using email in ministry and maintaining sanity

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ministry resources

Turn the Mail OffThere have been some excellent posts recently by Michael Hyatt and the Tentblogger on email management. I’d like to add a few things about email that are specific to pastoral ministry.

  1. First of all, pastoral ministry is not a “desk job.” An office is helpful in many respects, but it shouldn’t be the place where someone in pastoral ministry spends even 50% of their time, unless you happen to be doing a lot of counseling in there! Why do I say this in a post about email? Because the office is a place where one can get stuck doing email and busywork all day long. Get out of the office, and get out among your people. Honestly, doing work at a coffee shop or local library is preferable to working in the office, because at least there you’re a presence in the community.
  2. Email is a tool to be used for ministry, and not ministry itself. It’s a tool that should be used primarily for quickly communicatingthings where it’s more time effective than a phone or face-to-face interaction. A rule I use: if the email ends up being more than a page, I exit the email and pick up the phone.
  3. Secondarily, email can be a great way for a pastor to communicate directly to the whole parish about something important. This comes as a tip from our congregation’s chair for communication, who noticed that while we have a lot of “blast emails” that come from a generic parish email address, parishioners don’t know exactly “who” sent it, or if they reply to the email “who” will read it. St_SomebodysChurch@Hotmail.com doesn’t tell you much. But, periodically, it’s good practice for the pastor to send an email message to everyone from their own, personal (professional) email account. I’ve had great feedback from doing this.
  4. Email is a tool that should be turned off when appropriate. Hopefully you’re not sitting in the office answering the phone on your day off…so why would you be answering email? Turn. It. Off. Turn it off on your Sabbath, turn it off on your vacation. Don’t even look at it. Part of this is just for personal sanity—but this is also about modeling good behavior. If you’re answering emails when you’re supposed to be resting and being with your family, what “sermon” are you preaching with your actions about the importance of a day of rest?
  5. And, while you’re at it, turn it off at night too. Never, ever, make reading email the last thing you do before going to bed at night. When I first got a PDA, I was so excited about the technology that I read emails from my bed. And you know what? There’s nothing like a poison-pen email, or a little e-constructive criticism to set you on edge for the rest of the night. Don’t do it to yourself. You deserve a good night’s sleep, and you can deal with whatever needs dealing with in the morning.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella