8 Ways to Waste This Next Season of Ministry

The good news is it feels like we’re entering a new season of leadership and ministry. Although the coronavirus is still with us, churches and businesses are reopening and things that weren’t possible a month or two ago are now possible again. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the new season is […]

The good news is it feels like we’re entering a new season of leadership and ministry.

Although the coronavirus is still with us, churches and businesses are reopening and things that weren’t possible a month or two ago are now possible again.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the new season is perhaps even more complicated than the season of crisis we just left. And it’s way more complicated than having a second wave of the virus (as serious as that might be).

I also realize you’re likely tempted to stop reading right here.

After all, you really can’t handle one more person saying more change is ahead.

I get it. Some days, neither can I.

We’re all more than a little fatigued, frazzled and irritated. And everybody (including me) is long for some semblance of normal.

Everything in you wants to go back to as much normal as you can possibly find. And that would be great, if it wasn’t also deadly.

When change is as profound and disruptive as what we’re going through right now, this next season isn’t a finish line, it’s a start line.

Right now, every church is a startup and if you see it that way, you can advance your mission. There are so many people to reach, and an entire next generation in need of the gospel.

And as hard as it is to hear, the next season will probably require more leadership from you, not less.

But, because of deep fatigue, a longing for normal and a hope that all the problems go away, too many church leaders will default into managing what was rather than leading into what will be—trying to bring the past back, to normalize ministry and to recreate what was lost rather than moving ahead into a new future.

But your work is too important to do that. You know it. I know it.

For all of those reasons and more, it’s just far too easy to blow it in this next season of ministry and leadership.

Here are eight easy ways to do it.

1. Don’t Take Time Off to Restore Yourself.

I was going to put this last, but let’s lead with it instead and call an audible.

The reason you don’t want to read this post, let alone act on it, is because you’re tired. I get it. This has been a very tiring season.

And one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to not take time off to restore yourself.

While this isn’t a clinical definition, having burned out years ago, I’m sensing three levels of weariness in myself and amongst other leaders right now:

Tired

Fatigued

Exhausted

Tired responds quickly to cause and effect. You put in a long, hard day, you eat well, get some exercise and get some sleep, and soon you bounce back. If not the next day, then shortly thereafter.

Fatigued is a level of weariness beyond just tired. Fatigue will respond to stimulus (sleep, rest, diet, exercise, prayer) but it just takes longer. You’re not burning out, but there’s a slow drain going on that you really can’t ignore.

Exhausted is a place you find yourself in where you’re more than just tired or fatigued. The recovery is longer, harder and you need more time for restoration. It can easily lead to burnout if you let it (here are 11 signs you may be burning out).

Again, those aren’t clinical definitions, but I hope they’re helpful definitions.

The point is regardless of which stage you’re at, you need time to truly restore yourself this summer. The more tired you are, the more intentional your plan for recovery should be.

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So what’s your plan? If in fact you’re going into a prolonged season of uncertainty and dislocation, you need stamina for the long haul.

Maybe the best thing you can do as a response to this post and the challenges ahead is to book some downtime and then figure out a sustainable pace that will take you through the next few years.

I share the strategies I use to find a sustainable pace here.

If self-care is important in normal times, it’s 10x more important now.

And please hear me … the work you’re doing is so important, and you want to be well and stay well for the road ahead.

Because, as you know, the work is both important and challenging.

Which leads us to the second way to blow it in the next season of leadership.

2. Let Your Fatigue Drive Your Decisions.

Your level of fatigue as a leader impacts more than you and your family. It also impacts your organization.

Why? Well, it can be so easy to let your fatigue drive your decision-making. You avoid the hard decisions, take the complicated things off the agenda and go into robot mode or stick with what you know because it’s just, well, easier.

So how do you counter that?

The best way to gain energy for the decisions you know you need to make is to simplify your model of ministry.

If you only do a few things and do them well, you’ll be able to put most of your energy into the things that need it most, rather than diffusing it across a dozen things.

Think about it this way: Doing the right thing, even if it’s the hard thing, ultimately energizes you.

