As a ministry, you are busy and time is limited. One often overlooked benefit of working at a church is that your time is often flexible. At least, more flexible than many other jobs. You aren’t required to punch a timecard or wait for a whistle to blow before going to lunch. Your employer is likely understanding of family situations and realizes that ministry is taxing. Take advantage of your flexible environment. Schedule time to get away from your office and get outside. Here are twelve methods I try to use to get outside. I hope you can use a few of them in your attempt to get out more often.
What ways do you find to get outdoors more often?
Let me know!
I love being physically present in the outdoors. My ideal vacation is a few weeks in the Rocky Mountains with each day split equally between fly fishing on a rock-strewn mountain stream and spending hours in a comfortable chair just staring at the mountains. Being outdoors and in nature is where I find peace and mental refreshment. I don’t love that it is a struggle for me to find time to be outdoors. I must intentionally look for opportunities to get outdoors often because I know that it makes me a better leader and servant.
A simple google search reveals numerous mental and physical health benefits to being outdoors. I won’t attempt to discuss all the possible benefits of being outdoors. I know that those who work in a church or related ministry struggle with a unique set of challenges and stressors that can cause a multitude of spiritual, physical and mental pitfalls. A speaker at a recent church leadership conference I attended noted that most church work environments are designed (unintentionally) to keep workers “spiritually disillusioned, physically fat and out of shape, and mentally drained.” His words were a harsh indictment of most ministry workplaces. I agree with his assessment.
Most of the stress that church workers experience stems from the fact that we place an extra burden on ourselves because we believe (rightly so) that our work has eternal consequences. The local church is God’s way of bringing people to faith and keeping them spiritually fed. As church workers, we are a crucial component in that mission. We shouldn’t take our charge lightly. Those who work in the church walk a fine line between being motivated by our mission and being overwhelmed by it. I believe that getting away from the church and being outdoors has some unique benefits to offer to the church worker.
Getting Outdoors Better Connects You to Jesus
My most influential school teachers made learning an experience. They immersed me through their storytelling and made sure I learned science through hands-on activities. We learn best through experience. What better way to learn from and experience God than to sit in the midst of His creation and let Him do the teaching. Look at the beautiful words of Job 12:7-10 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. (NIV) By simply being present in God’s creation, we experience Him, we learn about Him and are drawn closer to Him. There is a good reason that most church camps and retreat centers are in wooded areas and not in the middle of a suburban subdivision or on the 12th floor of a city skyscraper.
Getting Outdoors Reduces Ministry Stress
I suppose being outdoors reduces stress for most everyone, not just church workers. There is research that it helps increase good chemicals and hormones in our bodies and decrease the bad ones. Breathing in clean air and getting more Vitamin D helps reduce stress for the church worker and the atheist alike.
I feel that the unique benefit for the church worker is that being outdoors helps put things in perspective. There is nothing like standing in a vast open space or gazing at a mountain to remind us that God is big and the day to day worries of our ministry are small. Most of the time this realization comes not in a conscious thought: “Hey, look at those trees. Wow! God is mighty and not having the outline for the next worship series done is small.” Rather, this realization of perspective occurs most often as a subconscious level. As created creatures, we instinctively know that our value is in the one who created us and not in the things that we do. The more we experience the wonder of His creation, the more we realize that our work, while important, is not larger than the one who made us.
Getting Outdoors Helps Set Clear Boundaries
Dr. Henry Cloud says that “Every human being must have boundaries in order to have successful relationships or a successful performance in life.” Most dedicated church workers feel a deep commitment to their job. For many, that commitment serves their church and people well. For others, that commitment makes it difficult to set healthy boundaries in life. Church work comes at the expense of margin, family, physical health, mental clarity, and healthy relationships. Making time to be physically away from the church and in nature sets a clear boundary for you physically and mentally. Physically, the boundary is clear: I am in the outdoors and I am not at church. A boundary is also established mentally:
I am not at church, therefore I am not required to think about it (although my mind often wanders back to work issues and stress). Making a commitment to being outdoors and away from church is a commitment to set healthy boundaries.
Getting Outdoors Improves Your Ministry Focus
In ministry, there is never a shortage of good ideas or new ways to do things. The challenge for leaders in ministry is to discern the important from the not so important and to keep our eyes on our church’s mission and vision for ministry. We know focusing on what is important is key to ministry growth, but there always seems to be more distractions and legitimate challenges that need to be addressed. Push the eject button and get away for a while. Take a walk, a one-day retreat, or some extended time away and in nature to clear your head and remind yourself of the important things in your ministry. Simply being away from the office limits the distractions and the opportunity for others to fill your time and mind with competing ideas. Being outdoors lets you escape for a bit and helps you focus. Your ministry will benefit greatly from your increased focus on what is truly important.
