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.
I can’t dance. Notice I didn’t say that I am a poor dancer. I don’t have the rhythm even to start dancing! Sad.
Like my inherent lack of musical rhythm, I often struggle to realize the natural rhythms in ministry. Finding and knowing your ministry rhythm is crucial to maintaining your health to succeed as a leader.
I have written about why trying to find balance as a leader is the wrong approach. A much better plan is to try to identify the natural rhythms in your ministry and life.
I believe that God created us to live in natural rhythms. Our heart beats in rhythm. We breathe in, then we breath out. We sleep, then we wake.
You know the scripture:
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, 11 (NIV)
In Leviticus 25, God tells his people to avoid planting crops on their land every seventh year. Even dirt has a rhythm and needs to rest!
There is a rhythm to our interaction with our family, personal time, and our work in ministry. It looks like this:
Rest then work.
Go slow then run hard.
Fuel up then step on the gas.
Reflect then create.
Restore then produce.
Rhythm allows you to maintain a successful ministry and a healthy life at the same time.
Balance is not possible.
Rhythm is possible, but challenging.
When you run fast for an extended period without resting or refueling, you will collapse.
When you lead ministry on empty, you will burn out. You are not an exception.
You need to find and maintain a healthy rhythm in your life.
Full disclosure: I am not awesome at this. I am an Enneagram #3 (High Achiever). I am a go-getter. My preferred state of ministry leadership is to work hard, then work harder. I expect those around me to do the same. To be in rhythm and maintain ministry and personal health, I have to be intentional. For most of us, a healthy work/life rhythm is not a natural tendency; it is a choice.
Think of your time an energy as a bucket filling and being emptied with life giving water.
To intentionally honor rhythm in my life, I have to do these 3 things:
1. Identify what fills and empties my bucket.
There is power in reflecting and realizing what your natural rhythms are.
Here is what I’ve found fills my bucket:
- short nature walks
- family travel
- Netflix with my wife
- reading for fun
Here’s what I’ve found empties my bucket:
- long, poorly organized meetings
- parties and social events (I’m an introvert, and this drains me!)
- business travel
- dealing with conflict
What fills and drains your bucket?
2. Intentionally Organize My Schedule Around My Bucket.
A mentor in ministry has a saying: “Work from rest.” Set your calendar so you can schedule a rhythm between things that drain you and things that fill you.
If I have an upcoming week full of things that drain me, I try to schedule something that fills me directly ahead of it. Maybe it’s a short fishing trip on my Friday day off. Perhaps a short nature walk a few hours before a board meeting. Maybe an evening of Netflix before a long day full of meetings.
Whatever works for you is great - you will have to experiment for a while before you find a rhythm that works for you. For now, the most important thing is to be intentional and schedule it.
3. Invite someone to hold me accountable.
Much like a diet, when left on my own, I will cheat. I will naturally sacrifice some things that fill me for things that I think are more urgent. I need someone to make sure I am scheduling life in a positive rhythm and sticking to it. Who is that for you? A spouse? A boss? A coworker?
Finding and maintaining a healthy rhythm in your life is crucial to your success as a ministry leader. Please do not overlook this. Spend time on this. Reflect on it. Make an intentional plan. Take a few concrete steps that put you on a path to a healthy rhythm.
Let me know how it goes.
Ministry is tough work. It is demanding of our time, energy, and presence. The reality of stress and burnout is always there. One of my favorite lines that I have ever written is this: “Those who work in ministry walk a fine line between being motivated by our mission and being overwhelmed by it.”
Many smart people write and speak about the need for ministry leaders to find balance in their lives. Balance your ministry, family, and personal responsibilities, and you will succeed! I’ve read several books and articles and listened to many seminar speakers address this topic. They are well-intentioned and do point out the many dangers of living an unbalanced life. Here’s the deal - I think they are wrong. They get the problem right - stress and anxiety. However, their prescription of balance to solve what ails you is wrong - and could be harmful.
I am not fond of the word balance. Here’s why:
4 Reasons You Should Stop Striving for Balance
1. Balance is nearly impossible to achieve
Balance is like a unicorn. You can spend a lot of time and energy searching for it but never find it. Two weeks ago I looked at my calendar and realized that I had a ministry-related meeting or event 7 nights in a row (including the weekend). I knew that this would be stressful and I wouldn’t be spending much time with my family - I would be out of balance. I looked to see if I could get out of some of the meetings. Nope. I was leading 6 of them! Ugh. It was a busy week. If you work in ministry, you know what I know - finding the zen-like state of balance and staying there is nearly impossible. There are busy seasons in ministry that demand more of you. You can attempt to implement more balance in your life, but you are unlikely to achieve balance. You will always be neglecting something. I cannot think of a time when all of my work, family, and personal responsibilities have been balanced. Balance is not realistic. It is not attainable.
