As a pastor, a fact of life that you come to grips with (or better come to grips with) pretty quickly is that your supply of avaliable time is exceeded by the amount of people and needs that demand that time.
I've been thinking in taxonomies lately... maybe I'll be writing about a few of them.
But this one is in my head this morning- both as something that is currently guiding me and something that needs to guide me more and more- as my kids get older and as my church community grows, who gets my time?
First, my wife. She needs more of my time than she's getting right now. More of my attention, too.
Next, my kids. Jack is definitely getting to the point where dad's attention is becoming more and more important. I think to Jane I'm still the one who doesn't have breasts, but still... both of them need Dad.
Next is my family here in town- my mom, my stepdad. They need more of me than they are currently getting...
First- people who are present who both want and need my attention. People who show up consistently and are present to the community. When they need and want pastoral care and attention, they get it. And I'm not talking about just people who "serve"... mainly I'm talking pure presence- are you there? Do you show up to events and gatherings and allow yourself to be known and get to know others?
Second, people who are present who need, but don't want pastoral attention. This may cover people in crisis, people who are acting out, people who need a helpful pastoral kick in the seat... 'Nuff said.
Third, people who are present who want, but don't need my attention. They kind of tie with the next group in my mind, but these are people who show up consistently, who are very present to the community who contribute in really positive ways, and they want some of my attention. I'm happy to give it to them provided I have some.
I try to balance that last group with people who are not present, who don't want, but do need my attention. People who are drifting away, maybe because of crisis, maybe just because they are not giving their relationship with God the care and nurture it needs- we want to pursue these folks and let them know that they are missed, that we are available. If I sense it's more of a "fit" thing with our community, and they are finding community elsewhere, obviously I let that go. But when it's just a matter of someone wandering off from the flock, yeah- make that effort.
Next- people who are not present, but do both need and want my attention, but not because of crisis. Whether it's church planters writing me, pastors who want advice or encourgement (though it constantly surprises me when peole ask for my advice on church stuff... as though I have any idea what I'm doing!). If you've written me lately- sorry if I haven't been timely in my response. Too busy thinking about taxonomies! :)
Last are people who are not present, who don't need, but do want my attention. I do my best to answer emails when I can, and to respond as I can.
But also... occasionally, you get what Chris and I have come to refer to affectionately as "pastoral booty calls." You know- the people who stopped being a part of your community awhile ago, who have no intention of being a part of your community, but haven't found anyone to pay attention to them so they give you a call wanting to have coffee? Booty call. Feel free to say no. The temptation will be to schedule these people for a couple weeks from now when your schedule looks a bit freer. But believe me- by the time you actually get there, the people from higher up on your taxonomy will need your time and you will have guilt and shame for having scheduled that booty call when there are real needs that need attending to.
Now, clearly- I write about this lightly- but all of these people are people. There are times when the Holy Spirit gives you, the pastor, a kick in the pants and you make room for someone for whom you might otherwise not, "just because." Or maybe you want to make a renewed effort with someone.
For whatever reason, this taxonomy might get juggled- but it seems a helpful way to think through prioritizing your people time.
The main thing to realize is this: Not everyone who asks for your time should get it, or get it in equal amounts. As a pastor, you are not "First come, first served." Your role in your community, and the calling on your life is too important not to think through how and with whom you spend your time.