Taking the path of least resistance ultimately drains you when you discover you’ve lost ground and grown irrelevant and ineffective.

Hint: In leadership, the right thing is almost always the hard thing.

So get some good rest, and then rally the team and do the things you know you need to do.

3. Play the Short Game.

Another easy way to blow it in leadership is to play the short game.

The short game right now probably looks like this: get back to normal as quickly as possible with in-person services and pick up where you left off or recreate what you lost.

What’s even more challenging is that for a meaningful percentage of churches, online attendance is up and so is giving, or at least it’s steady.

That kind of success or stability will keep your focus on the short game while you ignore the tectonic shifts happening in culture.

The long game is about preparing your church to reach unchurched people in the future. (For more on that, see this and this.)

And that’s as complex and challenging as it sounds.

So many of the methods the church has used broke long before COVID. Trying to resurrect them isn’t going to resurrect your church for the long term.

4. Ignore Volunteers.

Because most churches were staffed and programmed for in-person ministry, one of the thing that went dormant almost instantly was the volunteer corp at most churches.

When church went online, what used to take dozens or hundreds of people to run suddenly only took a handful.

As a result, many churches have dozens (or hundreds or thousands) of volunteers who haven’t served in months.

Many early indications are that many volunteers, worried about the virus and having swapped a five-hour Sunday commitment for a one-hour Sunday commitment, like many others, might not return.

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Connecting with your volunteers, encouraging them to serve in their community and remobilizing them even before you need them will prepare you for a strong future.

5. Assume Families Are Just Fine.

I realize it’s been a crisis, so it’s understandable that many leaders haven’t had the bandwidth to think about volunteers. But there’s another group that probably needs your attention: families.

Families will likely not be the first to return to in-person services because of a variety of factors, not the least of which is the lack of kids ministry upon re-opening in many cases.

Frank and Jessica Bealer, who have served at several megachurches, including Elevation Church, have some very powerful and insightful ideas and strategies about how to come alongside families who attend in person and those who attend online in these unusual times.

You can listen to the conversation they had with David Kinnaman and me here.

Just know this: Ignoring families tends to produce less effective ministry than serving them does.

6. Don’t Reposition Your Staff.

The staffing structure you had heading into the crisis is likely not the staffing structure you need heading into the future.

Why? Well, when things change, you need to change too.

Most churches are currently staffed for in-person ministry, and that’s about it. As complex as in-person ministry is right now, online church is probably a big part of the future.

And if that’s the case, how are you positioned for it?

Tagging it onto your creative team’s job description or handing it to a 19-year-old volunteer is probably not a great long term strategy.

Further, it’s probably going to require a skill set you may not have on your current team. So recruiting volunteers and staff around that is wise.

So is allocating some of your budget. Most churches spend 99% of their budget on in-person ministry.

If everyone you want to reach is online, you may want to rethink that.

7. Put Online on Autopilot.

Most churches have made significant progress with their online ministry: either they’ve started one or seen the existing online outreach and ministry grow.

That’s incredible.

And right now, the big temptation is to leave all that on autopilot as assume it will grow automatically. Which of course, as soon as you say it out loud, you realize won’t happen.

When you invest in digital ministry, you’re investing in the future and in reaching the world.

8. Put All Your Focus on Sunday.

In the early days of the crisis, churches were trying all kinds of things online.

Maybe you’ve noticed too. Almost everyone has pivoted back to focusing only on Sunday.

For all the reasons already listed in this post (especially fatigue), that’s understandable. It’s also a mistake.

For the first time in history, online ministry allows church leaders to come alongside people seven days a week in an easy, accessible way.

I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere, but church-in-a-box was already past its expiry date.

Returning your focus to one day—Sunday—and taking your eye off of all the other opportunities positions your church for the past, not for the future.

Here are some ideas on the future church.

In the future, churches will shift their focus from Sunday to every day, because people need to find faith and live out their faith every day.

Read more from Carey Nieuwhof »

This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com and is reposted here by permission.