Senior Pastors are notorious for starting new initiatives without fully shepherding into reality the ideas they’ve previously put into motion.
Why does this happen?
Sometimes we get bored.
But more often than not, we’re grasping for anything that will move our churches forward, so we’ll “throw things out there” in hopes that something will work.
Many are visionaries and feel more comfortable on the idea-generating end of the spectrum versus the maintenance side. These friends in the trenches haven’t learned to discipline themselves regarding idea generation.
When our churches flat line growth-wise, we Senior Pastors make the mistake of thinking that something new is going to be the thing that puts our church back on a growth curve.
The reality is 99% of the time we’ve stopped growing because we are doing the right things, but executing them poorly.
So what I do when I coach Senior Pastors is take them back to where everything starts: their own tasks that they need to execute consistently. It all starts there.
Where Church Growth Truly Starts
Listen, if you’re a Senior Pastor, you have absolutely no business hiring anyone, fixing anything, starting a new ministry, or changing some aspect of your church’s life until you’ve looked at yourself in the mirror and figured out how to fully implement the following five priorities in your own life.
Your personal ministry priorities serve as the foundation for the rest of the church. They make the rest of the church possible. “Saying” they are priorities, but only partially executing them, with haphazard consistency, weakens the entire church.
You need to execute.
Week in and week out.
Here is a checklist, in order of priority (meaning, don’t try to implement the second one until you are actually doing the first) that you need to master before starting anything else new.
Priority #1: Daily Prayer
We have no business putting any mental energy into solving a problem with our assimilation process until we’ve disciplined ourselves to sit before God for 30-60 minutes a day in leisurely prayer, reading, silence and reflection.
Your church doesn’t have an assimilation problem. Your church has a Senior Pastor who has a prayer problem.
Prayer is your ministry. Everything else is window dressing.
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In his chapter called “Prayer and Leadership” in his book Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders wrote, “The spiritual leader should outpace the rest of the church, above all, in prayer.”
Does that describe us? If not, we shouldn’t start another thing until we make that a reality.
As Sanders underscores later in the chapter, “To move people, the leader must be able to move God, for God has made it clear that He moves people in response to prayer.”
If I were coaching you I would ask you to pull out your calendar and show me the days and times you have scheduled an hour of time with God. Next, I’d ask you if you were actually doing that. If not, I’d ask you “Why not?”
Do this before anything else.
Priority #2: Exercise 5 Times A Week
The next thing that you must be build into your weekly schedule is time for strength training and cardio.
This is not some extra thing you do that makes ministry possible. This is part of your ministry. It is ministry. Treat it as such.
You need three things: (1) days blocked off on your schedule (2) a place to do it and (3) an actual plan to follow.
Show me all three. If you can’t, you’re not fully implementing it.
I read somewhere that an active mind in an inactive body is a recipe for depression.
Put a halt to any interviews, staff meetings, budget talks, etc. until you’ve stopped making excuses and you’ve actually implemented this.
Other than prayer, this takes precedence over everything else you think you need to be doing right now.
Priority #3: Structure The Last 90 Minutes And First 90 Minutes Of Your Day
I believe that Senior Pastors, no matter how creative and visionary, need to live very ordered lives. Effective long-term ministries are built upon habits.
The habit I would like for you to get into, after executing on prayer and exercise, is orienting your schedule around the ancient Hebrew view of the time.
For Hebrews, the “day” began at sundown. The previous day ended when work was over. Recall those phrases in Genesis 1: “There was evening, and there was morning, the first second day.”
I want you to begin viewing your day as starting with dinner, not the next morning. This small shift will change everything.
Specifically, I want you to create the habit of doing the EXACT SAME THINGS every evening:
- Close out your work day by taking 5 minutes to plan out the top 5 things you are going to focus on at work tomorrow
- Then eat together as a family
- Then pack everyone’s meals for the next day
- Clean the entire kitchen and downstairs area so everything is in order
- Spend time with the kids and do what needs to be done: sports, bathing, homework, etc.
- Press and set your clothes out
- Then spend time with your wife (and some TV if you want)
- Then get in bed at the exact same time every night (for me that’s 9:45pm)
- Then read
- Then get a great night sleep (having done everything sleep experts say you need to do: great bed, darkened room, chilled room, light eliminated, etc.)
