catalogs -- (curriculum file)."
  • When someone promises you something by a particular date, jot down the due date on your daily calendar as a reminder to expect it.
  • Recycle (throw out) every piece of paper you can. One study showed that 95 percent of the paper you store in a file cabinet "just in case you need it someday" will never be looked at again.
  • If you have information cards or sheets on individual students, include directions to their house. That way you'll never have to look up the directions again. Photocopy a small section of the map where that child lives and attach it to the child's information card.
  • You can accomplish as much in one hour of uninterrupted time as you can in three hours of interrupted time. Have someone take your phone calls for you for one hour, then return the favor. You'll both accomplish more.
  • Have someone you trust ask you about your spiritual life once a month. Remember, children's ministry is God's work, not ours. And we can't do it without him.
  • Before writing a memo, decide if a brief telephone call will produce the same result. It's quicker.
  • Write a "throw-away" date on everything you file.
  • Start meetings on time and schedule interesting items first to decrease the number of latecomers.

Author's Choice

To read more about time management, check out:

  • The Organized Executive: New Ways to Manage Time, Paper, and People by Stephanie Wilson. (Norton Books).
  • "The Tyranny of the Urgent" booklet by Charles E. Hummel (InterVarsity Press).

Michael Bechtle is a Christian education professor in California. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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