One of the ongoing, constantly shifting, concerns of my life and ministry is managing the ratio of time spent in solitude, in small groups, in crowds, and with family. I know each is important and even vital to a healthy lifestyle and a vibrant ministry, but what are the proper ratios for each aspect of life?
It would be very tidy to assign 25% of one’s time to each area and to call it done. I cannot do that for a number of reasons. My life is seldom that tidy, being the foremost reason. I believe giftedness, personality type, and season of life, each being other factors in building these ratios. Let’s think about these facets of life and ministry individually and about how heavily each one should weigh in the structures of your life and ministry.
Solitude – Each of us would surely say this is an important part of our lifestyle and ministry. To have quiet, private time for reading, contemplation, and composition of ideas is vital. But how much of your day, week, month, and year should this occupy? For me, personally, this is most difficult. Because of being extremely extroverted, easily distracted, and full of energy for activity, I find solitude very difficult. My moments of solitude most often occur while driving my car down the highway. I build one day per month into my calendar for quiet reflection, reading, planning and such, and I usually can make that happen. (Thank you John Stott for the recommendation.) Once a year, I plan and execute a three to four day study retreat where I can be 100% alone, listen to music, read, write, and plan the coming year. Some of my friends, and my wife in particular, are perfectly happy with hours per day of solitude and quiet. They find it fulfilling and relaxing. I about go nuts in the first two hours! Let’s find time for solitude, whether it is 2% or 50% of your time will likely be shaped by personality, giftedness, and calling.
Groups – I am sure we would each and all see the need to live and serve in small groups. To interact with people in groups of 4 to 24 is both healthy and builds community in an excellent way. We can know people deeply when we spend time with them on a regular basis, whether focused on study, worship, service, or fellowship. The best groups combine a measure of all four elements. This is the environment in which I best serve and grow. I seek groups and regularly start new ones. The extroverted among us will soak up the energy of the group and thrive in its life. The introverted among us will likely be drained by the group, and the larger the group the more quickly their energies will fade. If one is an introvert, finding the proper size, content, and focus for group life would seem to be most important. They need group life as much as the extrovert needs solitude, though not necessarily their preferred cup of tea. Let’s find a way to build small group life into our schedules. Let’s entrust our hearts to some trustworthy men and women who will care for us in our best and our worst days.
Crowds – I seldom find people who are ambivalent about crowds. Most folks either love the chaotic movement of a sea of unidentified human beings or they are intimidated, crowded, and disturbed by the masses. For some the crowd is something to be avoided, while others feed off the energy and emotion felt in large groups of 200 or more people. I believe this is why most churches in the USA have 120 or fewer people in attendance most Sundays. To have more people than that compromises people’s ability to know everyone and leads to feelings of being alone in a crowd of strangers. This also accounts why some churches which break through the 250 person barrier, grow to become megachurches with thousands in attendance weekly. These people are very comfortable in crowds and don’t feel any compulsion to know everyone’s name. I believe it is healthy and even wise to find some time to be in crowds. In ministry, these crowds are like huge fishing holes. In crowds we can meet people new to us, we may find candidates to join our groups, we may find new friends or ministry partners, and we can simply enjoy the unique strength and joy that is afforded those who participate in corporate worship in a huge crowd. No matter our natural bent toward crowds, let’s find ways to participate in them and to gather from their unique advantages.
Family – I am sure you have read about this, attended seminars, done the workbooks, watched the videos, and suffered the pangs of guilt offered by so many related to the life of your family. I will not add to your load of guilt and despair. Rather, I would like to have you see family life from a broad perspective. One’s season of life should probably be a strong factor in how one prioritizes time and resources related to family. When I was a young husband and father, we were rather poor and scraped together a living with long hours of work and little recreation time. We spent a lot of time with family because we had no choice. Later, as our careers developed and our son got older, we prioritized time to be with him in his youth sporting activities. It was the right time to invest those hours in practice, driving to and from games, and playing ball at home with him. As we became empty-nesters, our use of time shifted more toward career development and time with my wife. Now as grandparents, we carve out time to drive the hour and a quarter each way to be with two little girls. We make time for them, regardless of most other factors. Over the years, the ratio of time spent with family was largely dictated by the opportunities at hand for the best expression of love, commitment, loyalty, and investment in those for whom we care most deeply.
Finally, please hear the admonition of one almost sixty years old, who has made enough mistakes to have some perspective. Please make time for solitude, your soul needs it. The Lord may speak to you in the quiet moment, if you have one. Please seek out and form intimate small groups, you and they need it. The Lord may speak to you through a trusted and loving member of your group, if you are in one. Please find a way to be in a crowd on occasion, your vision needs this. The whole world is not just like your small group, nor like the person in your mirror, your vision can expand and your hope can be renewed in a healthy, vibrant crowd experience. Please make time for your family, all those around you need it. Your family is a model for the untold number who are watching you. You have a unique opportunity to show all those around you what a Christ-honoring family looks like, warts and all. Love them extravagantly and the world will beat a path to your door to learn how.