Five ways ministry leaders squander their day

I’ve been in ministry for more than ten years. Nine of those were in parachurch ministry–some as a campus minister, and some as an area director. Since April I’ve worked on the senior staff of a large presbyterian church. Each of these calls has its own challenges. The ones that are freshest to me are those that are new. As a result these observations are based on two months of working at a large, multi-staff church.

One of the biggest differences between church and parachurch ministry is the fact that every day I get to go to work in a church building alongside fifty other people. We can run into each other in the halls, drop by offices, have meetings in conferences rooms, you name it. Most of my time working for InterVarsity, communication with colleagues in ministry involved getting on the phone. The physical proximity of colleagues makes for efficient communication, which I love.

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The downside is that in a large church there is always something either going on or about to go on. As a result every day there are lots of conversations to be had about church-related stuff. Add to this the challenge of making sure that all of the events, initiatives, and meetings on the church calendar are effectively communicated across the congregation and you understand why each day can be sort of hectic.

As my workload has increased, I’ve found myself reminded of fundamental errors that often derail a ministry leaders’ day.

  1. Start the day without a plan. If you show up at work without at least a list of three “must do” tasks as well as a list of your time commitments for the day, you may as well go home.
  2. Ignore or obsess over email. With people communicating to one another internally and congregation members and leaders communicating by email, it’s entirely possible to spend the whole day doing nothing other than reacting. Don’t do this.
  3. Leave the door open all day. Pick a part of the day for open door visits and for walking around checking in on people and how their days are going. It’s best to leave the first 90 minutes of the day for door-closed focused work.
  4. Let themselves get in a bad mood. Productivity and focus is closely linked to mood. If you feel angry, bored, or frustrated it’s incredibly difficult to get things done. It’s tough to remember, but each of us has responsibility for our own mood-managing it so that we can work effectively. When you feel the sting of failure, the frustration of criticism, or the lethargy that often accompanies detail work do yourself a favor and go for a walk or get a cup of tea. It’ll help you regain perspective and return with a better focus.
  5. Never look at the clock. Obviously we all look at the clock so that we can know when an appointment starts, when we can go to lunch, or leave for the day. I’m talking about a more intentional clock-watching. We work best when we have an external accountability system and when completing our work gives us some sort of tangible reward. Use a stopwatch (you can check out an app like Vitamin-R) to time yourself so that a task or project is given a limited block of time in which to be completed. You’ll be surprised how highly focused you can be when working against the clock.

I look at productivity as a stewardship issue. It’s not necessary to wring productivity from every second of the day–in fact, that’s counter-productive. However, floating through the day can be a form of sloth. It’s also important to be fully-engaged with those interruptions that happen during the day–they’re often gifts from God and opportunities for ministry.

So, how do you stay focused in the church office?

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