Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Glenn addresses the issue of being over-worked, over-scheduled, over-fill-in-the-blank such that life seems out of balance. These people that come to him as their pastor are seeking help to deal with a real problem – a life and schedule that are out of balance.
The counsel these people likely expect, that is, how to budget time better, how to get more things done in a day, how to . . ., things that are important and would likely help, he does not give. Instead, he claims that the notion of a balanced life is really bunk. In his own words,
There is no such thing as a balanced life. It’s a false goal, a mirage propagated by a culture that doesn’t recognize a blunt fact of life. Some things are just more important than other things in life. Everything is not equal and no, everyone and everything doesn’t deserve a few moments of your time.
Here’s the hard reality. All of us have multiple priorities. Each of these priorities has multiple and competing demands. Not only that, but most of these demands are mutually exclusive. That is, if you choose to do one thing, you’re also choosing not to do something else. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day to do all of the things being demanded of you. We all know this to be true.
How then does one make decisions about what to do, what to pursue, how to use time, how to meet demands, etc.
What do you attend to first? Well, that depends.
Depends? On what? On which situation needs you the most.
I can make a case from the facts of the previous scenario where any decision you made would be right and conversely, any decision you made would be wrong. You see, it just depends.
When I talk to my team about time, I don’t talk about living a balanced life. I talk about spending time “appropriately.” The question I would ask any of us as pastors is this: “Are we making appropriate decisions about our time concerning the demands and circumstances of our lives?” Are we responding to our spouses appropriately? To our children? To our ministries? To our own needs?
To make an “appropriate” decision means looking at each situation, weighing each demand and from those facts, determining which action is most important to this moment.
Here is what Glenn emphasizes.
Here’s the point I want to emphasize. We have to make the choice about where we spend our time out of our own values, not out of fear of disappointing someone else. Here’s why that’s important. You and you alone will live with the consequences of the decisions you make. Personally, I have too many regrets, and I’ve talked with too many pastors who have made a decision to put off time with their families to fulfill unrealistic demands of their churches. This pain is hard to live with.
Of course, this means you’re going to make someone mad. So, ask yourself this: Who do you want to make mad? Whose anger can you live with? I’ve learned that when I make decisions about my time that flow out of my personal values and priorities, I can live with the frustrations of those who might have been disappointed in the moment. Sure, I care about people’s feelings, but not everyone’s opinion or need has the same weight in my life.
At the end of the day, Glenn recognizes a God-centered priority means God is at the center of your priorities, as He has revealed in the Bible, and from this foundation, it becomes difficult if not an impossible or even desirable goal to divide one’s day into compartments with specific time allocations.
You simply can’t divide your day into precise allocations of time for ministry, family and yourself. Life doesn’t work that way. Perhaps that’s why the Bible speaks about seasons—appropriate moments—to act rather than demanding precise times.
There is a great deal of truth in what he writes, and I agree with much/most of it. One must live life and structure life based on God’s priorities, with God-centered, Christ-focused and Spirit empowered intention and purpose. One must, however, be careful not to use it as an excuse for procrastination or lack of planning or only doing what I want to do with the excuse there is no balance. Living by the tyranny of the urgent, which means everything present is urgent, or everything I want to do – not need to do – is urgent.
In a piece like this, I find there are generally two sorts of response. For the one who is highly structured and lives with a keen sense of priorities, it is easy to misread Glenn to make him say that a schedule is not needed or is hurtful. This, in actuality, is contrary to what this structured person experiences in life. To this person, this is a very good reminder to lay one’s schedule before the Lord, to seek the face of the Lord regularly and to ensure this is, indeed, the Lord’s priorities and not one’s own.
For the one who is not structured, this becomes support for their lack of structure in life and ministry. This person often lives by a whim, and is driven by the issue or need directly in front of them. They live only in the present, without a clear sense of direction or purpose. The word this person needs to hear is that their way of life is not more godly, but is driven and controlled by others, not a clear sense of God’s priorities lived out in his/her life.
When I was young, the typical order or balance as portrayed as 1) God, 2) spouse, 3) family, 4) work, 5) other. But with number one in place, you are constantly asking how that is lived out in the various relationships you have and the various responsibilities with which you live. If, for example, balance is considered by time alone, 4) work becomes pretty important simply because of the number of hours required. This is not to remove one’s responsibility to the family or the church or work, but it imbues it with a God-saturatedness.
This is something that we need to bring before the Lord daily, and probably numerous times throughout the day. Since He is the priority (Matt. 6:33-34), then we need to seek His face to discern how we best honor Him by the use of our time in serving others, beginning with our family, which consists of both our biological and spiritual, particularly the latter if one is serving in a vocational capacity, and through serving God in the marketplace.