2. Seeking balance causes stress.
Think of a tight rope walker at a circus. They are balanced as they carefully walk the rope. One step at a time, carefully placing one foot in front of the other. There is a reason they always look nervous and tense - one little slip-up, their balance is ruined, and they fall. Who wants to live their life like that? In order to achieve and stay in balance, you are always walking a tight rope. One thing goes wrong, one unexpected event occurs, and your state of balance crashes. Those who focus on achieving balance live in a constant state of stress, worrying that something will go wrong to upset that balance. Balance promises less stress in your life, but by its’ nature, balance is stressful.
3. Your ministry will suffer.
You know that there are times when you will have to give more to your work, and you will feel unbalanced. If you are trying to attain balance, there will always be a low-grade tension aimed at your ministry for keeping your life out of balance. This tension will eventually turn into resentment. You will blame your ministry for your unbalanced life. Live like this for a while, and you will flame out. If balance is your goal, you won’t be leading your ministry from a strong foundation.
4. Your family will suffer.
Balance naturally pits one thing versus another. If you are walking a tight rope, it is the weight on your right side versus the weight on your left side. If you are trying to balance your weight and diet, it is calories in versus calories out. If you are a ministry leader trying to achieve balance it is often ministry versus family. Balance sets up an either/or scenario. Either things are perfectly in balance, or you are favoring one at the expense of the other. Either your family wins, or your ministry wins. There are almost always more family and work demands than we have the energy for, so in reality, neither wins! Don’t intentionally pit your work against your family for the sake of balance. Neither will win. You will lose.
Balance is an awful goal. It is a worse strategy for ministry leaders because it ends up causing the problems it intends to solve.
If balance is not the answer, then what is?
The number of people listening to podcasts is increasing. Last year, 63 million people listened to at least an average of one podcast a week. That number is growing annually. 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 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.
#3 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.
#4 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?
I read. A lot. Reading is especially important for ministry leaders who wish to grow in their leadership capacity and knowledge base. Here are some of my favorites books that I read in 2018 and my recommendations for you to read in 2019.
#1 High Impact Teams by Lance Witt
This was the best book I read in 2018. I can’t recommend it enough to you and your staff. Lance does a great job of focusing on you as a leader as the key element to any team. Then, he provides tons of practical content to help your team perform at a high level. You are doing yourself a disservice if you do not read this and pass it on to friends in the ministry.
#2 Didn’t See it Coming by Carey Nieuwhof
I was blessed to have been chosen to be a part of the launch team for this book - that included receiving an advance copy! The subtitle provides an excellent summary of what to expect out of the book:Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences. If you don’t find yourself nodding in agreement with most of the experiences and challenges, there may be something wrong with you! A super easy read - another great study for a ministry team!
#3 Virtual Culture: The Way We Work Doesn’t Work Anymore by Bryan Miles
A short book that I read in an hour or two - and loved it. Incredibly thought-provoking and has a definite impact on the future of the church and church work. How can you increase worker productivity and save money?
#4 Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller
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 The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron
I admit that I am late to the Enneagram bandwagon. If you don’t know what this is or haven’t taken the free online assessment, do it. If you are familiar, read this book - tons of great insight and implications for ministry staff members and leaders. I’m a Type 3 - High Achiever. You?
The two books that i reread every year - my all-time favorites.
#6 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 am constantly referencing to this book.
#7 Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger
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.
Now - you tell me…What books should I be reading in 2019?
Yesterday, I wrote about the 9 Apps that I use to boost my productivity. I wanted to dig deeper on one of my favorites - Missinglettr.
As someone who blogs regularly, I constantly find that I'm either not dedicating enough time to promoting my blog posts across my social media channels, or I just forget entirely!
I've been using an awesome tool recently (called Missinglettr) that pretty much takes care of all of that for me.
Now, whenever I publish a blog post, I get sent an email (within minutes of me hitting 'publish') inviting me to review a full 12 month social marketing campaign for the blog post I just published. My blog post is then marketed across my social channels for the next year.
Quite simply... I love it!
I can’t help but think churches could use this to help keep content fresh on their social media channels and take some work off the shoulders of the person whose job is to post things!
I noticed that they are running a special pricing plan now - the lowest I’ve ever seen it.
50% off ANY plan for the first 3 months!
You can check it out here.
If you wan to learn more before you check out the deal, I found this webinar helpful.
Try it out and let me know what you think!
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.
Task: Posting on Social Media
If you post professionally on social media, you already know that scheduling your posts ahead of time is a game changer. Missinglettr takes your content (blog, sermons, whatever..) and creates a social media (Facebook, Twitter) drip campaign that you can use to schedule and reschedule posts throughout the year! I've been using Missinglettr for almost a year now and love it! It is a game changer for ministry leaders and communicators who post in social media.
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 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!
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
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!
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.