Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's Time Again

It's Time Again

While it was not my intent to pursue the issue of time in a second consecutive post, since then, it has felt like the issue of time has been pursuing me. At least my awareness has been heightened a bit.

They day after my last post, I was sitting in a meeting with various representatives from the Adventist churches in our area, who had gathered to listen to denominational leaders share reports on progress that had been made over the past several years and possible directions for the future, and where the various representatives could give feedback and suggestions to the church administrators. It was during the meeting that the issue of time surfaced again in two ways that caught my attention.

The first was in a somewhat less than helpful comment, made in response to a report about budget constraints and how that impacts the way in which pastors are allocated to churches. The comment was, that from what they had observed, what pastors do should only take about 20 hours or so a week, and therefore most pastors could be assigned two churches. This would cut down on the total number of pastors needed and make sure that each church had a pastor assigned to them.

What was troubling (and frankly a bit disheartening) about that comment, was not so much the suggestion that pastors could or should be assigned to more than one church (which is a fairly common practice in many places), but rather in what appeared to be the assumptions that were behind the suggestion about how time was, or should be used. The comment was that 20 hours was all that was really needed to get a sermon ready and take care of the few other details that might come up. Weddings, funerals, and other extras like that, it was suggested, could be taken care of by people working at the conference office. Apparently, all the other things that pastors might be involved in during the week were either not known, or not deemed to be significant to this person's version of the "bottom line." What this perspective simply did not account for were those aspects of the pastoring that are not visible by large numbers of people and which are largely relational. And, as tempting as it might be to elaborate further on how wide of the mark these comments fell in terms of understanding pastoral ministry, what struck me were the assumptions made about the kinds of things that time should be invested in, and by implication, what things were considered less important.

A second comment that caught my attention was not made at a microphone, and simply had to do with the agenda for the evening meeting. Someone sitting nearby suggested that we could get down to business more quickly and efficiently if we cut out the devotional, particularly because lay people are busy and don't have time for this. The sentiment was understandable, particularly in a context where for many this meeting may have felt like one more thing being added to the end of an already busy day, and who were hoping to get home at a decent hour. And yet, as I pondered this a bit, I wondered if this too revealed some conscious or unconscious assumptions about what constitutes a good productive use of time, and what does not . . . and of course that productive, efficient uses of time (here measured by getting through the items of business on the agenda as quickly as possible) are "better."

While both comments were more different than alike in most ways, what struck me was that the one thing they shared was the way they seem to have been shaped by assumptions about time that have impacted and found a place to root in our lives, and which in many ways keep us stuck. I began to wonder if, more than we realize, the categories of efficiency and productivity, especially when understood in the context of visible, measurable outcomes, have become the default settings in how we tend to assign value to things, people or activities. It's not that there is anything wrong with asking whether or not we are making good use of our time, but rather that I'm not sure we always fully realize what it is that is shaping the way we decide what "good" use is.

What if those 20 hours of sermon preparation and those few other things that one person might observe a pastor "doing" (setting aside for the moment the very narrow and limited scope of the observation itself) were, when it comes to what God is really doing in the lives of the people in a particular congregation, not the most important things a pastor does each week? What implications would that have for the allocation of pastors, and how time might be best used?

What if people representing various churches who gather together for the purpose of evaluating and fine tuning denominational machinery, as important as that is, saw that task, while necessary, as secondary to the need to pause and remind themselves about who they are, why they gather together in the first place, and what they are really about? What if devotional time provided an opportunity to do just that? How might that impact the way the rest of the agenda was processed? Is it possible that what we really don't have time for are agendas that are processed without this? Of course that might mean that we give as much time and attention to preparing the devotional as we do the agenda.

What might it mean in countless other settings if we were to admit, affirm, give permission for, and be intentional about, the relational non-measurable aspects of our lives as actually being of equal or greater significance than the things we can produce and measure? What if we actually had the courage to live that way? What if it was more than conceding the point, and actually changing how we live? I am convinced that most of us "get this" in our heads, but have a hard time living it out, because there are so few places in our world that encourage this, and a great many things that reinforce the opposite. We may know "the truth," but we sense that we may be evaluated by those who either do not, or make their decisions as if they did not.

One of the things I have so much enjoyed about having a treadmill at home, is the freedom to exercise daily without concern about weather, and at those odd times when my schedule allows for it, particularly when running outside would be problematic. But the truth is, that aside from the issues of weather or darkness, it also frees me from the watchful eyes of those who see one of their pastors running, say between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon, and immediately assume that he is not working. It doesn't matter that by 2:00 I may already have been working for about 7 or 8 hours that day, or that there may be another 3 to 5 hours that follow. It doesn't even matter that I may not pay much attention to that kind of an evaluation anyway. But simply living in the midst of a community of people who actually might slip into that way of thinking, at least now and then, does have some impact, even if small - which is why those thoughts don't cross my mind at 2:00 when I am on the treadmill, and they might at 2:00 jogging through my neighborhood. While seemingly insignificant in and of itself, the cumulative impact of lots of little messages scattered all around us, and coming at us from all sorts of different directions, may on subtle levels influence us more than we might realize.

All of which reminds me again of the importance of being more intentional about being intentional about how I use my time. Not so I can produce more, but perhaps so I can be more present to the moment, to the people around me, and maybe even to the God Who speaks much more clearly when I have made room for those moments in life when I am free to listen without any agenda beyond simply being there. It is somewhat ironic that in order to do this, I may have to plan into my agenda, time and space to set my agenda aside.

It is also somewhat unrealistic to think I will be as successful as I might be, if I do not also intentionally put myself in those places and among those people who help to reinforce a different way of thinking about and experiencing time. Being together in community with like minded people matters. A friend of mine was telling me just this last week, that when they joined a health club, they found that when they went with a friend (in this case their spouse) not only did their regular attendance improve, but they experienced the benefits to a much greater degree than when they were trying to do this on their own. Regular time set aside . . . the encouragement and accountability of sharing with a friend . . . a fuller richer life . . . makes good sense when you think about . . . and makes much more when you actually do it.

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