I think some of the problem with understanding the “work” of ministry comes from our American mindset that says that when you have a job, you must produce; you must have something at the end of the day to show for your labors. Unfortunately, applying that mentality to ministry is almost surely going to result in problems, namely, the feeling that one must keep oneself “busy.”
But ministry is fundamentally about joining God in the ongoing work of transforming people. As it so happens, the transformation of people is a slow process; it is difficult to observe and even more difficult to measure. Therefore, by nature, what we as ministers “produce” for our labors is extraordinarily difficult to gauge. In my experience in ministry, I have found that if stay attuned to God’s will and open to His leading, He will see to it that I make “productive use of my time.”
In fact, much of my most significant ministry (measured by its effect on people) has occurred, not as a result of usual ministry activities like preaching, teaching, or visiting those in the hospital, but rather, in the context of merely living life (being involved in my son’s Cub Scout group, recreating with friends, watching a Steelers game with church members, or the random conversations that often happen with people at the post office, grocery store, or over the back fence with a neighbor).
This is, I believe, because God is the orchestrator, not me. And so as I live my life, God, in his time, tends to place in my path enough people with whom I can connect and bless and influence, to keep me occupied. Obviously I am not the one to reach everyone; some people will never feel a connection to me, nor I them. God realizes this and, to the extent that I remain open and attentive to his leading, makes my path cross with those people who he knows I can connect with.
As a case in point, several years ago, one of my friends called me on a Saturday (a day off for me) and asked me if I wanted to go river rafting. I said sure (naturally) had a blast, and had the most interesting spiritual conversation with one of the other guys who went with us (a non-Christian). So, the $24,000 question: Was this “work” or was this “play”? Was it ministry or recreation? Answer: Who cares? Ministry happens best in the context of life in relationship with God and with other people; it does not happen merely by putting in a certain number of hours in the office. It also does not happen merely because we’ve scheduled it or planned it.
And sure, there are classes and sermons to prepare, personal study to be done, and the occasional fire to put out, but I no longer try to stay “busy” eight hours a day. This may mean that my day off gets “interrupted” by a random contact with someone whom God has placed in my path, but it also means that my “work days” are not driven by time clocks or office hours or “production quotas.” I must leave room and flexibility in my daily schedule for God’s “interruptions.”
The goals and demands of ministry are just too different from those of ordinary jobs to be shackled by the drive to “produce” or by some misplaced sense of “time.” You simply cannot answer the question, “How much time did you spend in ministry today” with any kind of answer that fits the paradigm most people use to judge productivity. You simply cannot judge the effectiveness of ministry (or try to produce effective ministry) by focusing on productivity and numbers of hours. It can only be judged by how faithfully you’ve stewarded both your own unique, God-given gifts, and the people God has given you. Furthermore, this can only be evaluated by God, and only over time.