Getting outdoors can benefit you and your ministry.
What are some things that you do to get outdoors more often?
Let me know.
Accountability is about ownership.
Gauging your level or others level of ministry accountability should focus on determining the level of ownership of your vision.
To determine your level of ownership or the “buy-in” for yourself or team members, ask the following questions:
1. In one sentence, what is the vision of our ministry?
Either you have this down or you don’t. Not a lot of gray area here. If you cannot communicate this for yourself or to others, don’t bother with the remaining questions - work on this one.
2. What specific elements of the vision are meaningful to you?
Having head knowledge of the vision is one thing, being able to explain personal understanding and motivation is the next. Motivation matters.
3. How would your life change if our ministry were to realize our vision?
If you are living a life that is dedicated to the vision, surely your life would change significantly if that vision were achieved - right?
4. Who have you shared the vision with?
Followers of Jesus share the Gospel - it’s what followers of Jesus do. Owners of vision share the vision - it’s what owners do.
5. What specific actions have you taken to advance the vision in the last month?
It is one thing to think happy thoughts about your vision. What are you doing about it?
6. What challenges or barriers exist that may get in the way of the vision?
If you own the vision, you should know the things that could kill it.
7. How much money have you given to advance the vision?
Show me your budget and I’ll show you your priorities.
What other questions help you clarify your ownership of your vision? Let me know!
When faced with a ministry challenge, I’ve heard several well-intentioned church members, board members, and ministry staff leaders make the following statement:
“Things would be better if we just held people more accountable.”
This is often said by well-intentioned, but frustrated individuals. Here’s the thing - they are 100% correct. They are also 100% wrong in their thinking.
Accountability is misunderstood. Most people think accountability means consequences for poor performance. That’s not accountability, that’s punishment. Accountability is a character trait. Accountability is a willingness to own your thoughts, actions, and results - no matter the consequences. A great one-word definition for accountability is ownership.
Most of us have a tendency to look around for things to blame or change based on our situation. If someone is out of work, they tend to blame the poor economy, greedy CEOs, corrupt politicians, or the evils of capitalism. If a ministry has plateaued or is in decline, blame is often placed on cultural change, over-scheduled families, lack of volunteers, or lack of funds.
People who struggle with the accountability character trait tend to blame others. People who excel or who want to grow in accountability know that at the end of the day, the only accountability that exists is self-accountability. Accountable people own their own thinking, actions, and results.
Ministry accountability is not about consequences for behavior, choices, or results - it’s about ownership. As someone involved in ministry, you must hold yourself accountable for your own thoughts, actions, and results. As a leader in ministry, you must help others do the same for themselves.
There is only one surefire way to help yourself and others develop accountability: Own it.
- Owners are accountable.
- Owners hold others accountable.
At a recent conference Pastor Andy Stanley challenged me and others in attendance with a powerful question:
What is the faith of the next generation worth?
Pastor Stanley’s advice for church leaders is that we should be a “by all means possible“ leader. If something is a barrier to our culture’s hearing of the Gospel, we should be willing to give it up.
Some common examples of potential barriers could include
- specific ministry practices or traditions
- worship style
- the importance of the entire Bible vs. The Gospel
- decor in church
- stressing social issues
- preaching vs teaching
- denominational loyalty
Perhaps nothing in the above list is mutually exclusive to the clear and effective teaching of The Gospel. Maybe everything is. That’s the challenge for Christian leaders today.
In a post-Christian culture, the toughest question Christian leaders face is this:
What do we give up for the sake of The Gospel?
If your answer is nothing, there is a good chance that the changing pace of our culture will make you increasingly irrelevant.
If your answer is everything, I like your spirit, but I wonder how many people will follow you.
What are you willing to give up for the faith of others?
What is your local chapter of Christ’s church willing to make less so The Gospel can be made more in our culture?
Click the image below for a simple personal exercise to determine your take on the BY ALL MEANS POSSIBLE Leadership challenge.
You can also use the exercise with your team, staff, or board. I’ve included 4 discussion questions to get you started.
I recently had the privilege of attending the one-day Deep & Wide Tour with Andy Stanley. It was a day well spent! Both the content and the messenger were top notch and relevant to ministry today. The folks at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, Kansas did a great job hosting the event!
