Pastors' Forum


Staying Focused

As a pastor, I find myself having to deal with so many interruptions and distractions that it’s hard to stay proactive with my schedule. It seems like I’m always putting out fires, and then I don’t have enough time for family, study, prayer, etc. The problems I find myself dealing with are legitimate and do require some attention, but how do I keep myself from being completely side-tracked by all these issues?


Pastor Al Jennings—Fort Wayne, IN
One of the things that we are called to do as Pastors is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11,12). One solution is to train a few of your most faithful, capable, and diligent leaders. You can multiply your efforts by delegating responsibilities to others that you train. Delegate, but don’t dump. What I mean by dumping is unloading responsibilities on someone without providing the necessary training. I’ve heard it said that if someone can do the job 80% as good as you can—let them do it.  Match the areas of need to the skill set of the leaders you have available. Then, give them the appropriate training to carry out what you need them to do. Give them guidelines and boundaries.  Don’t micro-manage them, but give them the authority along with the responsibility. By effective delegation, you will have the time to devote to other important priorities without neglecting the others.

Pastor Loren Hirschy—Dubuque, IA
As I read this month’s question, a scene came to mind of this pastor walking down the Midway at a Fair, going forward steady on his course, ignoring the cries of the carnival booth operators as they hawked their games—his attention set, resisting their efforts to distract his attention from his destination and from the one with whom he was walking. Life is filled with choices, isn’t it? Every day there are countless things happening around us as we walk through our day—many of which we’re not even aware. Others come screaming at us demanding our attention. Still others connect with something within us, tempting us on a fleshly level—vying for our attention against those things we hope to have happen or make happen.

I’ve found it very helpful (and an increasing joy) to get away proactively with the Lord, ask questions of Him and write down what I see as our priorities (His and so mine) for the coming year or so. Then, in consultation with my top-level leadership team, create a set of priorities, goals, and strategies to reach those goals for our work for the year ahead. I’ve written personal and relational goals and strategies as well as ministerial ones in those times. It has been a great help then, throughout the year, to revisit those things “from the mountain,” review my progress and renew my focus on those things which we’ve established.

Two thoughts are powerful for me. First, as Dr. Edwin Louis Cole taught us, success does not come from what you say ‘yes’ to; success ultimately comes from what you say ‘no’ to. By establishing and staying focused on my heartfelt, conscientious goals, it’s become easier to identify those things to which I need to say ‘no’—and say it. Secondly, when something genuinely needs to be done, the question I’m learning to ask is not, “how can I do this?” but, “who can I give this to?” It takes time and effort to give clear direction and make sure the individual to whom I delegate the task has the necessary competence and obtain their commitment, but by doing so, the load is divided and the results are multiplied (and I avoid robbing that individual of their opportunity to fulfill a part of the purpose for which God has brought the two of us together).

Don’t let the hawkers get to you. Keep your first love in mind, and you’ll better enjoy the rides.

Pastor John Lowe—Warsaw, IN
I have to begin with myself. I set hours for appointments. I have also tried to delegate as much as possible to others who have demonstrated a love for the Lord, His people, and the local church.

I then train my staff to help me and stay accountable. I teach my church to give me as much grace as they demand that I show to them.

Time for my family is a priority. They do not want a pastor with a bad marriage or an out-of-order family, so they help me by protecting the family’s time and our privacy, as well as our humanness.

Then the fight is on to maintain the guidelines we have agreed on together. These are ways to prevent burnout, divorce, or brokenness in the lives of the ministry family.

Pastor Phil Edwards—Ennice, NC
It’s all about time management. We have to schedule our time. Most of the time I find that early in the morning is best for me.

Pastor Doug Foutty—Parkersburg, WV
That is a common problem. I find myself studying very late at night or very early in the morning. It seems like I have to wait until most other people are asleep in the world to have my study time. It is part of the price we have to pay. The Lord always seems to make it up to me when I least expect it.

Pastor Don Adkins—Lexington, KY
You will get a lot of the same feed back but after 25 years of full-time ministry I have found that the simple basics help—there is no cure! haha.

1) Praying regularly and early before most people start their day. Daniel had a set time of prayer. My time is 6:30 AM.

2) Having counselors who have a degree in this field to help some of the people. They then give me an update or let me know if I need to take over.

3) We have people who are called and considered leadership. We have a monthly meeting to encourage these guys and to catch up with what they are encountering.

4) Today we have highly educated, skilled people who want to offer their assistance. So I include them and don’t feel insecure if they can accomplish things that I cannot. So surround yourself with gifts in the body where you may not be as gifted.

This is the same as most pastors, but I hope it helps a little. You are doing a great job!

1) Prayer regularly at a set time.
2) Know when to unhook from work…knowing it will be there when you get back.
3) Keep family and wife as first priority.
4) Schedule family days into your calendar and make the most of that time. Have fun, interact, and invest in your family. This will make interruptions less noticeable when they do come.
5) Be confident in God and let Him send you help.

Pastor Gary Hoffman—Rocky Mount, VA
Always maintain personal devotions in your life. Your walk with the Lord is first and foremost. I spend time with Him because I need a shepherd. I spend time with the Lord because He is my delight and my joy. My time with the Lord does not need to fit the church’s business hours. When I spend my personal time with the Lord it seems to me that my sermons come more easily and take less time. Do not allow your relationship with the Lord to become a part of your job (Pastor). Pray in the Spirit often, Paul said that he prayed in tongues more than all of them. The Lord has been reminding me to believe in tongues, to build myself up, to rest and be refreshed speaking in stammering lips. Pastoring is my calling; walking with Jesus is the joy of my life.

Pastor Matt Beemer—UK and North Africa
The best advice I’ve ever had concerning maintaining balance in life and ministry was to help me feel comfortable with the idea of saying ‘No’. There are so many demands in ministry that seem to require an immediate and urgent response, but in the end, I have found that many are not as necessary as I first thought. In order to effectually say ‘No,’ I had to define my priorities and establish firm boundaries. In other words, defining what to say ‘Yes’ to, makes it easier to know what you can say ‘No’ to.

I continually review my list of priorities and refine it in light of three questions: 1) What can others do now with little or no training?  2) What can others do with training? 3) What is it that only I can do? Once I have the answers to these three questions written down, then I work hard to match a name to each activity. I develop a team around me who can do everything that I should not be doing. When pressure comes for me to do something outside of what I have said ‘Yes’ to, it’s easier to say ‘I’m sorry, but no, I cannot do that at this time’. I can say it with a clear conscious knowing I’ve ordered my life and ministry based on what God wants me to say ‘Yes’ to. For example, if someone wants me to council their marriage on a Friday night, I can easily say no to that because Friday night at our house is ‘Family Night.’ Why should I wreck my family to go and try to fix theirs when I can either send one of my mature leaders in the church, or simply ask them to wait until Saturday—or even Monday—to meet with me? If they really want to fix their marriage, some people can even take time off of work to come see you during the day and during your normal office hours. Sure there may be times when you have to make an exception, but I’ve found that people that want you to mold to their schedule and their way of doing things and refuse to adapt to your schedule, normally, are not willing to do what it takes to fix their situation anyway.

In addition to learning to say, ‘No,’ is ensuring that every person you bring into your team (paid or volunteer) understands the importance of developing others as well. If they do not, as the ministry grows, they will become overworked and not be able to keep up with the pace of growth. For example, one person I had on my facilities team never really understood this. I noticed one day when I came early that he was there with his keys opening up the building. I asked him why.  He said because he was responsible for facilities and it easy for him to do it. I told him, “You are responsible that ‘someone’ opens the building, but I do not want you to be the person doing it.” I then corrected him saying, “Sure, right now you can fit it in your schedule and easily do it, but there will come a time when your schedule will be so tight with items only you can see to, that if you haven’t recruited and trained someone to take care of this area, you cannot effectively open and close the facilities and also attend to the more important items you are responsible for.” Over the next year, the ministry grew very rapidly and this man couldn’t keep up with the demand in his area and it even affected his health. I had tried repeatedly to get him to see the importance of developing a team and that the way he was working was not sustainable. But in the end, he wanted to do everything himself, so I had to let him go. He was very talented, but he was only one man! Every person I bring onto my team, I tell them the same thing: as you start, you will think you can keep up with all your responsibilities without developing a team. But, this is a growing ministry and you will not be able to keep up with your responsibilities as they grow relative to the growth of the ministry. Therefore, your number one priority is to recruit, train, and develop a strong volunteer team.

I currently am the director for several bible schools in Africa and Europe. Though I’m probably doing more than I ever did pastoring, I am actually working less than I ever have! Saying ‘No’ works when you know what to say ‘Yes’ to!

