I check my social media accounts often. I check them on my laptop, my phone, and even my watch. I check in on my friends and strangers everyday. There they are with their new recipe for spinach artichoke dip, vacation pictures, and smiling kids who won the spelling bee. I like social media, but I often find myself comparing myself to my friends and strangers on social media. They take way better vacations than I do. Their houses are larger (and cleaner!). Their kids seem happier than mine. Their life must be awesome.
You also find yourself doing this. Right?
In her book Love Your Life, Not Theirs, author Rachel Cruze says this constant mental comparison is dangerous and can lead to all sorts of mental, physical, and spiritual issues. She points to recent studies that have shown a direct correlation between the increasing amount of time we spend on social media and increased rates of anxiety and depression.
I think this is especially true for ministry leaders. I’m a bit of a church geek. I follow way too many churches and ministry leaders on social media. I love seeing what other churches and leaders are up to. I learn from them. But sometimes, I feel a bit down when looking at them. I don’t feel as smart or effective as those leaders. My church isn’t as large as theirs. People in my church aren’t smiling like the people in their pictures. It must be me.
I’ve seen this phenomenon referred to as “Pastor Porn.” That title fits - ministry leaders viewing unrealistic versions of ministry and feeling down because of it. Pastor and author Carey Nieuhoff says “Someone else’s success should never make you feel like a failure.” But, it sometimes does.
When we look at the success of others online, we can’t help but think they are somehow at an unfair advantage. “If we only had their technology budget.” “If we only had their location.” “If I only had their staff..” That's jealousy. When we cross the line between comparison and jealousy, we start to feel helpless, apathetic, and a bit sad about our own abilities and ministry. Ministry is hard work. Trying to keep up with other ministries is harder.
When you feel yourself comparing your leadership abilities and your ministry to other on social media, pause for a minute. Here are some things that might help motivate you instead of depress you.
3 Steps to Avoid the Ministry Comparison Trap
1. Give Yourself a Reality Check
What you are seeing on social media is real, but it is not reality. You are seeing real pictures from a ministry in action, but those pictures do not tell the whole story - they only capture one moment in time. You are not seeing pictures of the people that are angry because of a recent change the pastor made to their worship services. You are not seeing pictures of the budget meeting. You are not seeing pictures of the pastor stressing over recently declining attendance. You are not seeing tired staff members wondering if they should look elsewhere for another job. I guarantee those moments exist in those ministries. They exist in yours. You don’t highlight and broadcast those moments, neither do they. In the past year, several high profile mega-church pastors had to leave the ministry because of burnout or personal failures. I follow them on social media. They didn’t post any of the events or feelings that lead to their downfall while it was happening. Social media wasn’t their whole story. Social media isn’t the whole story - don’t think that it is. They do ministry in the real world - so do you.
2. Think Blessed vs. #Blessed
Recenter your thinking on the blessings that you have in your ministry and the blessings in other ministries. Be thankful for the people and opportunities that you have in your ministry right now. It is also important to be thankful for the people and opportunities that other ministries have in their community and context. If you are thanking God for your opportunities and their opportunities, it is hard for jealousy to work its way into your heart. Focus on the real blessings in your ministry and not the #blessings you see in other ministries through the filter of social media.
3. Maintain a Learning Mindset
I do not suggest that you stop following other ministries or give up social media altogether. In fact, follow more ministries and ministry leaders. Learn from them. While comparing your ministry to others can steal joy, learning from others should motivate you. Look at other ministries, analyze them, and steal their best practices if they fit your ministry. Leaders are learners and learners are motivated by more learning. The dangers of constantly comparing your ministry to others are real. But the opportunities for real reflection and learning are just as real. It is a choice you must make Either approach what you see on social media with a learning mindset or a comparison mindset.
Do you compare yourself to other leaders on social media? How do you deal with it? Let me know!
You are probably familiar with the Tom Northrop quotation, “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are now getting.”
Based on your experience, you know it’s true. Isn’t it?
Your church is most likely very good at ministering to your members. Do you want more for your church? Answer these three questions:
1. Where are you now?
2. Where are you going?
3. How are you going to get there?
Can you answer those with absolute clarity? Can your people?
Do you have a clear strategy to get from where you are to where you want to go?
If not, you need a plan.
I’m often asked why a ministry should take the time, effort and expense to create a strategic plan. Here are my 8 reasons why your ministry should launch a strategic planning effort - now.
1. Strategic Planning Helps You Focus Externally
The natural inertia of any organization is to focus inward over time. Asking and answering probing questions to focus on those you wish to reach is necessary for any ministry that wants to grow. This is hard to do on your own.
2. Strategic Planning Clarifies Your Code
Every ministry is unique. Strategic planning helps clarify your “Ministry DNA” so that you can build your plan on a firm foundation.
3. Strategic Planning Raises Key Issues
The planning process predictably identifies known problems or issues in your ministry. There is power in naming and identifying those issues. Planning will also raise unexpected issues - issues that when first mentioned will cause your planning team to simultaneously nod in agreement. Those issues would never be raised in a healthy way outside of a planning process.
4. Strategic Planning Gives Direction
Part of moving your organization forward is deciding how you are going to get from where you are to where you want to be. Clearly defining where you want to go is key in both the planning process and the health of your ministry.
5. Strategic Planning Creates Excitement
The planning process should create a level of excitement in your leaders, participants in the process, and your greater community. Clearly stating where you want to go and how you are going to get there should ignite the passion of your people.
6. Strategic Planning Shares Leadership
A process based on collaboration invites those with a passion for your ministry to participate in its envisioned future. Increased participation, Increased ownership, and increased commitment are the expected results.
7. Strategic Planning Launches Revitalization
Aside from the mysterious work of God through the Holy Spirit, it takes intentional work to intentionally plan for future ministry effectiveness. Strategic planning can be the spark that ignites a fire in your ministry.
8. Strategic Planning Builds Community
There is power in talking through tough issues as a church. Passionate people united behind a plan creates a bond and increased sense of community that your ministry needs to grow.
Taking the time, effort, and expense to plan strategically is worth the investment several times over.
Click below to learn more about how I help ministries plan and grow.
P.S. I recently checked in on a church that I partnered with a few years ago. As a result of the strategic plan that we crafted together, they have completed a major building project, hired more staff, relaunched a kids ministry, and focused on hospitality. The results so far? They have turned around a decade-long decrease in worship attendance and have a renewed focus on kids and student ministries!
Do you know what it feels like to be “in the zone” with ministry work? It feels great when you are cranking content out like crazy! The magic happens when you are passionate about something and have both the energy and the organization to get things done. How often does that happen to you?
A personal mentor recently told me that I am one of the most productive and organized people that they know. That may or may not be true, but I do tend to be organized and get things done before they need to get done. I think my productivity is a result of a passion for my work and having found the right tools to help me with my work. Maybe some of the tools that I use can help you.
Task : Task Management
There are many apps and tools that help you manage your tasks. Pick one that you like and commit to it. My #1 suggestion is that it is syncable on all of your devices (computer, tablet, phone..) I have been using OmniFocus for almost 5 years as find it powerful and effective. It follows David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology precisely. It syncs with my laptop, phone, tablet, and watch! The learning curve to fully utilizing all of its features is steep - if you are a technology novice, you should probably investigate a simpler system. I have had my eye on Nozbe for a while and would probably make the switch if I hadn’t already invested my money in OmniFocus. I may make the switch in the next year.
Task: Managing My Calendar
Fantastical is a calendar system that syncs between all of your devices. It can manage and aggregate all of your calendars (Google, Outlook..)I paid for it and used it over the calendar that came with my Apple devices because it is more intuitive and simpler when entering appointments. I’m a visual person and it is also better designed than the stock calendar on my devices. I can’t recommend Fantastical enough.
Tool: Apple Notes
Until recently, I used the Ulysses app for all of my writing. They changed their pricing model and to be honest, it ticked me off. I went in search of an alternative and didn’t love anything that I found. I ended up using Apple Notes and it is getting the job done. It is super simple to use and easy to export text to almost any other app. I’m still looking for a better, more elegant option here.
Task: Focusing on a Task
It’s a great looking countdown timer on my phone (and Apple Watch) that helps me focus on my work and reminds me to occasionally take a break. Simple and it works!
Tool: Apple Mail
The standard Apple Mail App that comes with my Apple devices fits my needs. I’ve investigated other options, but haven’t felt that their features justified the purchase price. If you are overwhelmed by email and need help managing your inbox, I recommend InboxZero.
Task: Capturing Ideas
Tool: Just Press Record
There are times when I need to capture a quick idea and don’t have a pen and paper or typing something wouldn’t be appropriate. Most often, this happens while I am driving. I use Just Press record on my iPhone and Apple watch to record my ideas. It records with a press of a button or voice commands. Later, when I can take action on my idea, there it is waiting for me. You can also translate your voice recording to text and export it to another app, email, or text message! I discovered this app a few months ago and am using it several times a day
Task: Reading Online Content
Ever find a good article online and want to save it? Ever start reading an article and can’t finish it? Install the pocket app and with the press of one button, save and organize all of your online reading for later. You can also share articles with others easily with several share options. I save several articles and use Pocket when traveling and do not have internet access to catch up on my reading.
Task: Social Media Management
If you post professionally on social media, you already know that scheduling your posts ahead of time is a game changer. Facebook has a built-in method for scheduling your future posts, Instagram doesn’t. Enter Grum. You can schedule your post ahead of time and interact/comment on them from your Grum Dashboard. This has been a huge time saver for me!
What tools do you use to be more productive? Let me know so I can try them out!
Ministry is about people. Therefore, ministry leaders have many important conversations and meetings.
As a busy church worker, you need to make the most of every meeting and conversation that you have. Just think of all the meetings that you have each month.
Team planning meetings
Talking with volunteers
Annual performance reviews
Most ministry leaders are busy and don’t have the amount of time they’d like to prepare for these meetings and conversations.
The result? Unfocused conversations and unproductive meetings.
You need to enter a meeting with a clear purpose and course of action.
