It's surreal sitting in a Starbucks after my third week as a pastor. I'm so grateful to the wonderful folks at Emmanuel Baptist for their kindness, hospitality, and genuine enthusiasm for charting a new course in our journey of being faithful to Christ's call to make disciples. It's been exhausting, busy, challenging, and when you throw in being 14 hours away from Carrie and the boys, it's been somewhat lonely too.
I'd say there's 7 big lessons I've learned about ministry in such a short time.
1. Listening > Talking - So many times we assume our ministry activity happens when we're preaching, teaching, praying, and discipling. In essence, the times our mouth is moving. And those are all extremely important things to do, but sometimes the best thing we can do is keep our trap shut and hear someone share their story.
2. Trust and Delegate - It's really hard to have hands-on leadership in every little detail, and pastors who do that tend to err on being micromanagers or control freaks. Because there are so many issues that need to be addressed, I've learned how important it is to delegate responsibilities and not be involved in every minute detail. With that delegation comes trust, when I have to let go of my authority to handle something, but still bear responsibility for it. That's tough. But if we don't do that, we're not living out Ephesians 4 to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
3. Proactive Scheduling - Time is a leader's most valuable, and nonrenewable, resource. Taking control of time and proactively scheduling is the only way to manage the numerous responsibilities (see #2) while maintaining priority. My iCal looks like a coloring book, but it's the only way to be in control of time, and not let time control me.
4. Sunday Sneaks Up - It's felt like once I had the week under control, I wake up and it's Sunday and back around we go! I know every pastor has a different style and practice, but I love working ahead on sermon preparation, and I've found that's been a great way to be ready for when Sunday (inevitably) rolls around. Everyone has a different time frame, but if you can stay 4-6 weeks ahead on message preparation you'll find a cushion for when Sunday gets there much quicker!
5. People Aren't Projects or Interruptions - Speaking of #3... I was leaving in a hurry to go to a meeting across town when someone met me in the parking lot with "Hey pastor, do you have a minute?" One of the hardest lessons I've learned in ministry is that people aren't problems to be fixed or interruptions to be managed, they're people who God loves and who you love too. Seeing those as "God Moments" rather than interruptions changes everything. John Maxwell talked about it as "walking slowly down the halls" in 360 Leader, and there's so much truth to that imagery.
6. Time Away is Essential - God created a work/rest rhythm in Genesis 1 not because He needed it, but because we do. If you're a ministry leader and you're hitting the grind without any time off in a long while, you need to stop what you're doing and get some rest before it kills you or your ministry. I love being 25 minutes from the beach, and taking some time away to rest and hear the ocean waves has been exactly what my soul and body have needed.
7. Family is Priority #1 - I love our new church. I'm so excited about what God could be doing in our midst in the next few years and beyond. But the reality is they can find another pastor if I leave. The other reality is that Carrie cannot have another husband, and Sam & Gray cannot have another daddy. One thing I think that contributes to pastoral burnout is the imbalance between work and home, either they spend too much time at work and flame out at home, or they spend too much time at home and not enough at work and they fail to meet expectations. Have trusted people around you who can hold you accountable to keeping that balance strong.
And boys, when you and mommy get here in a few days, we're gonna have fun at the beach!
One of the biggest complaints from leaders is that they don't have time to get everything done they wanted to, that they're "too busy." It's true there's way more expected of leaders today, especially in ministry, than a generation ago. But the problem isn't because of greater expectations and longer to-do lists, it's a problem of priorities. That's why I don't think we have a busy problem in leadership, we have a mixed-up priority problem.
Think about it for a minute, you can always find a couple hours to watch football on a fall afternoon, or a morning on the lake, or to interact on Facebook. We make time for what we think is most important. That's priorities. Aligning your productivity with your priorities won't take away the stress level of leadership, but it will free you up to focus on what's most important and devote less time to what's not (You can read more about Urgent & Important through the Eisenhower Decision Matrix).
1. Schedule Interruptions - We're surrounded by the interruptions of text messages, emails, and other instant correspondence. So build blocks into your schedule to account for these interruptions. Close your email application on your computer or change the settings on your phone so you don't have the constant ding. If you check and respond to this on scheduled intervals, it provides you uninterrupted focus time.
*Note: Emergencies are a different story
2. Delegate - There's a big difference between delegate and dump. When you delegate, you're giving away leadership which helps spread your influence. Delegation involves giving both responsibility and authority. If you give someone an area to oversee, they need the freedom to lead and decide without getting your approval. Delegate as much as you can. It might hurt, but there's not much that only you have to do. When you delegate you're multiplying leadership, which helps build a healthy ministry climate. People not only do ministry but they have ownership of it.
