Interruptions can be frustrating.
But as long as you’re in local church ministry, interruptions are not going away.
If you are involved in the lives of people, and the real issues they deal with, interruptions will be part of your work. You can choose to fight that reality, or embrace it.
The goal isn’t to pretend that interruptions don’t bring complexity to your schedule. They do! The goal is to learn how to best navigate interruptions, so your ministry has the greatest impact, and you continue to experience inner peace even on difficult days.
It’s important to focus on what you can control, and not get frustrated about the rest. You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control what is going on within you. You can manage your emotions which are the place to start.
Fighting against the natural flow of interruptions is like getting stressed about being stressed, it serves no valuable purpose. We know that too much stress is not good for us, but stressing about stress is completely counterproductive. It’s the same with interruptions. They produce complications to your schedule, and maybe even stress you out, but fighting it only makes it worse.
Here’s a helpful approach:
1) Establish routine and margin.
Intentional routines are not boring and confining, they are healthy and needed. They require discipline to maintain, and they help you establish healthy and productive rhythms for your life.
For me, a weekly routine is not a legalistic straightjacket. In fact, it’s often interrupted and ends up changed. But the routine provides the necessary guardrails so I can make good decisions when interruptions come.
I also believe that some margin helps make it all work. For example, I try not to book a full day on Thursdays until the week of. So when “stuff happens” every week like it always does, I have a place to put it. By the time Thursday hits, it’s usually full. But if I filled it weeks in advance, there is no place to help handle the interruptions, (and opportunities.)
2) Cultivate your generosity.
An important part of governing your perspective involves how you think about the interruption. Because it nearly always involves a person, it’s important to possess an internal disposition that you want to help if you can, rather than seeing the person(s) as an inconvenience.
One of the ways I cultivate a generous spirit within me is reminding myself how I feel when I want to see someone right away, and I don’t fit into their schedule. Whether it’s a plumber, doctor or a personal trainer, when they “make room” for me, I’m very grateful.
3) Lean into the moment.
Never underestimate the potential life-changing impact of an interruption.
One of my favorite stories (Mark 5:21-42) takes place after Jesus had just again crossed over to the other side of the lake. A large crowd gathered around Him.
He was interrupted on the spot, in whatever He was doing.
Jairus, a synagogue ruler, had a daughter that was dying. He pleaded with Jesus to go with him to heal his daughter, and Jesus goes with him.
On the way to see Jairus’ daughter, Jesus is interrupted again. His interruption is interrupted!
In the crowd of people, a woman (bleeding for 12 years) touched His garment, and Jesus stops to heal her. Jesus was aware (sensitive to divine interruptions) of even a sick woman touching his clothes, and took the time to identify who she was and say: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be free from your suffering.” (Matt 5:34)
Wait for it… Yes, Jesus is interrupted yet again. (Verse 35, While he was still speaking!) Some men came from the house of Jairus, and reported: “Your daughter is dead.”
And the end of the story… Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” And, “The child is not dead, but asleep. They laughed at Jesus. Jesus healed the little girl!
When you are sensitive to divine interruptions and invite the Holy Spirit to guide you, you will likely experience some incredibly powerful ministry moments.
4) Sometimes you need to say no.
Not every interruption is a divinely inspired moment. Sometimes you must say no. In fact, the larger the church, the more often you may need to say no. However, in many cases, you will have the staff to help you handle the interruptions.
Here are some practical questions to help you think through how you should respond.
- Can someone else can handle the situation?
- Might you be doing this just to please someone?
- Would saying ‘yes’ prevent you from fulfilling an important family commitment?
- Is this a non-urgent, low impact request?
- Are your gifts and abilities not well suited to meet the need?
These questions do not represent a formula, but they give you a sense of how to think about the question.
None of us can eliminate interruptions, but we all can get better at how we handle them.