You need a method to take notes and document your conversations for future reference.
You need a way to remind yourself of decisions made in meetings.
I have developed a simple one-page tool that has helped me prepare for my meetings, keeps me on track during conversations, and provides me a way to follow up if needed after a meeting.
I’d like to share it with you.
My Ministry Meeting Notes can keep you focused on the topic at hand and the people you are conversing with. The templates remind you to plan ahead for your meetings, stay on track, and keep you accountable for following up on important action items.
The minimal design of each page in this notebook is designed to keep your focus on what is important. Each page of notes is formatted to follow the natural flow of your meetings.
I hope that Ministry Meeting Notes gives you an organizational edge.
Ministry is important.
People are important.
Being organized is important so you can carry out your ministry to people.
The number of people listening to podcasts is increasing. Last year, 57 million people listened to at least an average of one podcast a week. That number grew 23% between 2015 and 2016. With more listeners, the number of podcasts available has proliferated at almost the same pace. I probably listen to between 5 to 20 podcast episodes a week. I’ve learned from experience that there are some excellence podcasts and some that are a total waste of my time. If you are venturing into the podcast world or are interested in some good ones to subscribe to, here are my current recommendations.
Incidentally, if you are listening to podcasts on the default app that came on your phone, give the Overcast app a try. It’s worth a few bucks.
#1 The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast
My favorite. Carey’s podcast is the best of the best. The combination of A-list guests, insightful content, and a relaxed interview style make this the must listen to podcast for church leaders. Carey usually drops either one or two podcasts a week with fresh content.
#2 Rainer on Leadership
Thom Rainer is the CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. His podcast are usually short (15-20 minutes) and present well-researched solutions to issues in ministry. Thom “gets” ministry and his podcast is great for short commutes to and from work.
#3 The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast
The content is often a preview or review of information that Andy communicates at a leadership conference that you would pay to attend. By listening to his podcast, you get it for free! I find his best content is on staff leadership and communicating vision. The only drawback to this podcast is that there is only one episode updated a month - it is easy to forget about if you don’t automatically subscribe.
#4 The EST. Church Podcast
A group of ministry leaders gathers together to tackle uber practical issues in more established churches. How to structure new member classes? How to schedule hospital visits? Very helpful title descriptions help me skip listening to ones that I don’t think will be helpful to my ministry.
#5 How I Built This with Guy Raz
Not specifically a ministry podcast, but worthwhile and very well done. Great for longer commutes. Guy Raz of NPR interview business leaders and let's them tell their stories of how they succeed and failed in their lives. My favorite episodes so far are his interviews with Howard Schultz and Barbara Corcoran.
What podcast do you listen to? Which podcast should I consider for my list?
“You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet.” - Charlie “T” Jones
I believe that not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers. I read. A lot. Reading is especially important for ministry leaders who wish to grow in their leadership capacity and knowledge base. I read 57 books in 2017. Here are some of my favorites and my recommendations for you to read in 2018.
1. Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger
This was the best book I read in 2017 (by far). It is now one of my top ministry favorites. If you read one book in 2018, this is it. Bolsinger does an excellent job of framing the challenge that ministries face in our culture. He explains what it is going to take for The Church and individual churches to thrive (or at least survive) in our context.
2. Shaped by the Gospel by Tim Keller
This is really volume one of a three-part series. Keller does groundbreaking work here in defining where churches should be positioned in relation to both tradition and our culture. A meaty, short read. I underlined almost half of the book!
3. Good Strategy Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
I’m convinced that most planning efforts in the church fail because of poor strategy or no strategy. This is a must-read for those leaders who feel the need to lead their ministry in a visionary revitalization and actually get stuff done. This is not a specific ministry book but is super useful for ministry leaders.
4. Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller
Also not a ministry book, but the implications for ministry are tremendous. Most ministries do a poor job of communicating who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Miller provides both a framework and a process for doing just that.
5. Simple Church by Them Rainer & Eric Geiger
If you haven’t read this best selling classic - read it. If you have read it - read it again. I re-read this book at least once a year and refer to it several times a month.
Now - you tell me…What books should I be reading in 2018?
As a busy ministry leader, you know what it is like to feel buried in your work and unfocused as you try to lead people. You want your ministry to grow and just wish you had more time to work on what you think is important. You need to get everything done at work and home without burning out and giving up.
There are times in my day to day work leading a ministry where this is exactly how I fell. I also know what it feels like to be focused, productive, and generally rocking things out. I have found that the difference between being productive and just trying to manage the chaos is often good personal planning. I know that when I plan my weeks and days, I am a better leader.
That’s why I developed a simple one-page template
for planning my week.
This one-page planner helps me focus on what is important, things I have to get done, and people I should be leading.
I’d like to share it with you.
Just click the link below and get my free Weekly Ministry Leader Planner PDF.
Try it out for yourself and print a new blank copy for each new week.
I know that I need to be proactive to avoid personal burnout and ministry decline.
How about you?
You can be a focused and productive ministry leader in 2018!
Let me know how you use my weekly planner in the comments below!