I took much of what was communicated to heart and am blogging a series of reactions to some of the main ideas.
Most ministry leaders agree that taking worship attendance or counting new members is not a good way to gauge the spiritual growth in your church.
Andy Stanley says it like this:
“If making disciples is what real counts, then we should really count it.”
Most churches and leaders wrestle with the questions of what should we count and how should we count it.
Andy and his NorthPoint Church count and make a big deal about these four things:
How many people serve at least two times per month in a ministry at your church?
How many people are regular/percentage givers?
I’m interested to see how churches define and determine this. If someone gives once a month, they are probably a regular giver. How do you measure percentage givers? Do you go with the number of people who have committed to percentage giving?
How many people have invited someone to church in the last 6 months?
NorthPoint determines this by surveying their people periodically. I guess you could also get the information from your Connect Cards or new membership process.
How many people are in a small group connected to your church?
This is the only number that NorthPoint has tracked consistently over time. It is their priority.
What are other things that you measure?
How to you keep track of it?
Let me know!
Once a leader ministry has identified the need for strategic planning, the most common barrier to moving forward is the cost associated with hiring an outside consultant to facilitate the process.
The idea that strategic planning has to cost a lot of money is a misconception.
If done right, engaging the services of a consultant will actually benefit your ministry's finances.
1. People give to a vision. Giving usually increases when you clarify your vision.
2. An effective process will identify several things that you should stop doing. Ineffective practices usually cost you money. Stop doing them and you save money.
While strategic planning will likely save you money long term, there is the reality that most small to mid-sized ministries do not budget for it annually. There is an upfront cost to strategic planning. Here are five ways to pay for it.
1. Get a donor (or 2) to cover expenses.
I have found that this is the most common method of funding a strategic planning process. Do you have someone who is outspoken about the need to grow or do things better? Have someone who has some cash? Find a person or a few people with both the means and passion for the future of your ministry. Make the ask. I’ve found the most willing donors are seasoned citizens who are forced to make withdrawals from their retirement funds and don’t need those funds to cover monthly expenses.
2. Divide the cost between two budget years.
Don’t have room in your current annual budget to pay for planning? Schedule the onsite work of your consultant to straddle two budget years. I’ve worked with ministries who operate on a January-December fiscal year to schedule my two onsite visits in the fall and spring.
3. Leadership pays the bill.
Who are the leaders in your ministry? Staff? Board of Directors? Church Elders? If your leaders feel that strategic planning is worth the effort, maybe they feel that it is worth their treasure as well. Have your leadership commit to paying for the process and “pass the hat.” An added benefit to this approach is that it helps underscore the significance of strategic planning. There is power in being able to communicate to your community that your leadership is so committed to the future of your ministry that they are paying for it!
4. Get a grant.
Not as easy as it used to be. There are foundations and denominations that will fund planning efforts. The term ‘revitalization’ is trendy in the church world now. Make strategic planning your revitalization effort and maybe your denomination or a local foundation will pitch in.
5. Split the cost.
Find another ministry in your area who is thinking about strategic planning. Hire the same consultant and look for ways to split the costs. At a minimum, you can save on travel expenses. Many consultants are willing to facilitate two ministries in the same facility on the same day.
The bottom line in funding a strategic planning process is that in the long run, it should save you money. There are practical ways to pay the upfront cost without wrecking your budget.
You probably know that your church should have a mission.
Perhaps you have a sentence on your website or hanging on a wall that you call your mission statement. The thought that a church should have a clearly defined mission is not new. The problem is that most churches do it wrong.
Your mission should be WHY your church exists.
One of the best books I read in the last year was Start With Why, by Simon Sinek. One of my key takeaways was that it is wrong to talk about vision and strategy before you answer the WHY? question. You’ve got to nail this down.
Take a look at some examples…
To see those who are far from God raised to life in Christ.
Elevation Church Matthews, NC
To Lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.
LifeChurch Edmund, OK
To build a community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.
The Church of the Resurrection Leawood, KS
Does your church have a compelling mission?
Is it memorable?
If I surveyed your membership, how many people would know and understand your mission?
When I work with churches to Strategically Plan their future, I always start with the WHY.
I published a short book on clarifying the mission of your ministry. It's a practical guide for church leaders to develop or reaffirm their mission and make it memorable for your community.
A clearly defined mission is essential to the health and growth of your church. You need a clear sense of mission to do ministry effectively in our rapidly changing culture. Mission unifies. Mission energizes. Mission engages. Mission clarifies.
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!