life saverI’ve heard many strong leaders give this piece of advice; “Don’t let the urgent knock out the important.”

While I appreciate that statement, I find it much harder to implement than it seems. Differentiating between the urgent and the important is a task in-and-of itself.

The urgent things in my job usually fall under the umbrella of leadership. These are the “Hot” items relate often to people or deliverables. My study for Sunday’s sermon (unless it is Saturday) is not begging for my attention, but my email inbox is. My Study Notes document is not begging that I add more content, but my phone is exploding with messages. My Bible is not standing in my doorway to see if I’ve memorized or practiced the sermon, but other people stand waiting to meet…

You get the idea – the urgent is almost always people related and derived from the “Leadership” part of my role. The important part of my job is preaching and that is rarely urgent to anyone. So with that understanding, the words in the statement above could be swapped because:

Urgent = Leading

Important = Preaching

Thus, a new statement could be created to carry a lot of weight for pastors like me:

“Never let the leading knock out preaching.”

This was an “Ah Ha!” moment for me; In the role God has placed me, I have to be quick to protect the preaching of God’s Word from the nagging yet necessary things demanded of me as a leader.

Another light bulb went on when I realized that I needed to stop trying to guard my study time and rather have firm boundaries with the time I give to leadership and administrative tasks.

Therefore, I begin blocking out time for leading everyday. This includes email, meetings, and phone calls. There will always be more than I can do in an allotted amount of time, so I must prioritize. When I am looking at my list, I run every task through the following options: delete, delegate, delay or do

Then, when I reach the end of a “Leadership” slot of time I make a plan where to pick up next time. If any priorities have changed, then I mark that on my list and move on. Therein all email, voicemail and other administrative things are not dealt with until the next scheduled time.

By keeping a firm box around the leadership parts of my job, I’m able to be more focused on the doctrine, teaching, preaching, and writing parts of my job. I rest easy knowing that Leadership is in its cage and it won’t get out until my next scheduled visit. This allows me to read, write, compile a small group guides, reduce content for an article, etc. without worry.

A few other things I’ve learned when it comes to keeping study and preaching top priority:

I must be firm with people’s expectations about my study time. The world better be caving in (or close to it) if that time is going to be interrupted. Though it can seem offensive, I may have to shut the door, go somewhere quiet, and let my phone role to voicemail.

During my study and writing times I must use the web very carefully! The Internet, though a great access to resources, can be a devastating distraction. I’ve wasted hours on the web in my life. I also have a magnetic pull back to my email inbox that is irresistible at times. I have to be careful not to waste time or slip back into my email only to lose precious moments of preparation for preaching. I make sure to write down and bookmark bunny trails to come back and visit later. In addition, I keep my to-do list handy so I can write things down that pop into my mind and handle them later.

Similar to my leadership time slots, before I stop studying or writing, I make a list of where to pick up next time. This will help me get going faster. Sometime I leave something half done just to help me overcome writers block when I sit down again.

Finally, I realize that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to allowing the urgent (leading) to kill the important (preaching). I like being a “fireman” and dealing with chaos and crisis. Knowing this about myself, I block off time where nothing is planned and I can just handle proverbial fires associated with my job and the church. I can rest assured something will always be burning whenever that time comes.

The overarching principle here is: There is nothing more important I can do for your church then spend time preparing food for their souls.