Planning Ahead Raises Your Level of Excellence

My wife and I are planning for a short holiday. We are planning ahead. We are planning for the middle of January 2022, about three months from now. Planning ahead his beneficial for a few reasons: we can make sure we have time off, we can get a cheaper price, we can make sure that everything will be taken care of at home while we are away, we can set aside a little extra money in the next couple of months, we can try to prepare for any covid-related restrictions or obstacles, and we get to build excitement as we anticipate some time for just the two of us away from home and the daily routine. Planning ahead means that it will be a much better experience than if we had just decided to wait till a few days before and then quickly tried planning something.

I’m sure you do some planning for events in your home. You plan to be at your kids’ sports activities. You plan for Christmas. Your child is planning for graduation.

Why is it that we seem to avoid planning too far ahead in our churches?

Sermons and services are prepared each week from scratch to be ready for Sunday. Meetings come up and we rush to make sure there is an agenda and then run off to the meeting. We arrange for a visit with church members, but hardly give it a thought until we arrive at their door. What if we planned ahead?

Planning ahead is valuable, and can raise the level of excellence in your ministry. Planning ahead:

  1. Demonstrates that you care about what you are planning – you have put some thought into it rather than just hoping it will all work out.
  2. Means you have a clarified vision and purpose – and gives you time to develop and apply those.
  3. Results in well-prepared events. You have time to research each aspect and prepare any documents or tools you need to make the event a success.
  4. Allows others to be involved in the planning process. You can work as a team, and can collaborate with others who are part of that event.
  5. Avoids conflicts. You can make sure to avoid any conflicting appointments or events at that time.
  6. Helps you test your plans. You have time to work on issues you may face at the event.
  7. Gives you more time to spend in prayer ahead of time.

Let’s look at how planning ahead raises the level of excellence of the event.

Meetings

If you plan ahead, you can make sure all the people who should be at the meeting are notified in advance so they can either book that time for themselves or let you know of conflicts so you can reschedule. Planning ahead allows you to ensure you have an appropriate meeting room, necessary research and documents are prepared, and an agenda can be created with participant input. You can even arrange for someone to provide drinks and snacks. This also gives you time to ensure that you are comfortable with the technology you will be using (and test any videos, etc.) or that tech support will be available.

Visits:

Most pastors will at some point visit with members, either at their home or over coffee at a local restaurant. You could just show up and hope the conversation goes well, or you could plan ahead. If you want to raise the level of excellence for a visit, do a few things to prepare. You could make sure you know who you are meeting, especially if you do not know them well. I once was asked by a funeral home to call and provide pastoral help, to a family who had lost a loved one. I called and asked for who I thought I was to speak to, only to realize I had gotten things confused and I was asking for the deceased father! Make sure you know who you are meeting with.

Even if you know them well, you may want to think of past conversations.  Have they asked for prayer recently? It might be good to check up on that. You might want to remind yourself of who is in their family, and the names of their children.

As the pastor, you might even think through where they are at spiritually and how you could use this meeting to help disciple them. Are there some issues that you want to challenge them with? Is there a volunteer position you would like them to consider?

And be ready to have a fun and enjoyable time with them.

Worship Services

The Sunday morning worship service is the main event in a local church. While there are numerous moving parts to the service, it is amazing how many churches don’t plan very far in advance. Too often staff and volunteers rush around each week to be ready for Sunday. This means there is little opportunity to consider anything creative, and instead, to keep up each week, churches keep doing the same old service each week with just a couple of different songs and a new sermon.

You, pastor (or preaching team), would do well to plan ahead. I have tried to usually plan a year ahead. This allows me to think through the needs of my congregation, and plan around and for special days and seasons throughout the year. Taking this approach has allowed me to prepare a balanced preaching schedule, so I’m not surprised when Easter or Christmas arrive.

I don’t have every sermon prepared a year in advance, but I have a general idea of the scriptures and themes I will be addressing throughout the year, so that they are in my mind as I come across good quotes or creative ideas that fit a certain upcoming theme.

Planning the sermon text and themes ahead of time means I can better work with others, too. Sharing the upcoming sermon themes with a music pastor or worship planning team means they can also plan ahead. They might want to prepare special music around holidays or special events, or add creative elements such as preparing a skit or reading. This enables others involved in the services to prepare in a way that complements the sermon.

You raise the level of excellence when everyone involved knows what is going on and can make sure their part fits well. You raise the level of excellence when people can practice and prepare ahead of time for some more unique additions to your service. You raise the level of excellence by having the time to do better.

I want to encourage you to plan ahead. Not just for meetings and visits and services, but in all your responsibilities.

