In the past year, we’ve seen a ton of ministry shifts. The pandemic forced churches to get creative by live streaming services, doing discipleship digitally, and thinking about ministry outside of Sundays. In fact, many of a church’s primary functions (such as pastoral care, community outreach, and even some church-wide gatherings) now happen outside the building.
At Faithlife, we’ve worked with thousands of churches and pastors who are learning how to make sense of the post-pandemic church landscape—and what it means for their everyday labors.
Here are some suggestions to help pastors adapt to the ways the work of ministry is changing.
List out your values
As a pastor, there are a whole host of things clamoring for your attention—your inbox, staff, and to-do list, to name a few. But it’s important to remember that even if you were 100% caught up on your list of random things to handle, you probably still wouldn’t be caught up on the essential things you do every week.
If you want a simple solution to get everything done in the right amount of time, you’ve come to the wrong wishing well. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow into a more sustainable workload and workweek.
Before digging into the specifics of what you can improve, start thinking and praying through what’s most important to you. There’s one really simple question that can help you discern what matters:
What are the things only I can do?
Another way to put it: Is there anyone else who can do [insert task here]?
As an exercise, you can list out your top values. Keep the list short—the longer it gets, the less helpful it is. Your list could look like:
- Spending time with family
- Knowing God outside your sermon and ministry work
- Speaking truth clearly to God’s people
- Training future leaders
- Having time to rest and recharge
- Maintaining friendships
Once you have your list of values written out, think about the things you handle in a typical week. Then, go through the list one by one, asking at each step whether spending your time there lines up with your top values. You might find some tasks that would be ideal to delegate to a staff member or volunteer, or even something that might be worth hiring for (like mowing the lawn or taking out trash).
That’s not to say you shouldn’t get your hands dirty in the work of ministry. Pastors need to stay in touch with what their staff and volunteers are doing, and occasionally walking a mile in their shoes is a good way to do it. But if you’re spending lots of time on tasks other people can handle, you’re taking away opportunities for people to serve and giving yourself more work than you need to handle.
As you hone your values, you might find it helpful to post them somewhere you’ll see them often. That way, they can keep you focused on the things only you can do.
Set up guardrails
Picture a winding highway on a hillside. The vista may be beautiful—but the dropoff is steep with sharp rocks at the bottom. The guardrails on the road keep you heading in the right direction. Sure, bumping into the guardrails may cause a little whiplash (and a little damage to your car), but they keep you from plummeting into the depths.
In this analogy, your values are the car you’re driving—they keep you moving forward. But having values isn’t enough. You need guardrails to keep your momentum in the right direction. After all, it’s easy to confuse movement with progress—but if it’s taking you off a cliff (toward spiritual, emotional, or physical burnout), you’re moving in the wrong direction.
You may prefer to call guardrails “boundaries,” and that’s a perfectly acceptable way to do it. It doesn’t matter what you call them as long as you know what they are and stick to them. Both offer an analogy for guarding what you value from a world full of opportunities that could distract you.
Guardrails keep you from tossing your values out of the window the next time you see an overflowing trash can or an email notification after hours. That guardrail can serve as an inner warning: “While this is good work, it is not your work—or at least not right now.”
Setting up guardrails is easy to do on paper, but learning to stick to them is more difficult. But it can be done!
It takes a while to get into the habit of keeping your guardrails, but two things can help you get started: reviewing your values regularly and remembering that every yes you say is a no to something else. If you say yes to answering emails at 10:00 p.m., you’re saying no to sleep or being present with your spouse. If you say yes to coordinating weekend volunteers, you may be saying no to sermon research. Your values come in handy here since they help you recognize the tradeoff between what you could do and what you should do.
These three general principles can help you set up your guardrails and find what works for you:
- Know your schedule. It’s pretty easy to say you’ll work 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, plus your weekend services. But that may not work for your schedule. Perhaps you’ve got kids who need some of your attention during the day, or maybe you’re bivocational. A simple schedule may be perfect for you, but it could invite extra stress if that’s not how you work. Instead, print a blank schedule of a week. From there, chart your ideal week—the hours you’d work on your sermon, spend in meetings, or set aside for family dinners. Things will come up that take you away from your ideal week, but knowing your schedule can help you make sure those are exceptions to the rule.
- Know what you won’t do. The thing about being on church staff is that you can look almost anywhere and see something that needs to get done. And yes, sometimes you’ll do things you wouldn’t normally. But knowing what you won’t do isn’t about being arrogant about how important your job is. It’s about sharing church responsibilities with the people God has given you as co-laborers—and staying on task with the things no one else can do for you.
- Know that your attention is a commodity. It can be wasted (and even run out), or it can be stewarded. When you pop open your phone for a quick scroll of Twitter or respond to that one email during sermon prep, you lose focus—which takes time to get back. Instead, try to give 100% of your attention to what you’re doing, whether it’s writing the sermon, attending a staff meeting, or playing with your kids. Being all-in makes your work quicker and your moments more meaningful.
Be flexible on everything else
There’s one thing people may not tell you about listing your values and creating guardrails. It’s freeing. Because you know what matters and what you will (and won’t) do, you have room to get creative with how you live out your values.
For pastors in the post-pandemic era, this is probably the most important thing to consider. You and your congregation have likely been using new technologies and forming new habits at work and church. These new technologies and habits can help you serve God’s people even better.
The mission of the Church hasn’t changed, but your methods should have a semper reformanda flavor to them—always reforming to minister to people where they are with effectiveness and efficiency.
Today, that might mean a handful of differences to the pastor’s typical workflow:
- New methods for offering pastoral care. At the height of the pandemic, some pastors started posting online office hours—times when anyone in the congregation or community could book a 20-minute phone call or video meeting with a pastor for prayer, counsel, or questions. As life gets back to whatever normal is, keeping those office hours for online or in-person meetings is a simple way to schedule pastoral care into your week.
- New ways to align and train staff and leadership. Many people’s working hours changed during the pandemic to accommodate schoolwork with kids, among other things. For some people, it may be a while before they return to a normal schedule—and they may have discovered new times when they do better work (like after kids are asleep or before the workday starts). Rather than force everyone onto the same schedule (which, yes, has its advantages), you can use online communities and video conferencing for meetings or asking quick questions. You can also keep everyone on the same page by reading a book together and hosting online discussions.
- New means for storing important info. Many churches plan, record, and store their services using devices that don’t travel, like a soundboard. But the pandemic required new levels of flexibility for a host of tasks such as accepting guest information cards, receiving donations, caring for people in need, and even keeping the pastor’s library. Storing your services, notes on guests and attendees, and financial data on cloud-based software like Faithlife’s can help your team collaborate better, avoid losing little scraps of paper, and keep everyone singing from the same songbook.
- New ways of accomplishing weekly tasks. Doing the same task every week (like setting up child check-in, writing a sermon, welcoming guests, or preparing slides) is an invitation to try ways to make the process quicker and simpler. You shouldn’t feel stuck doing the same work in the same way if there are low-cost methods to simplify things. Sermon preparation software, church presentation software, church communications platforms, and other cloud-based software can give you new, simple workflows so you can get back to the things only you can do.
- New places to do your work. When your books, sermon prep tools, and presentation software are portable, you’re not locked into doing your essential work in one place. That means you have space to consider where you do your best work. If the sounds and smells of a coffee shop get your creative juices flowing, just take your computer—you’ve got all you need. Or, if you prefer, you can split time between your home and the church office. Digital platforms like Faithlife Equip make much of a pastor’s work portable—it can go where you do, so you can do ministry better wherever you are.
Try a new way to work with the Pastor Pod
This June, we’re giving one pastor a completely renovated, tricked-out camper built for the work pastors do every week. The Pastor Pod comes stocked with a library of pastoral resources from Lexham Press and a free copy of Logos Bible Software! The winning pastor will also enjoy everything they need to rest, relax, and recharge:
- 10-volume pastoral library from Lexham Press
- ProArt display monitor on an adjustable arm
- Microwave, minifridge, and coffeemaker
- The Proclaim Guide to Beautiful Church Presentations book
- A stack of ministry-focused magazines and coffee mugs
- And much more!
Entering the giveaway is easy—just hop over here to tell us why you want to win the Pastor Pod, and you’re in! You have until June 30 to enter, so head over now.