The stoic philosopher Seneca used to tell people, “Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.”
In other words, the only way to improve personal performance is to have clearly established criteria (i.e., a “ruler”) against which we measure our behavior on a regular basis.
Nowhere is having such a “ruler” more important than in the ministry.
When I first became a Senior Pastor, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I had good role models but still felt like I was making it up as I went along. Maybe that’s where you are right now.
Then I gained some traction, established some helpful parameters, and felt like I started to hit my stride. Maybe that’s where you are as well.
Then a few years ago I realized I needed to take my ministry to a whole different level. I didn’t merely want to be good at what I did. I wanted to expend every last ounce of my gifting in service to the kingdom. I wanted to leave nothing on the table. I wanted to develop my gifts and abilities to the highest level possible to be of service to the most number of people. To use Jesus’ parabolic language, I didn’t want to simply see a 30x return, or a 60x return. If it was possible, I wanted to see a 100x return on my life.
To do that I needed to consistently accomplish my highest priorities on a daily and weekly basis.
If this is your heartbeat, then this article is for you.
You Are Capable Of So Much More
Every Senior Pastor reaches a point where they’re good.
My prayer is that God will unite the forces necessary to make you want to become great (and by “great” I’m assuming we are all on the same page that “great” means impacting the greatest number of lives without pursuing recognition, wealth, and power).
To reach humility-driven greatness, two things need to happen.
First, we must establish an ideal daily and weekly routine that deploys our time and talents for the greatest impact possible.
Second, we must continually and ruthlessly measure our actual behavior against these pre-established routines and priorities.
Listen, no matter how good you are as a preacher, I guarantee you are nowhere near as good as you are capable.
The same goes for your leadership.
Or your evangelism.
There’s more in the tank. There’s a greater level of gifting to access. There’s more inside of you than you realize.
The key to getting that out is to follow Seneca’s advice.
Your Ideal Weekly Priorities
The first thing I want you to do is to make a list of your ideal week by outlining your top priorities to accomplish.
By “ideal” I mean barring divine interruptions, vacations, or temporary adjustments, these are the weekly priorities you’re going to move heaven and earth to make happen, regardless.
Not just once.
Every. Single. Week.
To give you a point of comparison, here’s my list:
My 10 Weekly Priorities
Based on God’s calling on my life and what I believe will provide the greatest impact for the people I serve…
- I choose to begin my ministry week by taking two full days off on Fridays and Saturdays. Caring for others will emanate from the strength and emotional reserve I receive from God as I care for myself. My ministry week begins with rest.
- Having replenished my body, mind, and soul on Friday and Saturday, I choose to give everything I have to the people I serve on Sunday mornings. I will seek to give everyone I meet “a look, a touch, and a word.” I will make myself fully available to anyone for prayer and will stay until the last person leaves.
- I choose to dedicate my mornings (5-11:30 a.m.) Monday through Thursday to be alone with God and to study for messages in my home office. I will not allow myself to be interrupted by email, texts, phone calls, and Facetime. I will never schedule (or allow people to schedule for me) meetings during this time. Mornings will be reserved for everything that needs to be done alone.
- I choose to dedicate my afternoons (11:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.) to people in my church office. Afternoons will be dedicated to everything I need to do with and through others. Since I’m not trying to get tasks done that require solitude, my church office door will always stay open.
- I choose to finish my sermon by noon every Monday. I commit to this knowing that this will only be possible when I do advance sermon study and planning on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings the week before.
- I choose to collaboratively design the most creative and life-altering church services possible on Monday afternoons.
- I choose to coach staff and help them reach their God-given potential on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
- Following Jesus’ example, I choose to dedicate my time during the week to evangelizing and mentoring “A leaders” who have the greatest potential to lead others.
- I choose to read at least one book a week and transfer all salient material to Evernote for future sermon use.
- I choose to invest six mornings a week in strength training and cardio, so I can continue to build up my stamina to withstand the pressures of kingdom leadership. I view this as much a part of my personal worship as Bible study and prayer.
So, these are my ten ministry priorities. This is the predetermined “ruler” against which I “straighten” the ebb and flow of my week to keep it focused and on track. I purposely use the words “I choose” because how I spend my time is always my choice.
I keep these in a Word doc and have them filed under “Life Planning” in Dropbox and pull them out weekly (which I’ll talk about in a bit) and once a month when I go to the mountains (or a monastery) for my monthly day of prayer and reflection.
This list is simple and easy to follow. Except when I don’t actually follow it.
Measuring Actual Vs. Ideal
Undoubtedly, you’ve made many such lists over the years.
The difference between Senior Pastors who experience peak performance in ministry and those who make fits and starts is not the presence of a list; it’s the dogged weekly analysis of their actual behavioral adherence to their list.
