You know this person I am about to write about. In fact, you may actually be this person and are unaware that you are. Who am I talking about? The person who sucks the life right out of you, the one who demands more time than you can give and lets you know if you have not catered to his or her needs enough, that’s who.
Now before you dismiss this as crass and insensitive, reserve your judgment for a few moments. I don’t believe that there is a church (or civic organization or school PTA or recreation sports league or community group for that matter) that has been spared from at least one individual who demanded that she get most of the attention. She dominates the conversations. He insists that you listen to his views before anyone else. She dismisses what you have to say as trivial and out of touch. He does not think you are paying enough attention to his child as a leader/mentor/coach/teacher. She always has an opinion and is not afraid to share it. Even if you wanted to ignore what he is saying, his voice is so loud you can’t tune him out.
Now do you know who I’m talking about? I call this person the time hoarder.
For time hoarders enough is never enough, and if you are in a position of leadership then you understand how difficult it is to balance the already limited amount of time that you have. It’s a struggle to manage your own schedule, so how do you respond to that man or woman who insists that you cater to their needs before those of any other?
You learn to manage their time for them.
What does that mean? Am I saying that you grab their daily planner and chart the course for each day for them? No, but it would be awesome if you could because then you could make sure that you are not on their schedule! Managing a time hoarder means that you help them to honor your schedule when they are seeking out your time.
Here’s how this might look. Mary is an anxious mother who finds all sorts of things to worry about with her middle school son Sean. If she sees a suspicious looking doodle on his notebook or the name of a friend and phone number on a slip of paper of a friend she does not know, she automatically shifts into overbearing mode and wants to know every detail of, well, everything. Mary comes to you because, as Sean’s youth minister, you are supposed to figure this out. What it is that you are supposed to do isn’t quite clear yet, but Mary wants to make sure that you are up to date with all of the information that you need so that you can properly lead her son.
There have been numerous Wednesday evenings when you were the last one out of the church building again because Mary needed to unload a new list of information on you. Do you remember that day trip to the mountains that you planned last fall? The one where you sent home enough information about to run a small factory? Mary called you at least three times asking the same questions about the same details that you had already given to her. If there is a bad question to ask or an inopportune time to ask it, Mary surely isn’t aware of it.
So it’s Saturday night at your home and since there are no football or basketball games being played, Saturday night in your home is family night. That means homemade pizza, popcorn, and a movie. There is no other night of the week quite like Saturday because it’s the one time during the week that you and your spouse and your kids can all be together without any other obligations pulling at you. Just as you are serving slices of pizza dripping with cheese, your cell phone rings. Because you are a leader in your church, you always check to see who is calling you just in case another church leader needs to get important information to you. When you look at the caller ID you draw back in horror. It’s Mary! What do you do?
Quickly your mind races through every scenario. Perhaps it really is an emergency and she needs you to come to the hospital because Sean has been in a horrible accident. Or maybe she found out that her sister has cancer and she needs someone from the church to come over and pray with the family for a miracle. But more than likely, Mary is calling you because she wants to know who is going to chaperone the next youth event even though you have already given her a full list of names. Do you chance it and answer the phone?
Please understand that I believe with all of my heart that ministry is about people. First and foremost, it’s about the person of Jesus who always seemed to have time for everybody. And if Jesus could stare down exhaustion and heal one more person and deliver one more sermon, then we can certainly go the extra mile to be there when people are in the deepest of crises. But let’s be honest with each other – there are those time hoarders whose only crisis is their next individual need. You need a strategy do manage their time with you so that they don’t manage your time for you, so let’s put a strategy in place.
First, identity the time hoarders in your life. This should not be too hard. After all, it has probably only taken you a matter of weeks to figure out who it is that demands most of your time and attention. When you identify the time hoarders around you then you will know how to handle the situations that they bring your way.
Second, seek discernment from the Lord. Jesus seemingly had time for everyone, but you aren’t Jesus. You need all the help you can get from the Lord when it comes to leading people. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment for those specific people that have the propensity to chew up your schedule and drain the life out of you. Also, preach the gospel to yourself. Jesus extends grace to us, so we must extend grace to others even when we know that we must be firm with them. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us reminds us of how we are to lay down our own lives and interests for those of others. Seeking discernment from the Lord will let you know when you need to give that extra time even to a time hoarder.
Third, establish boundaries that you do not allow them to cross. When that person who hoards your time starts in on you again, set a mental timer in your head and know when the alarm needs to sound. In other words, set a time limit with a time hoarder and stick to it. You don’t have to be rude to them in doing this, just up front and firm. Let them know that you value their time and that you most certainly want to help them in their situation but that you have other obligations that are pressing on you as well. Make sure that you do get back to them but do so in a manner that does not rope you in to a more lengthy time-consuming conversation (i.e., send them an email or call them on the phone). Just because someone else does not respect your time does not mean that you have to let them dictate your time for you.
Fourth, be okay with not being accessible 24/7. Yes, I know that you need to be available for any situation that arises within your ministry, but you don’t necessarily have to accessible. When Mary calls you during family night supper, let her leave you a message. If it’s truly an emergency then you will do what needs to be done, but more likely than not she is asking a question that can be answered the next day when you see her at church. Should you choose to pick up the phone and allow her to drain you of your valuable family time, then you will most certainly put a damper on much needed time with your family.