Time, meetings and working out whether to meetup

Most pastors I meet are busy people. There are so many calls upon our time. There are the sermons to prep, Bible studies to write and things to organise for whatever other events, outreach and activities they are involved in. There are the pastoral meetings, the elders meetings, the officers meetings and the members meeting that all need attending and probably chairing. Depending on your setup, there are meetings with staff and other compliance-related meetings. There are the general things of admin that constantly need to be done. And there are a bunch of other things, too numerous, disparate and sporadic to mention but that seem to come up with such regularity there is always something. Those of us stupid enough to write daily blogs and who attempt to write books are just piling Pelion upon Ossa!

Almost every busy person craves more time. More time to get stuff done. More time to be productive. More time to find space to not have to be constantly doing. But, as one lady in my church periodically reminds me, we all have the same 24-hours in the day; the issue isn’t time, it is how we choose to spend it. Which means if you are the sort of busy person who gets requests to do even more stuff that will inevitably make you busier, you have to be a little bit selective. Is this something I should be doing? Is it something I want to do? Is there any reason for me to do it at all?

One of the areas this comes up as a pastor is in meeting up with other people. Requests to meet people from this group, that organisation or the other church come in all the time. The question is, given everything else we are rightly supposed to do, we sometimes have to be selective. I could have a full-time job just meeting up with people from outside of our church if I wanted. I don’t think that would be a right use of my time. I have been called to pastor this church which means my attention must be first and foremost on the place I have been called to serve. Inevitably, this means one has to be a little selective in meeting up with people externally and deciding what to do with outside parties. The question is, how do you decide?

Let’s be honest, most people who approach are not being totally frivolous. I wish I could say none of them were frivolous or unreasonable, but I think we all know that is just not true. But most are not ridiculous. There can be lots of credit to many of the efforts to meet. But one simply cannot do them all. So, what do you do?

I don’t assume what I do is necessarily right for everyone. I don’t pretend this is what everyone must do. I am just sharing how I filter who I will meet with and why. I boil it down to two very simple criteria. If a request meets either, I will usually meet:

Is this helpful to me?

It may seem obvious, but one criteria is whether meeting up will be helpful to me or my church. There are times when people will ask to meet and it is obvious it is going to be of no value to the church. The truth is, we are not going to do a joint mission event with the local Unitarian Church, so why bother entertaining a meeting to the end when we know we aren’t going to do it? We know that there are events and activities we just aren’t going to be able to get behind, so there really is not point in turning up to discuss it. It just isn’t helpful to us.

There are other things that may be worthy of themselves, but we know we aren’t going to do either. Perhaps we have already figured out our mission partners for the next few years. Somebody asking to meet to the end to becoming mission partners – even if it is a legitimate request from a like-minded church – the truth of the matter is, we know we can’t at the present time. We may as well save each other the bother and just say so.

Sometimes we may meet with people for mutual support and, with all the will in the world, just find it isn’t that supportive or helpful. It may be stuff with like-minded churches that just doesn’t click or gel. It may be stuff where praying together seems reasonable, it just isn’t clear why we’re doing it with this particular group of people. It may be stuff intending to do particular work that just doesn’t ever seem to get round to doing anything. It may be that we’re already in a bunch of these sorts of groups and we just aren’t sure why another one needs to be added to the list. There is nothing wrong with admitting these things and saying they may not be so helpful to us.

At the same time, all of the above might – in some way, shape or form – seem incredibly helpful to us. A new group might be reaching a group of people in a similar area to you and you have been looking to connect with such churches. A potential mission partner might contact you just as you are beginning to reconsider who you are supporting. Someone may want to meet because they are just desperate to join in with the mission of your church in whatever way they are able. You may meet to pray with people that you find deeply supportive and helpful. You may conclude all these things really are helpful and worthwhile.

But the first question I ask is: will this be helpful to us? Will this serve my church in any way? Will this be helpful to me? Will I find it beneficial? Will it be restful for my soul? If it seems like it might be, I will do it. If it looks clearly like it won’t be, I may well say no. That is, unless it meets the next criteria.

Am I helpful to them?

Stuff may or may not be helpful to me and my church. But that doesn’t mean me or my church won’t be particularly helpful to them. So, whether I can see evident value in something for us, if I am sure our being there will be of value to other, then I am happy to go and be a help.

I have been involved in groups and meetup where it was unclear what anybody was getting out of it. It wasn’t helpful to me or my church – that much was clear – but I couldn’t figure out how it was particularly helpful to anyone else either. Certainly, our involvement didn’t seem to make a right lot of difference. Under those circumstances, there really doesn’t seem much value in going and using up valuable time for something that appears to be serving nobody.

But sometimes, what may not be directly valuable to us, is valuable to somebody else. It might cost us time, money or energy, but if it is genuinely serving and building up somebody else – particularly in ministry that you think is valuable and worthwhile – then why would you not do that? If we have a genuine kingdom mindset, we aren’t only going to go to what serves us but we will meet up with pastors that we can serve. We will meet with churches we can serve. We will seek to keep people in the game and, if its valuable to them and helping them press on – and we think their worth is valuable – then whether it is helpful to us in particular is neither here nor there.

So, I ask two questions: is this helpful to me and my church? Is this helpful to the person asking? If I can say yes to either of them, then I am likely to meet up, chat and take the time.

Of course, sometimes it is clear that a meeting just isn’t worthwhile from the outset. But other times, it isn’t clear. What do you do then? Generally, if in doubt, I meet. There is rarely much harm in meeting up with someone. Usually, meeting somebody clarifies whether it is helpful to you or to them and lets you figure out whether it’s worth continuing for either of you.

But in the end, we all have to think how we will use our time. Who will we meet? We could spend our entire lives just meeting up with others and listening to them and their ministry. In the end, we have to think a little bit about what we will decide to do. So I ask: will this help me and will this help them? If I don’t know, we meet anyway and work it out then.