Do you want to raise your level of excellence? Planning ahead is a great place to start!

Keep looking up

Andy

www.elevatecoaching-consulting.com

Chasing Rabbits and Other Distractions

A pastor must know how to keep focused and avoid distractions. We probably all remember a teacher or professor who loved going down rabbit trails. If someone asked the right question, he would get distracted from the topic at hand and head in a completely different direction. Pastors face many distractions daily, and need to know how to keep focused on the right things.

Staying focused requires a sense of clarity in both one’s role and purpose. What is the vision of the church? What is your personal role in accomplishing that vision? What needs to be done this week or this day?

COMMON DISTRACTIONS

Unannounced Visitors  

Many pastors have methods of protecting their sermon preparation time. For example, they may have set “office hours” when they know they will be in the office and their door will be open to visitors. They may have a secretary who helps protect their schedule. The smaller the church, the freer people are to show up and wanting to talk with the pastor. Larger churches often have administrative staff or offices located in such a way that visitors can’t barge into the pastor’s office, but this is not always the case for small churches. The pastor may be the only staff, and the pastor’s office may be near the front door. There is no easy place to avoid the unannounced visitor. In these situations, the pastor could put a sign on his door asking not to be disturbed or choose to work in a coffee shop, or in their home office.

The Big Question             

When interacting with people, you may find yourself distracted by big questions. Some people love to ask their pastor specific doctrinal or theological questions. They may be wanting a real answer, or they may be hoping to just stump the pastor. You need to decide which questions need an in-depth study for you to respond, or which ones you need to redirect back to the questioner. You do not need to answer their every question.

We Should Do This          

Often a pastor will hear from one of their members, “We should have a program to do…” They suggest a program or ministry they heard another church was doing and think your church needs to do it too. You need to be clear on the vision and priorities of your church as you and your leadership have determined. When people bring suggestions, you can remind them of the priorities your church has set.

There are times, though, when someone comes with a question – or an idea and, may be speaking for God. They may actually suggest something that God would have you do. One man came to visit me at one church and asked if we had anything for single moms. His daughter and grandson had moved home and he thought they could really benefit from meeting other moms. This happened to be one conversation among a few others that made us realize God was asking us to do something. The end result was a Moms and Tots program which was very well received by both church and community moms.

Hobby Horses   

Years ago, I was in a church where one Adult Sunday School teacher would end up directing the attention of his class to “New Age” issues in every class, no matter what topic the class was supposedly studying. Recognize when members are getting hung up on hobby horses. Some pastors are like this, where everything comes back to one or two key issues. When they preach, they always have some reference to their pet topic. Beware of that, as it distracts from the message of the sermon.

Technology        

The covid pandemic, and its accompanying restrictions on meeting, has forced many churches to adopt technology they never tried before. I am amazed at how many churches were able to find a way to stream their church services to people at home! But not all technology is necessary or helpful. Sometimes we get caught up in the amazing new options out there, and spend time and money on things that make no difference to our ministry, and may even distract us from achieving our vision. Make sure that what you spend time and money on will enhance your ministry, not distract from it.

Know Your Focus

What distracts you? What trails do you tend to veer onto? It may be something mentioned here, or something else. No matter the distraction, the best way to prevent losing focus is to be clear on what you believe is important. Time spent on clarifying your vision, priorities, and strategies as a church is time well spent. This narrows your focus and keeps you from being distracted. It is a tool to help you determine if something is a distraction and how you should respond. Everything that comes up can be measured against this purpose. Know your focus and you will spend less time on distractions.

If you would like help clarifying your vision and priorities contact me.

Keep looking up!

Andy

Find Ways to Enjoy Every Season of Your Life

The yellow and red leaves on the trees are ushering in our Fall season. I love the different seasons we have in Canada. There is a clear winter, usually with lots of snow and cold weather. There is a clear summer where it can get quite warm. We had 40 degrees Celsius this summer in northern Alberta. In between we have Spring where nature around us is waking up from its long winter nap. And we have Fall, when we see the green of summer change to the red and yellow of fall, and then the white of winter. Each season has an official day of beginning and ending, but nature follows its own schedule.

Each season has certain activities associated with it. Winter means more time indoors, or outdoors if you are a fan of the cold and snow. Summer is the natural time for vacations as students get a break from school. Summer is sometimes also referred to as the “construction season”, as crews try to do road construction before the cold returns.

A TIME FOR EVERYTHING

Ecclesiastes 3 has a famous poem about seasons:

1There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Our lives have seasons, as does our work life. There are times when life slows down a little, and there are times when life is so full that we feel we can hardly think. I have been in a busy season as my wife and I recently bought a new house, I changed jobs, and began my first Transition Pastor position.