3. Keep Your Places In Order - When I worked at Starbucks I was introduced to this, that our "First Place" is home, "Second Place" is work, and "Third Place" is our recreation. If you're going to be an effective leader, especially in ministry, it starts at home. How are you leading your family? How are you loving and serving your spouse? What about your kids? Are you an engaged parent or are you constantly distracted? Are you staying healthy and balanced with recreation? Or has your hobby and interest crossed the line into one of the other places?
4. Develop Accountability - Do you have someone or a group you are accountable to? Not just surface "how's it going?" accountability, but real accountability. The kind where you have to be honest because they have your best interest in mind. Having accountability lets you have a structure in place to keep balance, and to have a forum to share how you're doing professionally and personally. This group helps you to balance priorities, focus on what's most important, and protect you, your marriage, and your family. Leaders without accountability are doomed, because they will continue to spin plates until it all comes crashing down.
5. Use An Effective System - Some people do time blocks, some do day planners, some use Covey's Seven Habits, or a dry erase board. Whatever system you use to schedule your time and emphasize your priorities, use it. I love time blocks because they can always shift around based on emergencies, crises, and drop-ins. Using a system helps keep the rhythms of ministry leadership in front of you (Sunday will be here quick, have you built time for sermon prep; Hospital visits planned throughout the week show you when you have time for deacon lunches, etc.).
6. Focus on Your Calling - As a ministry leader, you need to do this as a reminder for why you are where you are. You're there as a shepherd, leader, servant, teacher, counselor, and more. You're there because God has placed you there. And you're there because God has gifted you to handle what's before you. You're there because He is going to finish the work He started (Philippians 1:6). So when things get crazy around you, that's where we have to come back to our calling.
What would you add to this about priorities, busyness, and ways to manage time?
This past week I was supposed to be out of town at a conference, but we had a sick baby at home so I had to cancel my trip. I’d already gotten a substitute for our weekly Bible study, so I thought I’d change it up and be a part of being fed rather than be the one up front leading. I have to admit, it was one of the most refreshing things I’ve done in a while. One thing we can too often believe in leadership is that we have to always be the one leading, that’s just who we are. But if we don’t take time to be fed and encourage others to take the lead, we’re not doing our job as leaders—instead of leading a culture, we’re creating a dependency.
Think about it for a second. If you’re the only one who ever leads, teaches, and speaks, what happens when you get the flu or another opportunity comes up? You’ve done a disservice to your ministry because you’ve not equipped others to carry the mantle for you. Our leadership is best used when it’s distributed to others. If you invest in 5 volunteers who are leading in your ministry, you’ve multiplied your leadership by 6! You can in theory do six times more than you could by yourself. If you intentionally invest in an intern or associate leader, you’ve doubled your capacity to reach the entire ministry, and you’ve set up someone else for success when God moves them (or you) to a new place of service.
If you’re a leader, I want to encourage you to occasionally take a step back and let someone else have the spotlight. Of course this assumes you’ve built someone up to be in that spot! If you’ve not and you take a step back, you’ve not distributed leadership you’ve dumped it. There’s a huge difference.
1. It allows your people to hear from another voice – One thing that can happen when you’re the only voice is the Charlie Brown phenomenon. Remember the teacher’s voice in Peanuts? That’s how you can sound after time. Give them a break and let them be fed or led by someone else.
2. It gives you a chance to sit back and evaluate – When you’re up front you only get a limited perspective. But when you take a step back you can see how all the moving pieces interact and if what you’re doing is being effective. Actively listen, take notes, and don’t leave any sacred cows unturned. It also helps you to give feedback to the leader filling in for you, especially if they’re new or inexperienced. Your feedback is invaluable to them!
3. You need to be a learner – I’m convinced leaders who stop learning are leaders who can’t lead. It shows pride when you think you can’t learn something from someone else, even if they’re new or inexperienced. God still speaks through His Word, and when you sit back and let yourself learn from someone else’s perspective, you’re honoring their preparation and God’s design for you to work and rest.
4. You’re training up Kingdom workers – So many times churches assume their ministry leadership will just do the work of ministry, that they’ll basically do everything. And that’s partly true, ministry leaders should be willing to do whatever it takes, but they shouldn’t be expected to do everything. Ephesians 4 shows us that the task of ministry leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. So when you’re letting others lead and helping build up people to do ministry.
Do you have any success stories on stepping back and letting others succeed in leadership?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.