Pastor Tim Gilligan—Ocala, FL
Time is certainly one of our most valuable commodities. Life is made up of time; so therefore, how we spend our time is how we spend our lives. This shows that time has value and must be valued. What we value is always reflected in our priorities.

With all of that being said, you must do the hard work of prioritizing and then formalizing how and where you will spend your time. This will require that you, in a firm and friendly way, say “no” to the many regular and periodic opportunities and interruptions that will no doubt present themselves to you. Priorities are determined prior to the demands on your time.

If you are spending your time “always putting out fires” to the neglect of family, study, prayer, etc., then you are living in a reactive mode rather than a proactive mode. We’ve all heard it before, “sacrificing the important for the urgent.” Ultimately, this will leave you ineffective and frustrated. We should live by principle, not by circumstances. If you live by circumstances, you will always live by circumstances. If you live by principles, 98% of your decisions are already made for you. This empowers you to give the “yes” or “no” that you need to give for each situation.

The urgent always masquerades as being important, demanding your immediate and full attention to the detriment of the important. Sometimes you just have to let some fires burn. Proverbs 4:25 in the Message puts it this way, “Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions.”

As mentioned earlier, time is valuable. If you only had twenty-four dollars a day to spend, you should spend it on your priorities first. After that, you can only spend what you have left. You only have twenty-four hours a day to spend. You should spend it on your priorities first (prayer, family, study, etc.). After that, you can only spend what you have left.

“Teach us to use wisely all the time we have.”
(Psalms 90:12 CEV)

Pastor Thom Fields—Kennewick, WA
Wouldn’t it be nice if “stuff” would just cooperate with “our schedule”? I don’t know very many people who haven’t had to grapple with this particular issue. The bright side of this issue—even the people sitting in our congregations are dealing with this one!

As people of the Word—I love the instruction we receive from the Message on this topic. It’s found in Proverbs 4:20-26 (The Message).

Learn It by Heart

Dear friend, listen well to my words; tune your ears to my voice. Keep my message in plain view at all times. Concentrate! Learn it by heart! Those who discover these words live, really live; body and soul, they’re bursting with health. Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts. Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you.

I believe this passage shares vital insights to assist us with keeping our life and ministry “on track.” Keeping our eyes straight ahead and ignoring all sideshow distractions isn’t always easy, but it is always necessary. There’s ALWAYS something. There’s ALWAYS been something. There will ALWAYS be something. It’s not even reasonable to assume that “someday” we’ll be free from distractions. We’re just going to have to prepare for the “stuff” that comes along with life.

I know it’s easy to suggest that “some of this stuff is important.” However, we can’t afford ourselves the luxury of granting excuses for the distractions and empowering them to rule our life. We simply have to deal with our own limitations and keep our eyes straight ahead, watching our step and allowing the road to stretch out before us.

Here are a couple of ideas that might help in this endeavor.

First: Determine to set 5 goals that you will accomplish every single day. This is referred to as “The Law of 5.” The idea is that if you were to take an axe and swing that axe at the base of a tree 5 times every day…sooner or later, regardless of the size of the tree, it’s going to fall. These 5 goals will look different for each of us, but they might look something like this:

1: Spend quality time in the presence of God.
2: Demonstrate my unfailing love for my wife and increase my relational bond with my children.
3: Develop my leadership skills to better serve my staff and team of volunteers.
4: Increase the value of someone other than myself.
5: Perform some type of physical exercise to keep my body healthy.

Second: Get them done! After you’ve prayerfully considered your own “5”—make a commitment to accomplishing these 5 things EVERY DAY. Don’t go to bed without swinging that axe! If you find that “other things” are robbing you of the time required to accomplishing your 5, then deal with the “other things” by allowing others to assist you. Get yourself an intern and train them to prioritize your scheduling. Have phone calls and emails directed through a competent secretary and only deal with issues that NOBODY ELSE could possibly understand. Realize your own limitations and don’t over-exaggerate your own value.

Third: Get real with yourself. We often tend to believe that our own value is determined by “what we do” rather than by “who we are.” Due to this false belief, we believe that others will devalue us if we are not the one who is performing certain tasks. Unwittingly, we are intimidated by the thought of an underling accomplishing tasks that we think make us look more needed. However, it is our calling to develop people—NOT to perform tasks. As we raise up “others” and empower them to succeed, we gladden the heart of God, while our own value increases in the process.

We’ve all got the same amount of time. Nobody gets 25 hours in a day. Discipline and wisdom allow us to accomplish the tasks that matter. Our greatest assignment is determining which one’s those are!