Time Management for Planters

By Chuck Land

Our time in the office is not the infinite resource it seems to be. Here's how you can reign in your priorities as you seek to serve God well as you shepherd His people.

When I planted Crossbridge Church, I had no idea that managing my time would become one of the highest priorities of my pastorate. I quickly learned an old lesson that how I spend my time is how I spend my life. Managing time can be a source of great effectiveness but can also be a source of great frustration when things don’t go as well as planned. It is the ongoing battle of balancing both the important and the urgent.

I have had to learn that the urgent never stops. There is always another email to read and respond to or someone wanting a little bit of my time to voice a concern or to receive some counsel. And while responding to people’s emails and requests for connection is important, I have found that doing so can take over your week and that you may find yourself at 9:00 on a Saturday night at a local Starbucks finishing your sermon, the very thing you promised to never do.

There are many great resources out there on planning your ideal week, and I have benefited from so many of them. But if I had to boil down my top learnings as a planter on managing his time it would be this: Schedule the important; have margin for the urgent.

Scheduling What’s Most Important

The idea of the important versus the urgent is an old-time management idea, but it is the issue.  We know we need to schedule appointments with people, as well as plan meetings and leadership gatherings, but all the little urgent stuff comes slinking in with whatever is left. And most of it isn’t really urgent. Most of the time, someone isn’t dying, and the sky isn’t falling. Someone just needs a few minutes of our time, and 45 minutes later, you realize you need to leave for the next thing.

We have to put the important down on our calendar and steward ourselves to stick with it while making sure we have margin for that “quick” phone call or that guy who wants to grab lunch and pick your ear. In the words of Michael Hyatt, “What gets scheduled gets done.” So, actually scheduling what’s important is key to making the best use of our time.

So, what is so important that it must be scheduled? Some of it depends on the stage of your plant and your priorities in this stage, but here are some things I would encourage you to actually schedule.

1. Appointments with Jesus

When will you spend time cultivating your intimacy with Jesus through prayer and Scripture? This is an easy thing to allow to slip away. From breakfast meetings to taking kids to school, our mornings can get eaten away. Some say their sermon prep takes the place of this appointment. And while doing that can be very encouraging and edifying in our relationship with Jesus (or at least it should be), the question is when this: Will you spend time with Him just to grow in your love for Him, and pour out your heart to Him, allowing Him to search your heart and guide you in your next step of becoming like Him?

My advice is to treat your time with God like every other appointment. Schedule it and keep the appointment. If someone called and said they’d like to meet with you to fully fund the next stage of your plant, I’m pretty sure you would write that appointment down and keep the appointment!

The Creator of all things has made a way for you to have time with Him every day. He owns everything and has all power and wisdom. He has everything you need and all that you are looking for. Through Christ, we can come boldly to Him and find grace and mercy in our time of need. This appointment is the most important thing on your calendar! What do we really have to offer our church unless our heart is full of God from time spent with Him? Schedule your appointments with Jesus, and if someone asks for a meeting during that time, just say, “I’m sorry, but I have an appointment.”

2. Sermon preparation

You probably saw this one coming. It’s pretty simple to block out time on the calendar to prepare your sermon. It’s another thing to actually keep that appointment! It was so easy for me to get distracted in the early days of my plant with some small tasks that “won’t take long” or to push it aside when that was the only time someone could meet. I am embarrassed to say that there were far too many Saturday nights at my local Starbucks finishing my message, and I really don’t want to talk about the times when I was just starting my message on a Saturday.

This has got to move beyond lip service to an actual commitment we keep. I have never had anyone in 21 years of pastoring tell me, “You need more time for sermon prep,” but I have had plenty of people ask me for more of my time. We need to learn that one of the best things–if not the best thing–we can do is have a well-prepared and prayed over, studied, crafted, and prepared sermon expounding the Scriptures and proclaiming the wonders of the gospel. It’s important. So, schedule the appointment and keep that appointment.

3. Date night with your spouse

Your wife only has one husband, but your church can get another pastor. The health of your marriage impacts the health of your church plant in so many ways. So, one of the main priorities in our scheduling should be time spent with our spouse. A regular date night is a great practice to cultivate friendship, fun, intimacy, and romance. It can also be a weekly check-in so that you are both synced up about your calendar, finances, and the things you are facing together. Schedule some Sundays where you won’t preach and plan a getaway without the kids for you and the Mrs. The first thing I put on my calendar every year is my annual week-long trip with my wife and without our kids. If I don’t schedule it, it won’t happen by accident.

I was convicted a while back when I realized that I seek to bring all my strategic energy toward planning things for the church and my mental focus and creative skills in writing the best sermons I can with the Spirit’s help. So, why don’t I use those same gifts and passions in working on my marriage? Schedule and plan a life-giving year with your spouse. Schedule coffee dates to talk about a book you are reading. Schedule physical intimacy. Put on your schedule when she gets to get away and get out of her “mommy role” with some girlfriends. Every Mother’s Day for over 10 years now, I send my wife on a river-tubing trip with some of her best friends. It’s on the schedule; it’s important for her, and that means it’s important to me.

Pastors, lead the way in your church showing your men how to prioritize their marriages by scheduling the important. Make the appointments and keep the appointments.

Having Margin for What’s Urgent

I could go on and encourage you to schedule some think time to ponder and pray about your church, reading time to grow in your theology or leadership, or in understanding the different priorities in your life are deserving of your time. However, I think you get it. Schedule the important.

As we do that, though, leave some margin for the urgent. When life throws you a curveball, margin helps. Have some open space every week. Like for instance, leave one afternoon from 2:00-4:00 open for all those people who want to have coffee, pick your brain, or voice a concern. Just tell people when you are available. Most will understand, and if they truly want or need to meet with you, they will make the adjustment.

Margin means you know where to create a little extra time. If they want 20 minutes, plan for 45, especially if you are driving somewhere to meet them. Even if it is in your office, give yourself a buffer for long-winded people, a Spirit-prompted breakthrough in the conversation, or even some time to simply catch your breath before your next meeting. If no one books those times, but a true emergency happens during sermon prep or something else you scheduled, then just move sermon prep to those meeting times. If someone asks for a meeting, just tell them your calendar is fully booked this week and look at the days ahead.

If that sounds like too much confrontation, have an assistant do it. If you can’t hire an assistant yet, use an online service like Calendly or YouCanBookMe.com. Then, people can see when you are not available without you having to tell them no.

Time management is definitely an art and not a science. It is something you constantly have to look at. Our time is slipping away. Distractions are aplenty. The needs of those around you are numerous. Our calling, though, is too important to not take seriously the stewardship of this amazing resource the Lord has given us, to do what He has called us to do as His children, as well as someone’s spouse, parent, or leader, and a preacher of the gospel.

May the Lord give you grace as you seek to make the best use of your time.

Published January 24, 2024

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Chuck Land

Chuck Land is the Lead and Founding Pastor of Crossbridge Church which with his wife and a handful of friends planted in 2001.  More importantly Chuck has been married to Kathleen for over 30 years and has four children.