The house required a couple of inspections, a lot of work to get the mortgage and insurance completed, some additional maintenance on the house, and the actual move. We had to clean out our rental and get it ready for the final walk through. We cleaned out our storage unit and started going through boxes to see what we had and where to put it.

My job required all the usual paperwork of a new job and joining a denomination I had not been part of for almost five years. I had to have Elder meetings and develop a Transition Plan. I had to get used to how things were working at the church and how I would schedule my week with them as I am commuting 110 km to serve them.

SLOW SEASONS

Some of you may be in a season that allows you to slow down a bit. You have some time to catch up with your jobs around the house that you have been putting aside. Maybe you are able to catch up with your spouse and with friends. Enjoy this season, and do the things you have been neglecting in your busy seasons. Be purposeful during this time to pursue the relationships that matter. Even though you still read your Bible and spend time with God, and connect with your spouse and family, use this time to dig in. Take more concentrated time to just be with Jesus, reading and mulling over what the scriptures say. Take time to go on that needed vacation with your family, or that date with your spouse. Enjoy sleeping in a bit. Bears hibernate so they are ready for spring. Use this time to be ready for the busy season that is most likely coming.

BUSY SEASONS

Maybe you are in a busy season right now. You feel overwhelmed with all that is demanded of you. You recognize that your emotions are at a limit, you get angry much quicker than usual. And you wonder how you will be able to hold it all together.

If you are in a busy season, here are a few things you might want to consider, not necessarily in any order:

1. Is this a capacity issue, or are you really this busy? Some of us can handle more than others, which of course means that some of us can handle less than others. We need to know how to work at our capacity, and find ways to expand that capacity. Be diligent about scheduling and arranging your days and weeks in the way that will give you the best time and energy to tackle all you need to do.

2. Determine what is yours and what you can hand off to someone else. Sometimes we are carrying a load that we do not need to carry. It may be that you are doing things that someone else can do. At work, do you have someone else on staff, or a volunteer, who can take some of the things you are doing? Have you taken on something that isn’t even yours? Hand that off, or even just put it aside. If you are doing things that are not your responsibility at work, why? If you are carrying things in your personal life that are not yours, let them go. Some of us are such caring “people persons” that we carry loads that are not ours to worry about. Give good advice, pray for people, and encourage them to work on solving their own issues.

3. Pray. Did you ever notice how Jesus took time to pray in his busy days? In Mark 1: 35-39 we read:

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Jesus had just had some very busy day of people and ministry. Very early the next day, the first thing he did was find a quiet place away from everyone, and pray. He needed to spend time with the Father before going about the work of ministry. And…the time of prayer helped him to renew his commitment to what God’s plan was. He didn’t work to appease the crowds, but continued on with what he knew his purpose was.

So, pray. Reset yourself to see and know God as the one who is truly in charge of your day, who will remind you what your main priorities of this season should be.

We all have seasons we go through in life. Some are very busy, but make sure you continue to remind yourself of what is truly your responsibility and what is not.

May God guide you and give you joy in all seasons of your life.

Keep looking up!

Andy

Ask People to Give

Reaching people for Jesus costs money. Running a church with all its ministries costs money.

The truth is, your church needs money. Bills come in regularly for the electricity, gas, insurance, and on and on. Salaries must be paid. And vision needs to be funded.

Conversations about money make some people squirm. Especially if it is about their money.

As a pastor, you can talk about money in a number of different ways, some better than others. For example, you can hammer them with Old Testament scriptures and tell them they have to give, or you can tell them they need to pay for their ability to enjoy the services, like a user-fee.

MONEY AND DISCIPLESHIP

Or, instead, you can invite them to listen to God, and give as He directs. I like the idea of talking with the congregation about their discipleship and how being a follower of Jesus means allowing him access to all areas of my life, including my money. If we don’t give him control, money can become the root of all kinds of evil. Like anything else we don’t hand over to Jesus, it can become our god.

There are many great studies and programs that churches can use to help teach their congregation how to handle money as God would want them to, and help the congregation see how budgeting can help them handle their money with purpose. Tithing is an act of budgeting, even for those who do not have an actual budget. The effort of deliberately figuring out 10% is the beginning of budgeting.

You can teach them how even a little savings each month can add up over time for when they need to make a bigger purchase without borrowing. Borrowing money, using debt of any kind, always means the costs is actually higher. Saving ahead of time means you may not have to borrow, or not as much, when that big need comes along. My wife has been slowly putting money into a separate account over the last number of years. Her money, along with a tax refund I had, enabled us to recently have enough money for a down payment on a house. We can finally own a home again because of the savings she did!

