3 Mistakes That Slow Down Your Ministry Productivity

ministry productivityWe’ve been talking about a lot of pressing issues in ministry, and I’m excited to take a breath and dive into today’s topic: Productivity. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the burden of ministry:  the constant feeling of responsibility and the mounting tasks each week. You may have decided, “NOW I’m going to be more organized…more productive…take more time off,” and yet still find yourself spinning your wheels. Below are the most common productivity mistakes I see in ministry – and how you can avoid them.

  1. First mistake: Thinking the church is all your responsibility.

There’s no doubt about it: Pastoral leadership is a big responsibility. The truth is, it’s not all up to you. The quickest route to an impossible schedule is thinking it all rests on your shoulders.

When we think it’s all up to us, we say yes to everything and everyone, because we’re afraid nothing will happen if we don’t do it. Or we think it won’t be good enough if we don’t keep our hands on every detail.

There’s a spiritual element to this way of thinking. First, we don’t actually trust God enough to let go. So we sacrifice ourselves, and sometimes even our families, to make sure everything happens the way it is “supposed to.”

Second, we don’t trust other people. We don’t believe they can do it as well as we can. Sometimes that’s actually true, yet there are times when it’s better to allow someone else to do something that doesn’t meet our standards. It’s a practice of stepping back—how else will they learn? How else will we learn?

  1. Second mistake: Working until it’s “done.”

You know as well as I do that ministry is never done. There’s always one more email to answer, one more visit to make, one more administrative task to complete. Of course, the sermon has to be written. You’ve got to have something to say.

But if you always work until that one more thing is done, you’ll never be free. You’ll always have something more you could be doing. No one works all the time, but some clergy come close. Never taking time off is a sign you are over functioning.

My two favorite alternatives:

  • Set a stopping time. Choose a time that you are done by and stick to it. Close the computer, put the phone away, and leave the office. You are likely to be more productive if you have a stopping time. Work expands to fill the time available.
  • Practice “good enough.” The sermon is good enough to preach. You’ve responded to enough emails for today. Trust that God will use your good enough for the sake of God’s work in the world.

This won’t work every day, of course. The unexpected is part of ministry. Some weeks you do want to craft a wonderful sermon that takes extra time. Yet the practices of making a decision, every day, about when you intend to finish can make a difference.

  1. Third mistake: Responding to every interruption.

Interruptions are part of ministry and managing them is critical to helping your productivity.

There are two problems with interruptions. First of all, if you respond to every interruption, you allow others to set your priorities.

A second problem is that you can never concentrate enough to do focused work, whether on sermon planning and preparation or big picture visioning. And that’s the opposite of who you want to be!

Tips for Managing Interruptions:

Digital Interruptions

TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS! If you are beeped every time someone sends you an email or your Facebook account is updated, you’ll never get anything done. And you’ll end up watching cat videos – am I right?

In-person Interruptions

In some church offices, people stop by the office when they want to. If you are always available, you train them to do it more. I know much ministry takes place in these on-the-fly conversations.  This will vary depending on the size and demographics of your church. It’s tricky: If you are always too busy to talk to people, you’ll have problems with your leadership. It’s a balance between presenting yourself as open and setting appropriate boundaries.

However, if you think about it instead of just reacting to every interruption, over time you will find a better balance. You can institute “open door” hours where you are happy to chat, and other times where you are unavailable. Take this as an opportunity to practice (and holding!) boundaries.

Now let’s wrap it up with a few questions to get you more productive.

Big question for you to mull over:

What are the ways you are taking too much responsibility in and for your church?

Immediate question to answer in the comments below:

How do you manage interruptions in your ministry? What works well for you?

I can’t wait to read your ideas, and see what the community wisdom brings!




6 replies on “3 Mistakes That Slow Down Your Ministry Productivity

  • Mary Sue Evers

    When I have to concentrate, I use an app called “Focus Dots” that runs a 25 minute timer. Then I tell the office helpers I’m going in for 25, and close the door. Anyone who needs to see me doesn’t need to wait more than 25 minutes, and of course I can be interrupted for emergencies. On a really good day I get to do this two or three times!

  • Jim Wilson

    All doors at our church have windows.
    While my door is accessed only from office, and in the corner, and the size of our congregation makes most interruptions to be from valued ministry leaders of some type … I have a series of laminated signs that I place in my window … complete with humorous pix and quotes. But in short, when door is open, door is open. Just had to learn it is ok to close the door.

  • Dave

    Hi Margaret, I keep regular hours mornings Mon – Thurs from 9:00 – Noon. During those hours I am definitely available for people to walk in. When they say they hope they aren’t interrupting me, my answer is that they are what it is all about. I also try to work at the office and NOT work at home, although I do sometimes prepare for our Bible Study by working at home.

    • Margaret Marcuson

      Dave, I like this. Having set times for availability like this, and being truly available during them can be really valuable, when the interruptions ARE the work.


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