Work Toward the Margin: Facing the Challenge of Inverted Time

Chuck FullerChuck Fuller, Church

It’s the perennial frustration for every pastor everywhere. His heart aches to shepherd the flock he loves—to give himself fully to that high calling. Yet, seemingly menial, “must do” tasks get in the way. Pastors often feel that what should be on the margin (menial tasks) becomes the center, and what should be the center (shepherding people) moves to the margin. As a full-time pastor, I often found myself murmuring under my breath as I unclogged toilets, moved tables and chairs, emptied trash bins, fixed leaky baptisteries, assisted with tech stuff that the music guy didn’t do, bailed my youth minister out of his mistakes, and generally performed tasks that other people should have been doing. My murmuring went like this: “how can I possibly be a PASTOR when I spend all my time doing this silly stuff?” All of it was further complicated by the realities of preaching 3 times a week and having young children at home. It seemed that I never had time to do what I felt God had called me to do—shepherd the flock! This was my constant complaint to my personnel committee (church committee that served the staff) for several years, until I realized that this is ministry—the “silly stuff” wasn’t merely part of it—it was it.


The charge to “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5) demands and includes much of what we consider “silly stuff.” Sure, the apostles passed off some responsibilities to focus on prayer and the word (Acts 6), but it’s clear that their burden remained for the churches, and they continued to do many things that might have seemed silly to them. Perhaps Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians felt like a massive distraction. Why was he constantly dealing with the same stubborn people over the same issues? How irritating, when he could have spent the time preaching the gospel in synagogues and forums, leading people to Christ! But, the Lord was at work in his frustration, and the church has been blessed by that letter!

Slowly, I’ve learned to “work toward the margins.” For example, in life, my priorities are God, family, and work. Out of those, work often moves to the center, leaving little time for family. But, over the years, I’ve learned to accept the reality of the inverted time allotment, embrace the fact that my work actually serves and ministers to my family (provides materially and sets an example of work ethic and value), and work toward the margin. In other words, I may not get all the time I want to spend with my wife and kids, but I work as efficiently as possible to maximize the time I do get with them, and I value our family time like the treasure it is—I keep selected times in the week very, very sacred. I work my life toward that margin.

Ministry is no different. The priorities are God, people, and tasks. Often, tasks move to the center, leaving little time for people. The key is to accept the reality of the inverted time allotment, embrace the fact that the “silly stuff” actually affords you the opportunity to do the “real stuff” (serves people and builds trust), and work toward the margin. In other words, you never have all the time you want to spend with people, but you learn to maximize the time you do get with them, and value it like diamonds—hold it very sacred. Work your ministry toward the margin.

The temptation is always there to find a way to manage your own time and be free from the “silly stuff.” Don’t do it. The commitment to, and connection with, a local church is the fundamental pattern of ministry in the New Testament. We do the work of God in community with the people of God, warts and all. It’s humbling, refining, and ultimately sanctifying. Keeping your ministry chained to a local church provides visibility (people see what you do) and, therefore, accountability (people perceive how you do it).

Work your ministry toward the margin, and work it in the church.