(Note this article first appeared in the 2021 Fall edition of Today's Pastor)
Being a pastor is a beautiful calling. The time we spend with people is a privilege, and the opportunities to preach are humbling. However, to preach faithfully and meet with people meaningfully, we must be efficient with our time and energy.
I don't know about you, but I can use all the help I can get to be efficient with my time. Thankfully, we have many free tools available to us. In this article, I share the top five tools that I use for ministry efficiency:
We live in the information age, which means we have many helpful resources available via blogs, books, theological journals, and websites. This abundance of information is a blessing to the modern-day pastor.
But how do we organize and manage all of the stacks of paper on our desk, the online articles we think will be helpful for an upcoming sermon, book insights, and sermon illustrations? And what about all of those receipts needed for the housing allowance?
One tool that I have used for the past few years is Evernote. If you are not familiar with Evernote, it is best to think of it as a giant filing cabinet where you can store files, articles, audio files, pictures, personal notes, etc . Any digital file can be stored in Evernote.
The beauty of Evernote is that anything you put into your account becomes searchable (even pdf files, if you have the paid version). Ever since I started using Evernote, I rarely have had a paper to file. Once a meeting concludes, I just scan the agenda or handout with the smartphone app, and the scan goes right into my Evernote database, ready to be searched and recalled when need. I can even access my Evernote documents through any computer, tablet, or smartphone. Once, when my laptop was waiting for a repair, I used my wife's laptop for a few days and didn't miss a beat because I could access all of my Evernote files online.
2. Shareable Calendar
This recommendation may seem too basic for 2021, but you would be surprised at how many people do not use a calendar. Paper calendars are better than nothing, but I would recommend using an online calendar to share with other pastoral staff, office personnel, and family so you can be sure to budget your time wisely. Where confidentially is important (certain counseling situations, for example), you can simply use initials or some other form of shorthand that you would recognize to maintain others’ privacy.
By putting my calendar online and sharing it with my wife, office staff, and other pastors, I keep them all informed about when I am busy or available. Apple, Microsoft, Google, and many other companies offer free calendars to share with others.
"Pastor, can we get together this week?"
Previously, when someone asked me that question, I would do everything I could to fit them in, even if that meant cutting into precious study time. However, after 22 years of pastoral ministry, I have concluded that such effort is usually unwise. Wisdom has taught me to protect family and study time (of course, there are exceptions). Experience has revealed that I often put more effort into making time to meet than the person asking to meet does!
Calendly has been a great tool to help me prioritize my time and put the responsibility of meeting back on the person asking to meet. And it does that with very little effort from me and without making others jump through complicated hoops.
Once you have your online calendar set up (see the above recommendation), link your calendar to Calendly and then set your availability. When someone asks to meet, you simply send them a Calendly link, and Calendly takes them to a webpage that shows your availability. From there, they can choose the time that works for them.
One benefit of Calendly is that you can set up meetings of different durations. I have 15, 30, and 60-minute meetings as options for people to choose. A benefit that I have noticed from this is that people are much more conscious of the time in our meetings when they have selected the length of the session.
You can also provide location options for the meeting. If you were to go to my Calendly page, you would see that you could choose from an in-person meeting in my office, a phone call, or a Zoom meeting. Once they make their selection, both the person scheduling the appointment and I are sent an email with the details, and it is automatically added to my calendar.
Ministries must have good graphics in today's world. Canva is a free (paid upgrade also available) website that helps those with no graphic design skills make great graphics. There are templates for just about any application you would need: flyers, social media posts, presentations, and many more.
So, no more cheesy, blurry graphics on your Facebook page or website!
We live in a visual society. People like pictures and graphics to help them visualize what we are saying. While it is tempting to copy a perfect image and use it in our sermon slides, it probably isn't legal.
Unless you do your due diligence, the image you want to use most likely has a copyright on it. Pixabay is an extensive library of royalty-free pictures broken down into helpful categories that will help you get the perfect background for your sermon or music slides.
(Note: as with many online sites, Pixabay does have some inappropriate pictures. Using their "safe filter" helps avoid access to those pictures.)
I intentionally made sure my top five recommendations for ministry efficiency were free (or at least have a free option). If you do have ministry funds available, I recommend the paid version of Evernote. The added tools, such as searching pdfs and higher storage limits, have made the upgrade worth it to me.
I also recommend Grammarly if your budget allows it. Grammarly is a tool that helps proofread your documents before publication. There is a web browser version and a plugin for Word available. While it won't catch every mistake, Grammarly will make your communications better.
Time is precious, and our energy is limited. While efficiency does need to be set aside in some situations, efficiency will usually make us better pastors and servants of Jesus Christ. The tools that I have recommended have been a blessing to me as I try to steward my time and energy well.