As we usher in the 2024 New Year, it’s not just about flipping the calendar page; it’s about reassessing our paths and priorities – cutting through both ministry and life’s clutter. For us pastors and church leaders, this introspection is more than a ritual—it’s a necessity. We’re not just managing organizations; we’re nurturing communities of faith, hope, and transformation. But let’s face it, the road to making more disciples—the heart and soul of our mission—is often cluttered with distractions and detours.

Think about it. Our mission is clear: to see more visitors walking through our doors, more guests returning, more individuals actively engaging in our communities, and ultimately, more lives transformed through baptism and faith in Jesus Christ. These aren’t just metrics; they’re markers of a vibrant, growing church. But here’s the rub: achieving this requires us to focus on mission-critical tasks, and that’s where many of us hit a snag.

You know the drill. We get caught up in the whirlwind of daily demands, the endless cycle of meetings, planning, and administrative tasks. And before we know it, another year has slipped by, leaving us wondering, “Did we really make a dent in our mission?” It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, isn’t it? Doing the same things, attending the same meetings, planning the same events, and then wondering why we end up in the same spot as last year.

So, here’s a wake-up call: If we want different results, we need to do things differently. This year, let’s pledge to break free from the status quo, to sidestep the urgent but unimportant, and to resist the allure of the ‘shiny squirrel’ distractions. It’s time to recalibrate our focus, to zero in on what truly drives church growth and disciple-making. And yes, it starts with how we manage our most precious resource—time.

In this blog, I’ll walk you through four common traps that divert us from our mission-critical tasks and share insights on how to navigate them.

Breaking Free from the Status Quo

It’s a tale as old as time in the life of a church: the comfort of the familiar, the routine. We pastors often find ourselves in a loop of ‘the way we’ve always done it.’ We attend the same meetings, plan the same events, and engage in the same ministries. But here’s the kicker: are these routines really moving the needle in our mission to make disciples?

Let’s face it – change is tough. It’s human nature to stick to the known path, even when it leads us in circles. But here’s the truth we need to embrace: the status quo is the silent killer of church growth. It’s like sitting in a rocking chair – it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere. We need to ask ourselves tough questions: Are our weekly meetings fostering spiritual growth or just filling our calendars? Are our events drawing in new believers or just entertaining the regulars?

Breaking free from the status quo requires courage and intentionality. It’s about daring to do things differently, to step out of our comfort zones. It’s not about discarding all traditions – some are valuable and meaningful. But it’s about critically evaluating each activity: Does it contribute to making disciples? Does it bring new visitors? Does it help guests become active participants and, eventually, baptized believers?

Remember, our mission isn’t to maintain the status quo; it’s to transform lives. It’s time to break the cycle of ‘business as usual’ and focus on what truly matters. Let’s make this year count by being bold, by being different, and by being relentlessly focused on our mission.

Navigating the Urgency Trap

In the whirlwind of pastoral duties, there’s a siren that constantly calls: the urgent. It’s those drop-in visits, the last-minute requests, the unexpected crises that seem to demand our immediate attention. And let’s not forget our ever-buzzing cell phones, making us perpetually available for every call, text, and email. It’s like we’re firefighters, always on duty, always ready to douse the next flame. But here’s the question: are these urgent tasks helping us fulfill our true mission?

This ‘tyranny of the urgent’ can be a major distraction. It’s easy to confuse urgency with importance. Sure, attending to immediate needs is part of our pastoral care, but when it consumes our days, it leaves little room for the work that truly matters – the work that leads to church growth and disciple-making.

Think about it. How often have we let a well-intentioned church member’s impromptu visit eat into the time set aside for strategic planning or community outreach? How many times have we allowed our phones to interrupt a meaningful conversation or a moment of deep reflection? This constant availability isn’t just exhausting; it’s counterproductive.

The key is to strike a balance. We need to set boundaries and prioritize our time. It might mean scheduling specific hours for open-door visits or turning off our phones during crucial work periods. It’s about distinguishing between what’s truly urgent and what can wait. It’s about understanding that not every fire is ours to fight.

Overcoming the Shiny Squirrel Syndrome

In our quest to lead thriving churches, we often fall prey to the ‘Shiny Squirrel Syndrome.’ It’s that all-too-familiar scenario where we’re constantly chasing the next big thing – the latest ministry tools, the newest technologies, the freshest ideas. We’re always on the lookout for that magic bullet that will revolutionize our ministry. But here’s the reality: in our pursuit of the new and novel, we risk losing focus on what truly matters.

This syndrome is like playing a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. We’re perpetually distracted by something new popping up, diverting our attention from effectively utilizing the tools and practices we already have. It’s not that innovation and new approaches are bad – far from it. The problem arises when our fascination with the new leads to a clutter of underutilized resources and a dilution of our efforts.

The reality is, effective ministry isn’t about having the latest gadgets or gimmicks; it’s about deep, consistent, and focused work. It’s about building relationships, nurturing faith, and guiding our communities toward spiritual growth. These goals require time, patience, and persistence – qualities often overshadowed by the allure of quick fixes and easy solutions.

So, how do we combat this syndrome? It starts with a commitment to focus. We need to evaluate each new idea or tool through the lens of our mission: Will this genuinely help us make more disciples? Does it align with our vision for church growth? We need to resist the temptation to jump onto every new bandwagon and instead invest our energy in strategies and tools that have proven effective in our unique context.

Steering Clear of Pastor Fetch

There’s yet another hurdle in our journey to prioritize mission-critical tasks: It’s what I like to call ‘Pastor Fetch.’ It’s a scenario where pastors find themselves constantly responding to every beck and call, much like a game of fetch. This concept, which I’ve delved into in my blog posts “Stop Playing Pastor Fetch” and “Reality Check: Pastor Fetch is Unbiblical”, highlights a critical issue: the misallocation of our pastoral duties.

In many churches, there’s an unspoken expectation that the pastor should be all things to all people – the preacher, the counselor, the administrator, the social media manager, and so on. It’s an unsustainable model that not only leads to burnout but also stymies the church’s growth. The biblical truth is, these tasks are not solely the pastor’s burden. The congregation has a role to play, and it’s vital for the health of the church that they step into it.

The solution? It starts with a clear understanding of the biblical role of the lead pastor. Our primary focus should be on preaching, teaching, and equipping the congregation for ministry. This means delegating tasks that can be handled by others, empowering church members to take on roles that align with their gifts and calling. It’s about building a team where everyone plays their part, freeing you up to concentrate on the tasks that truly matter.

Our goal is not just to keep busy but to be effective in our calling. Let’s step out of the endless cycle of Pastor Fetch and into a more focused, balanced, and biblically aligned ministry.

The “Too Busy to Make Disciples” Syndrome

To be completely, honest, I’m really tired of hearing about how busy we pastors are. Let’s face it, we’re all busy. The real question is, “Busy doing what?” If our busyness isn’t focused on the church’s mission-critical tasks, then it’s just another excuse for not doing what truly needs to be done to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s time to shift our focus from being merely busy to being effectively productive in our God-given mission.

As we reflect on the points discussed – breaking free from the status quo, navigating the urgency trap, overcoming the Shiny Squirrel Syndrome, and steering clear of Pastor Fetch – it’s evident that our greatest challenge isn’t the lack of time, but how we choose to use it. Our calling as pastors is not to run an endless race of tasks and responsibilities, but to lead our congregations in growth and discipleship. This requires us to be intentional about how we spend our time, focusing on activities that directly contribute to making more disciples and growing our churches.

This year, let’s commit to a different kind of busyness. Let’s be busy setting strategic priorities, busy empowering our congregation to take on meaningful roles, busy deepening our teaching and preaching, and busy nurturing relationships that foster spiritual growth. It’s about making every hour count for something that moves the needle in our mission.

To help you in this journey of intentional time management and focused ministry, I invite you to download the “Get More Time Planner.” This resource is designed to help you evaluate your current activities, prioritize mission-critical tasks, and delegate appropriately. It’s a tool that will guide you in aligning your daily tasks with your ultimate goal of disciple-making and church growth.

Download the planner at Get More Time Planner and start your journey towards a more focused and effective ministry. Let’s not just fill our time with activities; let’s fill our time with purpose. Let’s make this year a year of intentional growth, meaningful impact, and transformative ministry. Remember, it’s not about how busy you are; it’s about what you’re busy doing. Let’s be busy doing what matters most.