Pastors Need to Learn How to Accomplish More By Doing Less

Jesus teaching, All Saints, Landbeach
Jesus teaching, All Saints, Landbeach (Photo credit: TheRevSteve)

Learn to Accomplish More by Doing Less

 

If you’re like me you probably are finding yourself increasingly overwhelmed and bombarded by technology.  Technology is a wonderful thing but it has taken the ability to multi-task to almost unbelievable levels.  While technology has opened incredible doors and opportunities, it has also eroded our ability to focus. What has ended up happening is that in some cases technology is causing us to do more but accomplish less.  Over the past few years, I have witnessed something similar happening to many Pastors.

 

One of the primary issues that I see facing most Pastors is that they are simply trying to accomplish too much.  Rather than focusing on doing a few things very well, they settle for having a lot of activity with very little quality. The simple truth, however, us that we need to learn how to accomplish more by doing less.

 

At the beginning of the week I shared a post entitled “Attention Pastors: Working Harder Isn’t Always the Answer.”  In that post, I shared the story of John, who is a hard-working and dedicated Pastor who is literally wearing himself out and ruining his family because he is working so hard in the ministry.  John is very frustrated by the fact that he is working 60-65 hours a week in the ministry even to the point of neglecting his family but still the church remains plateaued.  The issue that John is facing is that even though he is working hard, his efforts aren’t producing any results.  What John needs to do is to learn the key of accomplishing more by doing less.

 

John doesn’t realize it but he has taken his church as far as he alone is able to take it.  In other words, he has reached the limit of his own ability to keep up with the congregation. He has spent twelve years as the Pastor of New Antioch Baptist Church, but has given very little effort in training and equipping his lay leadership.  Even when the church went out and hired an Associate Pastor to help him, John refused to give over any of his responsibilities.  John is working as hard as he can but no matter what he does, he can only do the work of one man.  What he needs to do is to stop working harder and start working smarter.  Simply put, John needs to learn the art of accomplishing more by doing less.

 

If John is going to move the church off this plateau he must reconsider what his primary tasks are as a minister.  In Ephesians 4:12, the Apostle Paul says that the role of the Pastor is to, “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  This means that as Pastors, our primary goal is not to do the work of the ministry on behalf of the church, but rather to equip the saints so that they can carry out the work of the ministry.  John has been so busy doing the work that he has given little attention to the work of equipping the saints.  If he wants the church to move off this plateau and to once again start growing he will need to invest heavily in equipping others to take over the ministry.  That means that he will have to stop doing some of the busy work that is keeping him from accomplishing his primary task and focus on equipping others to do the ministry.

 

Jesus teaching in the temple
Jesus teaching in the temple (Photo credit: freestone)

Invest More Time in Equipping Others to Do the Ministry

 

No matter what area of the ministry we serve in — whether it be as Senior Pastor, Associate Pastor, Minister of Music, Minister of Youth etc.— our primary task is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.  The word translated as equip means to makes someone completely adequate or capable for carrying out a task.  There are many ways that we can carry out this task.  For instance, we can do at least part of this task through the teaching and pulpit ministry.  But effective Pastors know that more ministry skills are caught and not taught.  In other words, while we certainly need to give ample time to teaching about the ministry from the pulpit we also need to spend time personally mentoring and training church members for the work of ministry.

 

Bruce is a good example of how effective this approach to ministry can be.  Bruce has a simple but powerful philosophy that guides his ministry— never do anything in the ministry alone.  He lives out this simple philosophy by inviting church members to take part in the ministry with him through the week.  Bruce began this simple process many years ago, by simply inviting one of his deacons named Sam to have lunch with him once a week and go make a few hospital visits together.  It wasn’t long before Bruce realized that Sam was starting to take the lead on hospital visits and was mentoring one of the other Pastors.  “The whole thing started by accident,” says Bruce, “I was just looking for someone to go visiting with but it ended up being so effective that I just started doing it all the time.”  After about six months of mentoring Sam, Bruce decided to start meeting with another one of his deacons named Ted.  Once again, within about six months Ted started taking over and mentoring another deacon.

 

“It took about two years,” says Bruce, “but we eventually had all the deacons involved in actively meeting with another deacon and making hospital visits. So we began to focus on taking this ministry beyond the deacon board.”  Bruce set a goal of developing an active mentorship program through the deacons, in which, he equipped them to mentor and disciple other men in the church.  The effects were startling, soon the women in the church were looking for a similar program and the deacons wives began a similar mentorship program.  Today, nearly 70% of the church is involved in the mentorship ministry. The effects on the ministry have been startling.

 

Rather than spending all of his time doing the work of the ministry, Bruce started to focus on equipping others for the work of the ministry.  It did not take long for this to expand far beyond what Bruce could have accomplished alone.  It did not take long before Bruce started to notice organic ministries begin to grow up within the church.  One group started to minister to the homeless, another to unwed mothers.  Soon there was a group of men visiting prisoners in the jail and women who were volunteering to cook meals for the homeless.  Sunday School teachers began to adopt the equipping model of ministry by training new teachers who served as assistants and started new groups.