MONEY AND VISION

I like tying any conversation about money, with vision. Clearly, to do this, you need to have a vision to point to. If you have a vision for your church that you and your leadership have prayerfully worked through, then you believe this is what God wants your church to pursue. Explain to your congregation how their funding of that vision will help make the vision a reality.

If your church’s vision includes winning youth to Christ, you might point to how their giving helps pay the Youth Pastor. If your church’s vision includes providing space for local 12-step programs, show how their giving helps provide a space for the community to meet. And just maybe, when those who attend the community programming are looking for a church, they will check out yours. You could even highlight a certain aspect of the church budget once a month and show how it enables your church’s vision to be accomplished.

And you could point to how sacrifice is an important part of the Christian life. Maybe your congregation needs a challenge, and maybe a bit of sacrifice, in order to accomplish great things for God in your community!

MONEY CONVERSATIONS

Be creative in how you talk to your congregation about money and their giving.

  • I have used some video clips that were very well done and got the point across without me needing to say anything.
  • Include a verse about money and giving with other onscreen announcements.
  • Say a few pertinent words just before the offering is taken.
  • Ask some people who are willing to share a short testimony about how God has guided them in their giving.
  • And of course, don’t hesitate to preach a sermon, or even a series, on finances.
  • And feel free to share about how you handle your own money.

It is important to highlight money and giving as part of discipling your congregation. You could schedule different creative methods to be used on a yearly calendar. Make talking about money a priority. Don’t be afraid to do it.

And keep looking up,

Andy

*If you are wondering how well your church is doing in light of its giving, and would like an outside voice, I can work through a Financial Audit with your church.

The Incredible Value of Checklists!

During one of our breaks from pastoral ministry, I learned to drive a school bus. It was definitely an interesting experience. When I was about to complete the season, another driver commented that I had lasted very well on the worst run in the city. I picked up inner city kids and took them to school. Most of them came from difficult situations, but I tried to find ways of connecting with them and encouraging them.

As I was taking my training for my Class 2 license, which you need to drive a bus, the instructor walked me through a detailed list of what to check each morning to ensure the bus was safe to drive. This is not unique to driving busses; truckers have a similar pre-trip check to do. Usually this is done with a memorized checklist, but when I was later driving bus for a different company, they had a specific checklist I had to go through and sign each morning.

Checklists help you to make sure you remember to check all the important things. This applies to many places in life.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I go through a mental checklist most evenings before I head to bed:

  • Is my lunch prepared?
  • Have I laid out my clothes for the next work day?
  • Did I brush my teeth?
  • Did I remember to take my medications?
  • Did I set my alarm?
  • Did I plug in my phone?

The list helps me to remember what I want to remember.

Checklists can help you to train new volunteers at church. Checklists are doubly useful in training, both for the trainer and the new volunteer.  A checklist ensures the trainer knows exactly what training needs to take place. The checklist will remind them of what paperwork needs to be filled out, or what activities need to be practiced. The new volunteer can also be provided with a checklist to remind them what needs to be done.

Let’s pretend you are training a new worship leader. You can have them work alongside a current worship leader like an apprentice for a few weeks. The leader can make sure they are following the current checklist, a copy of which is then provided to the new volunteer. The checklist could look something like this:

  • Get the theme and scripture from the speaker for that Sunday.
  • Choose 5 songs that fit into that theme.
  • Sort/find the music for all musicians that will be leading worship with you.
  • Send the music titles (and music sheets) to all the worship staff and volunteers on your team.
  • Practice the music yourself.
  • Arrange practice time and practice with team during the week.
  • Arrange for all the team to come early on Sunday to do Sound checks
  • Etc.

Create lists according to the tasks that need to be done in each role, and encourage new volunteers to add to the list as they notice things that may have been missed.

I use a checklist like this in creating my sermons. I have a fairly long list that has certain comments and questions that help me think through my sermon from every aspect I think is important. Here are just a few things on my sermon checklist:

  • Who is the original audience?
  • How will this appeal to the 12-year-old boy in the pew?
  • What practical application steps can I suggest?
  • What are questions this scripture answers?

This list reminds me of what I have found to be important in the creating of a sermon. Some of them remind me of certain steps in my research. Other items remind me how to develop a good application at the end of the sermon. This is a list I have slowly compiled over the years, adding or adapting items as I discovered more steps I wanted to remember to use.

Checklists need to be open to adjustment. Sometimes a good book will encourage you to add another step. Over time some steps may be eliminated if they become irrelevant.

Checklists are a great tool to become better at what you do, to develop consistency, and to train new volunteers.

