8192416The meeting had to be rescheduled because I had to make an urgent trip back to Kuala Lumpur. But the four members of my mentoring cohort and I managed to agree on a new date to meet. As usual the meeting would begin with dinner at 7.30 pm. 

A day before the meeting one of the group members said he could come only at 8 and would not be able to join us for dinner. An hour before dinner another member said he was caught at work and would be very late. He eventually arrived at 9.10 pm. (He eventually let on that he had only slept two hours the night before because he had a project deadline to meet.)

A long time ago I would have been furious that the group was so poor in their punctuality. I would have fidgeted and fumed and given some spiel on priorities and commitment. Now I just adjust to the changes as they arise. The meeting ended later than usual but we had a great meeting.

Why wasn’t I upset with those who came late at the last moment? Because I had realised some time ago what I just read in Eddie Gibbs LEADERSHIP NEXT. Gibbs quotes Leith Anderson and says:

“Leith Anderson has identified a number of factors common to contemporary urban life that, when taken collectively, have made leadership among the people of God both complex and frustrating. He notes that many people have to work longer hours in more competitive environments and yet have a continuing sense of uncertainty about their jobs. This means that time is at a premium. Not only do most people work longer hours, they also work on a more flexible schedule. Consequently, they do not know very far in advance when they will have available time.”
(LEADERSHIP NEXT, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005, p.186-187.)

Therefore, Anderson warns church leaders that:

“busy people are not necessarily less committed but are trying to balance priorities. Leaders need to help those who are most pressured build priorities that reflect the values of the reign of God. Leaders may have to challenge people to consider reordering their priorities. But they must not make unrealistic demands. Cherished church programmes may need to be redefined or pruned in the interests of building supportive relationships. Churches, by their own example, need to show people how to set proper priorities.”
(Gibbs, p.187.)

There are two key points here. Firstly the church, especially urban churches, needs to take seriously the complexity of the time use of people in today’s working world. She must not assume that busy people struggling to juggle different priorities are necessarily less committed or less spiritual. Simplistic sermons that call into question members’s commitment just because they have to restructure appointments at the last minute only add on to their guilt without giving them any real help.

Indeed some believers may have to reorder their priorities so that they more “reflect the values of the reign of God” but first an attempt must be made to understand their real struggles. Our first response must be to listen not to condemn. In this as in many other situations we must be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”(James 1:19b TNIV) Many in today’s work world are tired and disoriented. The church community should be a place of grace and healing. At the very least it shouldn’t be a place of accusation and condemnation.

Secondly, our people also need divine wisdom as to how they can manage their lives in such a way that they can experience substantial shalom in the time realities of today’s world. We want to hold Jesus at His word when He promises: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 TNIV)

The rest that Jesus promises is not a promise of an escape from life. It is first and foremost the promise of a relationship for our lives. We are to go to Him and to take on His yoke. In the context of that relationship we find the strength and the wisdom to live our lives in such a way that we experience God’s rest as we live our lives. There will be burdens and there is a yoke but as we learn from Him we will find the yoke easy and the burden light.

Therefore time management must be a key component of any discipleship programme. We need a well thought out theology of time management that is both true to Scripture and applicable in the face of the demands of today’s world. It is irresponsible to teach people God’s demands on their lives without also giving them real help as to how they are to juggle their various responsibilities as they seek to follow Jesus.

I thought this was a problem restricted to those who live in the developed world and those who live in big cities. I was wrong. There seems to be a universal cry for help to manage one’s life in such a way that it reflects kingdom values. I discovered this when I ran a workshop on time management (I prefer the term life-stewardship) during the Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering last year.

The participants in my workshop came from all parts of the world, including Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. They came from diverse cultural and social contexts. But to a man they were very appreciative of our exercise in struggling to find a biblical, practical model to help us be better stewards of our lives in the time realities of the new millennium.

The present work realities and their challenge to our scheduling will not change anytime soon. Leaders in the Christian community will need to show more flexibility in how we run our ministries. We will need to look at Scriptures afresh for the wisdom we need to live our lives with integrity in today’s world. I appreciate the people in my mentoring group. They take their discipleship seriously. The least I can do is to take seriously the complexity of their lives.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan