Most pastors I know are an amazing mix of task driven and relationship-oriented people. They know how to seamlessly shift between getting what needs to be done done, and giving themselves to those who need them the most. Often, though, Pastors can unintentionally build barriers that reduce their ministry effectiveness.
The following are four barriers that are easily built, though you already possess the resources necessary to remove them.
Busyness is a barrier to effectiveness.
Busyness is becoming one of the greatest idols of the twenty-first century. We tell everyone “I am busy,” as if we are declaring, “yes, my life matters because my calendar is full.” But, for most, busyness is a mask for effectiveness. Busyness is moving from activity to activity with little to show for it but exhaustion. Often at the end of a busy day, you can look back over what was accomplished and wonder, “Where did the time go? What was really done.”
The source of our busyness is not having too many things to do—though you probably do have too many things to do. Busyness creeps into our lives when we fail to intentionally create margin.
You’ve probably seen those church bulletins that cram words all the way to the top, bottom and side edges. Everything has to get into the bulletin so the margins are sacrificed. Instead of creating an information rich document, the document that is so crowded no one wants to or can comfortably read it. It needs some empty space so the eye can focus on what is really important.
Creating margin is building some empty space into your life so you can give yourself to what matters the most. Busyness is saying “yes” to what is urgent, margin is saying “yes” to what is important. Busyness exhausts resources while margin creates room to breathe. Busyness says, “I find my value and meaning in all that I am doing.” Margin says, “I want to create some space to rest so I can give the best me to the greatest need God has put in front of me.”
Busyness is a slow moving cancer that you do not realize is impacting you until it takes over. Busyness is one biggest barrier to pastoral effectiveness. Say “no” to some things on your calendar so you can create margin in your life.
Interruptions are a barrier to effectiveness.
Pastors are people people. Pastors intentionally go and see people. Schedule meetings with people. Have coffee and lunch to disciple and discuss ideas with people. Pastors want to be available and accessible to as many people as possible even when there are many times they simply cannot be. Each week in many churches across the country there will be a church member who just wants to “drop by and see if you have a minute.” Even if the pastor does not have a minute—or the thirty minutes the conversation grows into—one will be made available. Every pastor must wrestle with how available they will be to their congregation, but these are not the interruptions that can become tremendous barriers to an effective pastoral ministry.
Interruptions that are barriers to ministry effectiveness are self-inflicted interruptions. Continually engaging with social media is a tremendous self-inflicted interruption. The fear of missing out (FOMO), the pull to be in the know, to engage the newsmakers and be ahead of the latest trend can derail your effectiveness.
The interruption of your email that just begs you to open it just in case someone sent you something important. Procrastinating—yes, pastors procrastinate—instead of preparing for this Sunday’s sermon or that meeting you really do not want to go to is a self-inflicted interruption.
You have the ability to put the phone away. You have the choice when to and when not to open your email. You can create a space on your calendar to engage in social media without letting it dominate your day. Self-inflicted interruptions are a huge barrier to ministry effectiveness. They are also the easiest barriers to remove.
Lack of a clear personal mission is a barrier to effectiveness.
Knowing your why matters. Great men and women in the Bible knew their why. Abraham’s life seemed somewhat nomadic, but his mission was clear: “Go to the land that I will show you.” Moses’ mission was given to him: “set my people free.” Ruth’s mission was to be faithful to her mother-in-law. Esther seemed uncertain of her mission until encouraged by Mordecai that she was in her role for “such a time as this.” Paul’s mission of being “all things to all men that I might win some” drove him every day. A clear personal mission not only helps you to know what to say “yes” to; more importantly, it clarifies what you must say “no” to.
The absence of a clear personal mission leaves you open to any and all opportunities in front of you. Without a clear answer to why you do what you do, it will be impossible to decide what and whom you should be giving your time to. A clear personal mission solidifies the people, places, and purposes that the Lord has grafted into your heart. You cannot live intentionally if you have not first defined what your personal mission is.
Lack of personal organization is a barrier to effectiveness.
Every generation has used some strategy for personal organization and effectiveness. Being organized is not a trend of the information age. Your effectiveness in pastoral ministry demands personal organization.
You build relational equity and instill confidence in those you are called to shepherd when you show up to appointments on time. You will be chasing your tail if you cannot organize your approach to your work. You may know what is in that stack, but how much time have you wasted moving everything to find it. Again.
There are so many tools, processes and great books available for practical ways to get more organized. If though you ignore your personal organization this barrier to pastoral effectiveness, much like the stack of papers on your desk, will continue to grow.
Effectiveness and efficiency are not the same.
Being effective in your pastoral ministry is not a matter of efficiently checking items off of your tasks list. Efficiency concerns itself with getting things done quickly. Effectiveness is getting the right things done. Getting your task list to zero as fast as possible is being concerned with efficiency. Being ruthless about what gets on your task list in the first place is being mindful of effectiveness.
Every pastor, at some point or another, will face these and other barriers to building an effective ministry and intentional life. Many will conquer these and other barriers only to find themselves a few months later facing them again. Keep working at it. Don’t forget: you already possess all the tools you need to remove the barriers to effectiveness in your life and ministry.
The Kingdom is too important not to be concerned with being effective for it.