I’d love to hear about how checklists have helped you.

Keep looking up!

Andy

5 Steps to Own Your Day

Time is precious. Learn to use it purposefully. Own your day!

As a pastor, I sometimes felt that others had more control over my schedule than I did. When you work for someone else, there will always be requirements of you, but hopefully you can find a way to plan out your own day in your own way. You want to accomplish all that has to be done, and even some of what you would just like to get done.

Planning takes time, which may feel counterintuitive, but I assure you that if you plan, you will most likely get more things done that you want to get done. If you do not plan and schedule, then others will take your time. Or you will get caught up in scrolling through Facebook. Plan your day so that you decide what you do today, and when.

1. Acknowledge the Demands of Others

Hopefully you do not have too many of these, but sometimes there are certain requirements placed on you that you need to find time for in your day. If these expectations are placed on you, at least you can plan on when you will give some time to them.

At the same time, evaluate the demand. Is this really something you need to spend your time with, or is it just a suggestion? Days fills up too quickly to take on unnecessary demands of others.

2. Big Items

If you are a pastor, you know that there are certain activities required of you. As the preacher, you will need to give large portions of time to sermon prep.  If you are teaching, that adds to your list of big items. My preference for sermon and teaching prep is to break the process into sections and do them in the morning when freshest. For example, on a typical workweek of Tuesday to Sunday, I do research on Tuesday, finalize an outline by Wednesday, compile the notes into an effective sermon on Thursday, and take Friday to make the final touches. Saturday, I practice, and Sunday I preach. A similar approach of breaking down the process to be completed over time can be done with teaching prep or other Big items.

As a pastor, I realize the work is never done. There is always something else to put on the schedule, so it is important to remember to schedule in your time off as well. Choose a regular day off. I always had Monday off. Choose the day that works for you and your family, and do something to relax and refresh yourself on that day. You might need to intentionally book something relaxing for the day, such as a walk with your spouse, or some golf with friends. Make sure to take a day free from the regular work responsibilities.

3. Personal Passions

This is the fun part. This is where you make sure to schedule in some time to do the things that God has laid on your heart that may not be directly tied to your job description, but are an important part of who you are. You are the one who chooses what to do with your day. Make sure you do what makes you excited. If it’s writing, then write. If it’s spending time with young leaders, then spend time with young leaders.

At one church I had a weekly breakfast with a couple of men where we talked through the next Sunday’s sermon. I loved these times, and learned to see the scripture through other’s eyes. It made my preaching more impactful – and I enjoyed doing it!

What is it that God has laid on your heart? What are some of your God-given dreams that will not take fruit unless you deliberately plan it into your life?

4. Determine what you would like to do but never have time for

If you have scheduled your day with the first three points in mind, you will realize your day is already quite full, and you may find yourself still unable to do everything you want to do. Is there a book you have wanted to read but never found the time? Is there a topic you would like to research but never get to? Is there a person you would like to have coffee with but it just never happens? Plan it in. Own your day. It is yours to live.

I always have a running list of things I want to do, or research, or work on. Then at certain times I would go through the list and make sure I scheduled it into my day or week. Any time you have a slower day or week, glance through this list and pull a few into your schedule. These are the things that no one else will ask you to do, but you think would benefit you. Plan them into your schedule.

And don’t forget to have some fun.

5. Delegate and Outsource

This might be the most important point. Do not be afraid to hand off certain responsibilities to others. Maybe there is someone in your church that can preach for you occasionally, especially if you take the time to coach them through it. At one church I had the privilege of helping teach one of the men how to preach. He already had a desire to teach, and did a great job. It will be extra work for a bit, but then he will be able to do it without your help and you will free up time.

In the small churches I served it was sometimes expected that I choose the songs for Sunday. Did I really need to choose the songs for Sunday? Do you really need to choose the songs for Sunday? Instead, maybe you could give someone else the theme and scripture for Sunday and ask them to choose the songs. If you have a song leader or team, give them the freedom to do that.

When you are used to doing certain things, it might seem difficult to hand them off to others who may not do it exactly as you would, but give them a chance. Coach them along and you will be surprised how much you can hand off to qualified volunteers.

Evaluate your role and what your primary responsibilities are and the additional tasks you have taken on. Maybe there is someone else that can do the bulletin. Hand it off. Ask an elder to do the devotional at the membership meeting. Find a tech-savvy teen to be your Facebook and website administrator. Train a few people to visit those in the hospital.

Find others to do what you don’t have to do – especially if you don’t enjoy doing that anyway!

Find a way to own your day! Plan it out so you can be your best you. Own your day!

Keep looking up

Andy