Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from Succeeding at Seminary: 12 Keys to Getting the Most Out of Your Theological Education by Jason K. Allen. The book is out now from Moody Publishers and wherever Christian books are sold.
We must remember that stewarding time wisely isn’t just a matter of time management or life hacks; it is a kingdom priority. Consider Ephesians 5:15-16: “So then, be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
Paul is calling us to be mindful of how we conduct our everyday lives. He summons us to be wise walkers, and then clarifies the how: by making the most of our time. Commentator Peter O’Brien helpfully notes:
The verb “redeem” is drawn from the commercial language of the marketplace, and its prefix denotes an intensive activity, a buying which exhausts the possibilities available. It seems better, then, to understand the expression as metaphorical, signifying to “make the most of the time.” Believers will act wisely by snapping up every opportunity that comes.
That last sentence is a tight paraphrase that captures Paul’s sentiment. We are to use our time to advance the cause of Christ.
Additionally, note Paul’s reason for redeeming the time – “because the days are evil.” Maximizing our time is hard enough, but we also have a real adversary who opposes us. O’Brien’s comments are again helpful:
The notion that “the days are evil” appears to be similar to the idea of “this present evil age” in Galatians 1:4 (cf. “the evil day,” Eph. 6:13). These “evil” days are under the control of the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), who is opposed to God and his purposes. He exercises effective and compelling authority over men and women outside of Christ, keeping them in terrible bondage (2:1-3). But the Ephesian Christians have already participated in the world to come, the powers of the new age have broken in upon them, and they have become “light in the Lord” (5:8). Although they live in the midst of these evil days as they await their final redemption, they are neither to avoid them nor to fear them. Rather, they are to live wisely, taking advantage of every opportunity in this fallen world to conduct themselves in a manner that is pleasing to God.
We, just like the ancient Ephesians, live in an evil age. And like them, we also engage this age through Christ. He has redeemed us and given us a new lens through which we now see the world.
Before moving to the practical, note one additional upside of stewarding your time wisely: your newfound focus doesn’t just enable you to maximize your studies; it sets you on course for long-term faithfulness and healthier life rhythms.
You see, seminary studies make you a better minister not just because of what you learn, but because of the maturity, responsibility, and self-discipline the entire process cultivates. Here are five keys that will help you steward your time wisely while in seminary:
- Envision your ministry in light of eternity. We’ve already considered Ephesians 5:16, but consider also John 9:4, where Jesus instructs His disciples: “We must carry out the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” An eternal perspective really does reframe your ministry – and your preparation for it. You are studying not to earthly ends but to heavenly ones. So make your time count.
- Keep your roles and goals ever before you. Stephen Covey popularized the roles-and-goals matrix, which I have now employed for years. Your roles include the divinely ordained positions God has given you. These may include disciple, minister, student, spouse, parent, employee, and so on. Since these roles are divinely given, and therefore meaningful, you should associate goals with them – progress you want to see, things you want to achieve. Being clear about roles and goals will simplify your life and will be a strategic step toward better stewarding your time.
- Prioritize your life, then allocate time backward. Now that you have clarified your roles and goals, work backward to allocate your time accordingly. John Maxwell has quipped that budgeting is “telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” Your time is similar. Tell it where to go before it’s up and gone. And as you work backward, you can prayerfully and strategically allocate it in ways that best honor God, acknowledge life’s realities, and precommit you to spend time on what matters most.
Even more practically, set a concrete schedule for your day. Let’s say you’re a married student who must work a full-time job during seminary in order to support your family. On average, most seminarians need at least two hours every day for coursework. So, for studies not to kill family time, I suggest either waking up two hours earlier in the morning or staying up two hours later in the evening. This is a minimal sacrifice you can make, and it will certainly help your family feel more loved and cared for.
While seminary is a sacrifice, make sure your family is not what’s actually being sacrificed. As long as you’re willing to give up a little sleep or “me” time, you should be able to master your schedule without letting it master you.
- Think before saying “yes.” It’s cliché but true: to say yes to one thing is to say no to something else. Many overcommit because they’re reluctant to disappoint, especially in person. Never feel pressure to make a commitment on the spot. Let people know you need to review the opportunity with your calendar and the appropriate stakeholders, perhaps your elders or your spouse. Say with integrity, “If my schedule permits, I would be delighted to do so.” This gives you space to review the invitation with a clear head and more objective data. Never commit on the spot.
- Use your entire toolkit. In God’s kind providence, modern technology presents us with a significant toolkit for managing our lives – in time, stewardship, and efficiency. I use my online calendar for appointments and Evernote for responsibilities and tasks. (At the top of my Evernote task page, I list my roles with their respective goals). Additionally, I use tools like email, text messaging, Zoom, Skype, and social media to connect with others. I encourage you to do the same.