Monday, 10 September 2012

Time Wisdom

I am indebted to Bishop John for drawing my attention to an excellent little book called Beyond Busyness; Time Wisdom for Ministry.  It's by Stephen Cherry and it's the best thing I've read on dealing with the busyness, complexity and irregularity of ministry. What's more, it's not one of those time management books which add to your stress levels by requiring an extra three study days to read them! Each section is short and easily readable but the value of the book comes in thinking about the content and putting it into practice - or at least trying some quite simple things out to see if they make a difference.

If, like me, you have read books on time management and even been on courses, yet have felt that they don't quite get to the heart of the issue, this may be for you! Ministry is very complex and there is no such thing as a normal week. It has to be, at times, reactive and, at others, measured and well planned. Cherry's thesis is that living with all this in a creative way that encourages and enables others (rather than accrues all the work and all the glory or failure to oneself) takes 'time wisdom' and a certain sort of strength of character which is, itself, developed over time. I particularly liked the chapter in which he debunks 'White Rabbit' behaviour, 'I'm late, I'm late!' and asks  what 'not busy' looks like. How can we adopt 'not busy' behaviours which slowly begin to change us? Chapter headings like 'Stop the Clock', 'Don't Do it', 'Make Haste Slowly', 'Let Less be More' have all stayed in my mind. He gives many hints about how we can get the most out of our energy and the time available.

Before you start thinking all this sounds unattainable, this is in fact one of the most theological and practical books I have read on the question of how to understand and work with time. He tackles the fundamental questions like 'what is time anyway?' He uses metaphors like music to get us to the heart of a contemplative approach to life. And he gives the extraordinary example of a clock (at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge) which challenges the concept of objective time because the hands only show the correct time once every five minutes....think about it! He also deals with some of the old chestnuts. When is procrastination creative and useful and when is it destructive? How can we ensure that we get the big projects that take deep concentraton and forward planning done while also responding to the little things we know make all the difference to pastoral ministry?

If you are struggling with feeling a bit overwhelmed by the demands of ministry, this is the book for you. It's published by Sacristy Press 2012. Parts of it are applicable to any kind of slightly irregular life style - ministry, parenting, 'portfolios' of work, researching, writing and teaching, some kinds of business also come to mind.

The Revd Canon Dr Stephen Cherry is a residentiary canon of Durham cathedral and Director of Ministerial Development and Parish Support in the Diocese of Durham.

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