It’s a familiar scene: we’re rushing around the local Wal-Mart filling our cart to overflowing. But instead of removing some items from the cart that we could do without, we choose to lament the fact that our shopping cart is not as big as we’d like it to be because there’s so much more we could buy! Oftentimes it’s not until we reach the checkout that we come to our proper consumer’s senses. I’m talking about the cold, hard reality that is common to many a zealous shopper when the time comes for them to pay-up: “Why’s the total so high!? Wow, what did we buy?” Full shopping carts don’t always equal unlimited resources to pay for them.
Why did I choose to talk about sizes of shopping carts and the plethora of costly items we tend to stuff them with, as a segue into writing a blog about balancing ministry with writing? Because it makes for a great metaphor.
The hours allotted to us each day to complete tasks, keep appointments, and other commitments—oh yeah, and that little thing called “time to ourselves”—can take on the feel of having to drop dollars upon dollars to pay for an overloaded shopping cart of goods.
Priorities cost us many things, but mostly, they withdraw from us the currency of precious time!
We only have so much time and space in the cart of our day to fit in all the things we deem necessary and meaningful to accomplish. Many of us wish we’d just have more time, more hours and more resources from which to put towards our ever-mounting busyness. Anyone up for twenty-eight hour days? The temptation is to keep stretching the periphery of our time’s limitations in order to add to our existing tasks, schedules and responsibilities, instead of trying to downsize them in order to fit our work and play more comfortably (and effectively) into the concrete time-limits we’re all bound to.
Such is the delicate balancing-act a writer and fulltime pastor (like me) must execute. I love people, and there’s a non-negotiable element to ministry requiring that I, as a pastor, make time for people. This would be much easier if I didn’t have a family that needs my time, not to mention the literary call upon my life that beckons a pound of my faithfulness as well. I don’t love to write in the same way I love people of course (my family or otherwise), yet it’s these two loyalties (spending meaningful time with people and quality time writing) that I often find clashing the most within the ring of my priorities.
Like an overloaded shopping cart that could use the purging of certain items that we don’t really need or could do without, my equally overloaded schedule challenges me to consider shelving some non-essentials that fill up my time. Pastoral ministry, like any other vocation, is as much people-oriented as it is time-oriented. It takes time to be with people and deal with their pressing needs, let alone maintain a ministry and church. Like the old saying goes: we can pretend we care, but we cannot pretend to be there for people and for vital meetings and other ministry requisites.
What I’ve learned about time-sensitive commitments and responsibilities as a fulltime pastor and “moonlighting” author, is that cumulative pockets of time tend to pop up throughout the course of a day (and evening) that we can seize and use productively, if we’re disciplined enough to make a habit of regularly shortening or weeding out extraneous time-draining activities (e.g. facebook, scrolling the internet, watching TV, gaming, etc.). The cost of trying to stuff too much into our time “carts” is too personally high on so many levels. We’re not going to be of any valuable use to our families, to people who need us, to our employer and, if we’re an author, to our writing project(s) if we’re burning the candle too much on both ends. We’re left with little to no wick of time and strength from which to operate!
All this to say that making time for work and play, pastoring and writing, for me, requires wisdom, sacrifice, and good administration; it also requires making good, time-effective choices.
I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention how spending time with the Lord each morning—in prayer and in His Word—greatly assists me in prioritizing my daily commitments and burdens. I find that when God is given first dibs and top-spot in my day that time invariably stretches to meet the desires of my heart and the daily objectives He holds me to, which goes a long way towards helping me balance the rigorous commitments of family life and full-time pastoral ministry, with the muses of my alter-ego as an author.
Ron Mahler is an ordained minister and has been involved in some aspect of pastoral/church ministry for over the past nineteen years, where he has served in the roles of senior, assistant, and youth pastor. Aside from doing some periodic teaching at the Bible College level, Ron is also a writer and author of three books. His third and latest book, Radical Apprentices (a Word Alive Press free publishing contest winner) was released in December 2015. Ron and his wife of nineteen years, Elaine, have two children in their teenage years. Ron is currently a freelance speaker in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario, as well as a semi-regular preacher at the Lake of Bays Mission Church in Dwight, ON. Ron and his family currently reside in Minden, ON.