- Then get up at the exact same time every morning (for me that’s 5:01am)
Create the schedule that you’re going to follow, then execute it the same way every single evening (allowing for obvious changes for the weekend).
The key is to do everything you would normally have done in the morning the night before. That way when you wake up you are focused (i.e. you already know the five things God wants you to do today) and you’re ready to hear from God.
In my experience, a Senior Pastor’s consistent ordering of their last 90 and first 90 is the root cause of their ability (or inability) to keep a consistent time with God.
Ordering the first 90 minutes of your day (6pm – 10pm) makes the first 90 minutes of the following “day” (dedicated to time with God and exercise) a consistent reality.
Priority #4: Weekly Reflection Time
Show me a weekly appointment in your calendar where you get out of the office, pull out a blank piece of paper, and just think.
Vision doesn’t simply happen.
Breakthrough ideas just don’t pop out of the sky.
They’re sought after, mined, and cultivated long before they’re ever preached. And that’s not going to happen, consistently at least, until you’ve created an inviolable 2 hour appointment with yourself each and every week to simply think, listen and dream.
In his book Reinventing Leadership, Warren Bennis wrote,
“I really believe that the best leaders I’ve met and known over the years have been reflective practitioners, that they both think and act.”
I believe him.
Thinking and acting is the job of the Senior Pastor.
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So when do you do your thinking?
Once a week I go to Starbucks, put on my headphones, pull out a pad of paper (instead of my laptop – to keep from jumping online or answering email), and pray a simple prayer, “What now?”
Then I write.
And think of solutions.
I can honestly say that this is where my best ideas have come from – for myself, my staff, and for the ever-changing systems, processes and methods of an alive and growing church.
So do you have this standing weekly appointment on your schedule?
Don’t do another thing – literally don’t return an email or open a book to read until you’ve gone to your calendar and made this appointment with yourself.
After prayer, exercise, and ordering the last and first 90 minutes of your day, your next task is to become a reflective practitioner.
Priority #5: Monthly Retreat
Once a month I go away to a monastery or state park to hold a private retreat to think, pray and rest.
I’ve written about this in a full-length article HERE.
The goal of this retreat is to completely disengage from my life as a Senior Pastor, perform a data-dump of the 50 million tasks, ideas, to-do’s, issues, problems and deadlines, and then completely re-build my task list around my top priorities.
12 times a year I completely exhale.
As Gordon McKenzie so artfully put it, as leaders we must orbit the hairball of our organization – staying far enough away that we don’t get caught up in it, but not so far away that we can’t influence it.
We must orbit our churches to lead our churches.
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Monthly retreats make this possible.
To quote Warren Bennis again: “It’s very clear to me that failing organizations almost always fail because they’re over managed and they’re under led.”
Retreats are my way of forcing me to pull away from management to work on my own leadership. They force me to look at myself, and the church I serve, from the top of the mountain and not from the base of it.
They are a forced appointment, one that fights to stay on my schedule every single month. The manager in me wants to stay and solves tactical problems. The leader in me needs to get away and focus on strategy.
Usually the leader wins.
Each time I go on a retreat I pull out the following 10 questions and use them as a way to completely re-think my ministry.
10 Questions To Refocus Your Life
By Bob Biehl
“A leader knows what to do next, knows why that’s important, and knows how to bring the appropriate resources to bear on the need at hand.” Bob Biehl
- What is my single greatest strength? (What do I “do” the best?)
- What three decisions are causing me the greatest stress?
- What is overwhelming me?
- What impassable roadblock has me stuck?
- If I could only do three things before I die, what would I want to do?
- What should I resign from or drop out of? (Peter Drucker said, “Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things.”)
- What can I postpone?
- What things on my to-do list can someone else do at least 80% as well?
- What are the “elephants” in my schedule? (Pareto said, “If you’re Noah, and your ark is about to sink, look for the elephants first.”)
- What are the three things I could do in the next 90 days to make a 50% difference?
The Power Of Execution
As the point leader for your church, you’re frazzled. I get that.
The calm that you’re looking for – that feeling of centeredness that brings intentionality – that is possible.
Just do these five things.
Don’t overthink it.
Just do them.
Before anything else.
Our churches need us to lead.
So go over to your calendar right now and put in appointments for daily prayer, daily exercise, weekly times of reflection, and monthly retreats.
Don’t blow this off.
You’ll thank me.