5 Simple Ways to Break Free From the Ministry Vortex

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Every congregation of every size battles a whirlwind. The demands of daily ministry suck into the vortex every available hour leaving little room to focus on our WIGs (Wildly Important Goals). We’re so busy spinning plates we have little time to evaluate which plates we should be spinning. Chris McChesney captures this challenge in his book The 4 Disciplines of Execution (Free Press, 2012). He writes: 

The real enemy of execution is your day job!  We call it the whirlwind. It’s the massive amount of energy that’s necessary just to keep your operation going on a day-to-day basis; and, ironically, it’s also the thing that makes it so hard to execute anything new. The whirlwind robs from you the focus required to move your team forward. [page 6]

In our rapidly changing culture where new ministry challenges and opportunities confront us everyday, churches need to find space to have a “good think.” Here are 5 simple suggestions that may help Christian leaders break free from the ministry vortex: 

Identify High Demand/Low Impact Investments 

Every pastor and every church has one or more high demand/low impact investment. Often they are legacy ministries that flourished years ago but their impact has long since diminished. These commitments now demand a great deal of ministry investment while producing little ministry energy. Celebrating their histories then closing them down can produce important time for innovative thinking. 

Structure for Innovation

If Sunday didn’t come every 7 days most pastors would never write a sermon. It’s often the structures and rhythms of ministry that help accomplish important ministry work.  Unfortunately, most churches have few structures to encourage creative imagining. Participating in innovation projects (such as the Church Renewal Lab at Calvin Seminary), commissioning visioning teams, creating annual planning processes, hosting regular council/staff retreats, encouraging pastoral sabbaticals and conducting congregational vision nights are a few of many ways to provide structures for innovation.

Focus on "Why" Before "What" 

The ministry vortex is all about our “what.”  Sadly, in doing the “what” of ministry many congregations have forgotten their “why.”  Simon Sinek famously pointed out that organizations should always begin with “why” (see his TED talk at https://www.startwithwhy.com).  Congregations need to ask the simple question “What’s our why?” Are our efforts fulfilling Christ’s mandate to make more and better disciples?

Expose Yourself to Fresh Ideas 

Innovative congregations are led by leaders constantly immersing themselves in fresh thinking through leadership books, conferences, visiting cutting edge ministries and conversing with people far from faith and faith family.  A good practice is to read a chapter a day from a ministry oriented leadership book.  A good place to begin is Tod Bolsinger’s Canoeing the Mountains

Have the Courage to Break Free 

It takes courage to break free from the vortex. It takes courage for leaders to stop spinning ministry plates. It takes courage to put your feet on a desk and stare out a window when there are calls to be made, bulletins to be published, worship services to be planned and council agendas to be prepared.

A preaching professor of mine once said the hardest part of sermon preparation is thinking yourself clear. The same is true for all of ministry. Only leaders with the courage to break out of the ministry vortex for a “good think” will well-serve their congregations in a rapidly changing post-church society.

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