SMS: Know Your Margins (Part 3)

Do you remember the Southwest Airlines “wanna get away” commercials?  Typically they portray a person making a crucial mistake or getting caught in a very embarrassing situation.  More-than-likely you’ve had wanna get away awkward moments in ministry; but I’d argue that you’ve had the wanna get away feeling more because of busyness than embarrassment.

“Too busy” may be your reality.  “Too busy” may be your defense mechanism. “Too busy” may be your perception but it may also be your downfall.

I started this series of posts about a month ago in an effort to help Youth Leaders discover whether or not they had margin in his or her life.  The first post dealt with their own “perception” of available time.  The second post begins to address the “reality” of margins.  I had every intention of posting the third past last week, but I was too busy. (I kid… sort of.)

With this post we’ll look at the ramifications of your results.

The key questions you were asked to answer at the end of each “test day” play a key role as we begin to unlock the ramifications…

  1. What task did I do today that I enjoyed the least?
  2. What, if anything, could I consider “wasted time?” Furthermore, how much time was wasted?
  3. What key things did I not get to today that I wanted to get to?
  4. What part of my day brought me the most joy?

These four questions and the patterns you most likely see develop lead to our four ramifications.

Tasks You Like The Least Probably Don’t Align With Your Gifts: I’m not the person who should be asked to go on “mercy” visits to the hospital.  I care that grandma is dying, but I should not be the person asked to make multiple visits.  Your “margin” in ministry is most likely being shrunk because of tasks that are not consistent with your gifts.  Two practical ramifications pop up:

  • Don’t Voluntarily Take On Tasks Outside Your Gifts and Passions: This isn’t to say you shouldn’t stretch yourself or be anti-biblical; simply don’t create a pattern that leads to your frustrations increasing.  I see this pop up when Youth Pastors are trying to “get ahead” by performing more for his or her elders, pastors or parents.
  • Get Trained In an Area of Frustration: Some tasks may be taking up too much time simply because you don’t know how to work efficiently in that area of ministry.  Hate data entry?  You may find someone who loves entering addresses, but it also could be as simple as someone teaching you the database system.

Things That You Wasted Time Doing Are Probably Misguided Areas of Passion: While writing this blog post I certainly “wasted” much time in Instant Message conversations on both iChat and Facebook.  I value relationship above most any other thing. However, I have many tasks at hand that don’t get done because I lack discipline at times.  Two practical applications I’d suggest.

  • Be Accountable For Your Time. In my case, Facebook and I-M is enhancing relationship, but it distracted me from getting a task done.  Whether it’s Facebook, reading, daydreaming, networking or even “meetings” that you see becoming a distraction some accountability may be in order.  Let someone know your limits.  One thing that I have done in the past is literally ask the person I am “chatting” with to come back online in an hour and see how much we both have gotten done in that last hour.
  • Consider a Fast: Taking a break from something usually leads to a greater appreciation of the thing you’re taking a break from.  I know some folk who are taking too much time with each other; their network meetings were 90 minutes and have now become three hour times of fellowship, prayer and accountability.  There is nothing wrong with the content of the meeting, however, these same guys and gals have grown frustrated with their lack of productivity on these Tuesdays. To them, I’d suggest taking a month or two off and come back with a renewed vigor for the original 90 minute  agenda.  The same can be applied for me; a one week sabbatical from Facebook, blogging, etc. may be exactly what I need to create better margins.

Things Left Undone Are Typically Not Priorities: This one is a tough one for me to swallow.  I really love teaching God’s Word and my “gifts” inventories seem to indicate that “teaching” ranks high on the list.  However, I never seem to prioritize the time for study for talks.  I’m more of a last minute guy when it comes to studying for messages.  This really leads to a lack of margin in my life when leading into weeks I am speaking. For you it may not be teaching, rather a feigned attempt to say “campus ministry” “staff relations” or “communication” is a priority. This leads to a couple suggestions.

  • Compartmentalize: This word is typically a “bad word” in our spiritual life, but when it comes to getting things done I’d suggest that you literally set up two hour chunks that are set aside to do such things that you say are priorities but in reality are not.  For me this would have meant at three, maybe four different “compartmentalized” chunks for study during a week I was preaching in big-church.
  • Have Check-Points: Another area of accountability, but if you truly want to gain margin in your life, increasing accountability in areas of “tasks” typically will create better time-management.  You want that flyer out by Friday? Make sure someone knows by Monday that you’re working on it and ask them to ask you to have a rough draft to them by Wednesday so your “priority” can become exactly that!

Things That Bring Joy Are Probably An Indication of Your Next Position. This is not an invitation for that grass being greener on the other side of the fence.  Remember, that growing grass needs to be mowed as well.  We are all in process and the things that are bringing you the most joy are probably the things that you ought to be freed up to do more.  This may take place in the morphing of your current position, but it also may be an indication of the next position you’re called to. For instance, a friend of mine who is probably the most passionate guy I have ever seen for campus ministry has literally been hired part-time by the high school and was able to drop his church position (pay and hours) by 25%.  The church was able to hire someone with that 25% savings to serve in another position and the Youth Pastor is freed up more for the lost souls on that campus.  Though “Joy” is not the goal, joy may be the indication you’re serving in your sweet spot. Two things you can do as a result.

  • Find Out What Others Are Joyful Doing: We spend so much time focusing on what brings us joy that we’re often unaware of what brings joy to others on our team.  The tasks you hate doing may bring another person joy; the task you love doing may also be a task that brings someone else that same joy (are you willing to share)?  Perhaps you’ll find you’re freeing someone up for their next position?
  • Excel in Your Sweet Spot: Do what you’re doing all the more!  Instead of just trying to improve your area of weakness, excel in the area of strength.  If you get an A in art, B’s in everything else and a D in Math I would give you a suggestion:  shore up the D (make sure the weak spot doesn’t make you fail) but excel all the more in Art!  Too often in ministry we spend time dwelling on the D or trying to improve the B’s that we ignore the A.  Unused gifts and talents become dormant.

As you have looked at your perceived margins and then further examined the validity of those margins it is my hope now that you are able to apply some practical tools to advance the Lord’s call in your position.  May you be freed up to do what you’re most passionate about and most gifted to do.  Be faithful in your position, be honest with your authorities and be willing to make the changes in your disciplines to bring Him all the glory!



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