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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Recovering from a Ministry Meltdown

Bible

Yesterday I shared about the anatomy of a ministry breakdown.  I can speak with some authority about this issue because on Christmas morning 2011, in front of the entire church I had a ministry meltdown.  The days after the breakdown were some of the strangest days of my life.  I was very fortunate to be part of a loving, supportive church with some of the godliest leaders I’ve ever known.  After meeting with our deacons and Pastoral staff, it was agreed that I would take two months away from the ministry for a sabbatical. At the end of this time, I would meet with the church leadership to decide whether or not it was time for me to return.  This decision brought a brief sense of relief to my life, but then Saturday rolled around and it hit me that I would not be in the pulpit on a Sunday morning for the first time in years.  To say that this hit me hard would be an understatement.

At about 9 pm on Saturday, January 7th I began to experience enormous waves of anxiety.  For the next 48 hours, I went through agonizing physical and emotional turmoil.  The closest parallel that I can draw to what I went through would be to compare it to someone going through drug withdrawal.  My dear friend Daryl Love talked to me later that week and shared that this is a rather common experience for Pastors who’ve had a ministry breakdown.  In his book, “Leading on Empty,Wayne Cordeiro, attributes this phenomenon with the effects of stress.  All I know was that when it was over it left me with the emptiest and loneliest feelings I’ve ever experienced.  Thankfully, several good friends began to come around me and gave me some good advice.  The most important piece of advice I received was to put together a plan of how I would use the sabbatical to get things back together.  Below are the five areas that I worked on during the next two months and that I continue to work on today. These have formed for me a pathway for recovery.

Put God back in first place– I shared yesterday that one of the biggest issues that caused my meltdown was neglect of my spiritual life.  I am convinced from talking with other Pastors that this is perhaps our single greatest problem.  It is easy for us to think that the time we spend studying to preach is a substitute for daily time alone with God.  IT IS NOT!  During the time I was on Sabbatical I dedicated every morning from 8:30 am to noon, to studying my Bible and praying.  This came hard at first and my temptation was to start preparing sermons for when I got back in the pulpit.  During the first week, my study was dry and dead.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not seem to hear from God at all.  But then it hit me, “Why I am preparing sermons?  I may never get back in the pulpit.”  It may seem odd, but that revelation was really a turning point in this process.  When I stopped trying to write sermons and simply started listening to God, He began to speak.  What He showed me about my life was not pretty and I had to completely reorganize my priorities in life, but the short version is simply that God wanted first place in my life.  For along time, I had been letting other things creep in and occupy that place.

 Put the ministry in proper perspective- If we are not careful, somewhere along the line our identities will become wrapped up in the ministry.  When this happens we start thinking that our value is determined by the success or failure of the church.  Sadly, this often results in becoming obsessed with the nickels in the offering plate and the noses in the seats.  When attendance goes down, we interpret it as failure.  When it goes up, we see it as success.  Part of my meltdown stemmed from the fact that I had let the ministry become an idol in my life.  I thought that somehow “it” would bring me satisfaction and contentment.  I learned the hard way that it won’t, only God can bring genuine contentment in our lives.  When I put God back into the first place in my life, I began to realize how out of balance the rest of my life was.  It started with strengthening my relationship with my wife, then my children, then and my friends.

Start taking care of yourself physically- During the several months leading up to my meltdown I had gone on a crash, low-carb diet.  I lost 65 lbs but in the unhealthiest way you can imagine.  The truth of the matter is that I was no healthier after losing that weight than I was before; in fact, in some ways I was worse.  This is where my friend Coach Glass helped me tremendously.  He stopped by one night and told me that I needed to start coming over the High School and working out.  Within a couple of weeks, I noticed a change in my energy level and the way I was feeling.  I also started to eat healthier and to take care of my body better.  I still have along way to go, but I can tell you that a little exercise and taking care of you health will go along way towards helping to reduce the stress and mental fatigue of the ministry.

Embrace the fellowship of other Christians- In the months leading up to my meltdown I had allowed myself to become isolated from the people who cared about me the most.  My natural introversion worked against me here.  Part of the recovery from any meltdown is to embrace the fellowship of the other Christians.  During the first month of my Sabbatical, I attended a different church.  We thought at the beginning that this was a good idea but it was not.  Being a stranger in another fellowship does not bring healing.  It was not until I started attending First Baptist during the second month of my time off that I really started to emerge from the darkness.  That first Wednesday night that I came back to church was so awkward but it was a key step in getting well again.  My advice to Pastors and churches is not to create further isolation by retreating away from the fellowship.  It was important for the church to see me and for me to see the church.

The entire process of recovery would fill an entire book, but I think you can get the basic outline from this post.