I’m not so much concerned about whether you’ve stated you are going to get your sermon done by Monday each week, as I am with whether or not you actually did so.
If not, why not?
If you said you were going to do something, and it didn’t happen, have you taken the time to understand why?
Do you have the right things on your list?
Do you have too many?
FYI – The biggest problem most Senior Pastors face is their list never makes it to paper, it constantly changes (so they never gain consistency and traction), and they have WAY too many things on it. Three Senior Pastors could not do what some Senior Pastors say is on their plate.
Most important, there is no weekly mechanism in place to hold themselves accountable.
For example, last Friday my personal trainer freaked out on me for not including enough vegetables in my diet.
The eating and exercise plan I follow is pretty simple:
- Drink 1 gallon of water a day, starting with 8 ounces as soon as I get up
- Eat 2400 calories of lean proteins (fish, chicken, and steak), four servings of fruits, and five servings of vegetables – all split between 6 meals that start within 30 minutes of when I wake up (except on the days I do fasting cardio)
- No eating after my last meal
- No rice or bread (because they are trigger foods for me) and no desserts except for Saturday nights
- Four days of elliptical training (burning 500 calories each) and two days of strength training (on Tuesdays and Fridays for 60 minutes)
This list is simple and easy to follow. Except when I don’t actually follow it.
Like last week.
I was so busy and so exhausted, and so “holy crap my life is spinning out of control” stressed over everything in my life and church that I had “no time” to plan out meals.
And, because I was busy, and didn’t plan my meals, the app I use to input and track my food intake – MyFitnessPal – showed it. My meal log – which both my trainer and dietician have access to – showed that I had resorted to eating a bunch of protein bars and pre-done shakes for some meals (which always incurs the wrath of both of them – “We eat real food, Brian!”).
“I was so busy last week you wouldn’t believe it,” I told my trainer. “You have no idea the stress I’m under right now. NO IDEA.”
[Silence and angry glare at me]
He rolled his eyes and shared what he calls the 5 P’s of Peak Performance: “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”
“Brian, the only way you’re going to prevent eating absolute crap is preparation.”
“No yeah but’s. Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”
“You’re telling me that you were SOOOOOOO busy you didn’t have 1 hour out of the 168 hours last week to go to the grocery, buy real food, prepare it, and place it in baggies and containers, so you had access to it all week long.”
“Of course, I did.”
“And there you go,” he said. “That’s why you ate crap food last week for some of your meals. You didn’t choose to take the time to prepare, so that lack of preparation led to the poor performance on your MyFitnesspal.”
Say it with me,” he said. “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”
I bring this up because my every Friday at 7:00 am training session is the weekly mechanism I have in place where my trainer holds me to the “ruler” that we have pre-established to make my crooked behavior straight. Simply writing out a list is not enough. I need personal accountability.
Just like I need to make my behavior adhere to the “rule” I’ve established for my weekly priorities.
Since most Senior Pastors don’t have a ministry coach to ask them questions like this on a regular basis, to change behavior, we have to create an established time each week to ask those kinds of questions of ourselves.
That time for me is Sunday afternoons.
The Power Of A Weekly Appointment With Yourself
After I take a nap on Sunday afternoons (FYI – God created golf to facilitate quick napping, thank you Jim Nance), I pull out my 10 Weekly Priorities and ask myself how I did the week prior.
Did I do what I believe God has called me to do? Why? Why not?
Based on what I find, I make adjustments to prepare for the upcoming week. Remember: “Proper Preparation Prevents…”
Maybe I spent too much time responding to email.
Maybe I allowed someone to talk me into a meeting when I should have said no (used to be a major struggle for me).
Maybe I wasted time reading a book I should have thrown into the trash after two chapters (I have a two-chapter rule for books – if I’m not intrigued by a book after two chapters, it gets pitched. I mean it literally goes into the trash can).
I agree with James Altucher that it is just as important to create a weekly “I DID” list as it is to create a weekly “To Do” list.
I DID lists force behavioral analysis and modification, which leads to peak performance over time.
So, Sunday afternoons are dedicated to analyzing my past week’s behavior against my 10 Weekly Priorities, and my monthly day away is spent reflecting upon and analyzing the priorities themselves.
Trust me. Do this for eight straight weeks and watch what happens.
I promise you you’ll begin experiencing the kind of consistency you know you’re capable of.
Am I on point each week flawlessly checking the box on all my priorities? Of course not. Not by a long shot. But I’m growing, and learning, and making adjustments week by week.
And so will you.
FYI – If you’re interested in coaching I have a couple of slots opening up in January. I also will have three slots in 2018 when I will be available to do an on-site consult with you, your staff and leaders at your place. Hit me up HERE and let me know if you’re interested.