A church is not meant to be the model of operational efficiency. Ministry is inefficient because serving people is not the same as streamlining a manufacturing process.
The Great Commandment is not called “The Great Convenience.” You do not serve and love others only when it works for you. It is never convenient for you when others are in need! The Good Samaritan had things to do just like everyone else. But he stopped anyway.
While ministry can be inefficient, pastors should be good stewards of time. You cannot control when someone needs help, but there are plenty of time wasters you can handle.
1. Stop going on social media crusades. Congratulate your church members on their accomplishments. Wish people a happy birthday. Encourage others who had a rough week. You can—and should—shepherd your congregation online. But that theological debate you’re about to enter? Or the temptation to sling some mud in denominational politics? Don’t. You are not likely to change anyone’s mind on social media. And most of the people you are about to engage do not even go to your church. You will waste time and might even harm your ministry.
2. Start delegating more time-consuming tasks to people who will enjoy them. Several years ago, I took the responsibility of locking up the church after Sunday evening activities. The task took about thirty minutes to walk the campus and check every door. While I did not mind the chore, the time was better spent with my family. An older deacon approached me and volunteered to lock the doors. He wanted to prayer walk the church and allow me more time with family.
3. Stop punching a clock when it is unnecessary. For example, some churches require all staff to be onsite Monday through Friday, arriving around 8:00 a.m. and not leaving until 5:00 p.m. This schedule is archaic and does not consider the time ministers are on the field. While work-from-home every day is not wise, much time is wasted in the office when people simply punch a clock.
4. Start scheduling your emails. There are two kinds of people: pagans with inboxes full of unopened emails and the sanctified who zero out inboxes every twenty-four hours. I understand the urge. An email pops into the inbox, and you want to get it answered. The problem with this approach is how you teach people you will respond immediately to every request. You can also find yourself in a back-and-forth message that consumes time. Most email systems have a way to schedule emails. Reply right away if you must but schedule the email to go out later. It will save you time and not set the wrong expectation you respond to everything immediately.
5. Stop feeling the need to lead every meeting out of obligation or fear. Churches have a lot of meetings. Pastors do not need to lead all of them. I’ll never forget my father’s advice when I mentioned how many meetings I attended and led. He said, “Push less and people will love and respect you more.” He was right. You are not shepherding when you lead out of a sense of obligation or fear of losing control.
6. Start confronting potential churchwide conflict earlier. A wise pastor will not jump into every church spat. But you should not dodge conflicts that have the potential to spread churchwide. You don’t save time in the near term because your thoughts consume you. In the longer term, potential conflict is like a simmering pot. At some point, everything boils over. Turn the heat down earlier, and the conflict makes much less of a mess.
Most ministry is not efficient. But there are ways to steward time better. Some of the biggest time wasters can be avoided.