 

The most important difference between Bruce and John becomes clear when you ask them about whether they enjoy the ministry.  For John the ministry has become a burden.  It is wearing him out, ruining his family, and sucking the joy right out of his soul.  But for Bruce, the ministry has never been more enjoyable.  The difference is not in their locations, the personality of their churches, and certainly not in the God they serve.  The difference is in their approach.  John has decided to approach the ministry thinking that he must do all the work.  Bruce, on the other hand, has decided to approach the ministry with a Biblical mindset of equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry.  John is trying to do ministry by giving it more gas, whereas, Bruce has decided to give the church some traction upon which it can move forward.

Which path are you going down?

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Attention Pastors: Working Harder Isn’t Always the Answer

Joe BuchananThere is a tendency among Pastors to think that if we just work a little harder or put in a little more time and effort into it we will get better results.  This philosophy reminds me of a friend of mine who got his truck stuck in the mud one day while we were out fishing.  Rather than coming up with a way to help the tires gain more traction, Mark simply continued to “give it more gas.”  But as anyone who has ever gotten stuck in the mud knows, giving it more gas will simply make the problem worse.  The more gas you give it the deeper the tires will dig down into the mud.  The same holds true in ministry — giving it more gas will sometimes just dig a deeper hole.

John learned this lesson the hard way.  He had served as the Pastor of New Antioch Baptist Church for the past twelve years.  New Antioch was only two years old when they called John to be their first Pastor, after the church planter who started the congregation left.  In many ways, New Antioch and John had grown up together.  When he came to be their Pastor they didn’t even have any church by-laws or constitution and were meeting in a local high school.   John walked them through the process of growing up and becoming a mature congregation, helping them to buy their first property, build their first building and to install their first set of church elders and deacons.  For the first seven or eight years, New Antioch grew rapidly from the 50 that John began with to become a congregation of over three hundred regular attenders.  But then things began to slow down and for the past several years the church has been plateaued.

Whatever the causes of this plateau are, it cannot be blamed on the work ethic of their Pastor.  John is one of the hardest working Pastors that you will ever meet and this is part of the problem that he is experiencing right now. John works and average of 60-65 hours a week and rarely takes any a day off.  He makes visits in the hospitals, nursing homes, and church members homes five days a week.  As the church grew John found it more and more difficult to keep up with the growing demands of the ministry.  The church hired an Associate Pastor five years ago to help with the music program and take some of the pastoral load, but John has been reluctant to turn over many of the responsibilities to him.

Things are even worse at home, but John doesn’t seem to notice.  His wife of twenty-five years is considering leaving him and his two teenage daughters rarely see their dad.  By his own admission, John is disconnected from his family and it has been years since they took a family vacation. When asked about how they feel about being a Pastor’s family, both John’s wife and daughters show signs of carrying deep-seated resentments towards both John and the church.

John is on the verge of a ministry meltdown but he has no idea what to do about it, so he does what he has always done— he gives it more gas hoping that things will get better.  What he doesn’t know is that this is a sure recipe for a ministry meltdown.  John is digging himself into a hole that will eventually consume his life, his family, his reputation, and his ministry.

Some of you reading this can relate to John.  Your life and ministry have gotten stuck but you’re not sure what to do.  You’ve got your foot on the gas pedal, and the pedal to the metal as the old expression goes, but still you’re not moving forward. Over the next several days I am going to share with you some advice about how to overcome a ministry plateau but the first step is simply to take your foot off the gas pedal.

Take Your Foot of the Gas Pedal

Most of the Pastors that I know are hard-working and driven people.  When faced with a difficult problem or task, Pastors are the kind of people who roll up their sleeves and get to work.  This kind of drive is necessary because generally in the ministry there is no one standing over you and telling what to do.  A Pastor must be able to clearly see what needs to be done and then have the drive necessary to go out and get the work done.  But this innate drive sometimes works against us.  There are moments in the ministry when working harder simply will not help to move us forward.

John is a classic example of this syndrome among Pastors.  His problem is not that he lacks a strong work ethic or drive, but just the opposite.  John’s drive is actually working against him and keeping from being an effective husband, father and Pastor.  It is his drive that is keeping locked in a constant tail-spin of self-dependence and effort.  His first step in making a real and permanent change must be to take his foot off the gas pedal.

Perhaps the most helpful thing to come out of the 1980’s is the saying “take a chill pill.”  I have no idea where this saying came from or how it entered into my vocabulary but there are few sayings that Pastors need to hear more than this simple philosophy of life. John is like every other Pastor that I have ever met.  We all want to believe that the church cannot survive without us and that everything that happens depends upon us.  This philosophy drives us to take on responsibilities, tasks, and pressures that God never intended for us to bear.  The result is that we end up living in a constant adrenaline filled rush of activity that never seems to produce any results.

In the last couple of months before my meltdown, I became very aware of how frustrating this cycle can become.  I’m not sure exactly when it began but at some point I started to notice that everything in the ministry was becoming a struggle.  I was putting in more hours than I had ever worked in the ministry but was getting less accomplished.  I felt like the proverbial hamster in a wheel, I was running all day but never getting anywhere.  The work of ministry was quickly becoming absolute drudgery so I did the only thing I knew — I worked even harder.  But the problem only got worse.

To read more about my ministry meltdown click here.

In my case, I eventually broke down and God forced me to take a break but you don’t have to get that far down the road.  Take your foot off the gas pedal and give yourself a break.  In the following sections, I will show you some easy ways to do that, but first you have to be willing to stop and take a hard look at your life and ministry.  You have to be willing to take your foot off the gas pedal and stop trying to do it on your own.