When I was a pastor, every fall I would think, It’s not possible. I can’t do the fall program startup and the stewardship campaign and all the denominational meetings that start up in the fall and plan for Advent, not to mention personal events like back-to-school nights. Somehow I managed to get it all done, year after year after year. Yet we can go all year like this, and never really get time to think about the bigger ministry picture. Between the weekly, monthly, and seasonal demands of ministry, we can be very busy without ever thinking strategically about the ministry, or even more importantly, about our own larger life purpose.
How to make that happen? Speaker and author Sam Horn, suggests an interesting model for writers that may be useful for pastors as well. She talks about finding a Third Place to think, write and plan. She says it needs to be a place outside your office or home, and that you need to go there at least once a week. You get used to doing that higher level thinking there. Create a habit: the third or fourth time you’ll find yourself writing or planning almost automatically.
While techniques like this don’t automatically solve our problems, we can find it interesting to experiment with them. Where might a Third Place be for you? It should be a place that doesn’t turn into pastoral care opportunities. What time works best for you? Early morning? Lunch? Evening?
And a Fourth Place for clergy should be someplace to go out of town on a spiritual retreat at least once a year. I go to the Trappist Abbey in Lafayette, Oregon. For Protestants, it needs to be a real retreat, not the chatty kinds of clergy retreats we usually have. Go away alone, with your Bible and a notebook, and not much else, and see what you hear from God in the silence, about your ministry—and about yourself.