Cutting Down Ministry Trees With Dull Axes

I have worked with and talked with countless ministries, Senior Pastors and staff teams from around the world. Every one of these groups have a desire to grow, a desire to be efficient and a desire to be productive. Every ministry tries different strategies to foster growth, efficiency and productivity. The most over-looked strategy to propel growth, efficiency and productivity is “time off and rest.”

In all seriousness, Sr. Pastors should try to find themselves in the sweet spot of preaching between 35-40 weekends per year (no more.) If they are preaching more than that, they probably aren’t raising up any other leaders/teachers, they probably don’t have adequate relationships with other Sr. Pastors, they are probably stifling the organizational growth culture and they are setting themselves up for burnout and failure. In addition to time off, an appropriate sabbatical policy should also be in the mix as well.

When it comes to the staff, some cultures only allow staff to take off 2 ministry weekends a year. Seriously, that is absolutely ludicrous if the ministry truly desires to grow, while increasing efficiency and productivity. The staff need to rest and there is not a staff member on the planet that is so important that they can’t take more than two weekends off. If they are perceived to be that important, they probably aren’t leading because they should be able to raise other leaders up to keep the ship going in their absence. Staff should take off no less than 4-6 weekends a year and ideally 2 of those weekends should be back to back. You must know your culture and know your rhythms.

The same thing is true for high capacity volunteers, especially those that volunteer multiple services and in multiple ministries. These individuals generally have demanding full-time jobs and need to rest, rejuvenate and recuperate, in order to increase their productivity. It’s up to the staff and ministry leaders to know the various rhythms and be in tune with when to encourage and sometimes demand volunteers take some time-off.

If you want to grow, be productive and efficient, you must schedule time to rest, time to refresh, time to energize and time to do absolutely nothing. Stephen Covey refers to this as sharpening your axe. He tells the story of someone so busy cutting down trees that they don’t take time to stop and sharpen their axe. The person who takes the time to sharpen their axe will cut down more trees. Some ministry staff, Sr. Pastors and volunteers are cutting down ministry trees with dull axes.

Sometimes the most important times to take off and rest is when it’s the craziest and the furious ministry storms are coming at you 100 mph.

23Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8:24-27

What kind of man is this? He is “Jesus” the kind of man that took time to rest. Just as Jesus said to his disciples, I will say to ministry leaders “The reason you and your staff are not taking time off is because you are of little faith, you have so little faith that you don’t think the ship can float with out you or your team guiding the ship.” Get some rest, have some faith and watch how smooth your ministry ship will sail. Sailing to the shores of efficiency, productivity, growth and a bonus island called “health.”

What do you think? Share your thoughts and experiences. 

  • OMG, this is very strange to me. In all my years – now I’m a bit stumped, I’ve never heard of any church leader (back in my church days) push for people to have a break, holiday, time-off as you’ve mentioned in this post, but rather the complete opposite. Church almost killed me with the amount of times you had to attend, and the length of time you had to stay there when you were in attendance, and your real life commitments were NEVER taken into account. In fact missing church meant you were not of God, or it was implied that you were obviously not of that special ‘fold’ in the first place. I couldn’t run fast enough and far enough.

    It’s very refreshing to read this post encouraging people to rest. Wow.

    • ScottWilliams

      It sometimes appear to be a badge of honor to be a workaholic when it comes to the church and ever other “aholic” is criticized. Thx, glad the post was refreshing.

  • Lovin’ life

    I agree with the idea of getting enough rest and refreshment. The amount of R & R time indicated in this article is not supported by any data. It is most likely a personal preference about time off. I work about 45 hours a week, plus travel time. Then I am routinely asked (appropriately so) to do volunteer work at the church. This decreases my available R & R time. No one encourages me to volunteer less. I think the key issue here is developing others. If someone never leaves the pulpit or delegates other aspects of church leadership, they are not developing others.

    • ScottWilliams

      Your story is true of many as it relates to the 45+ hrs. Ministry leaders must be aware of their volunteers schedule, rhythms and time off. Thx for your insight

  • You have people in your church for a reason (several, really): to worship God, to be in community with others, to serve others, to reach out. Unless you believe that in your role of a pastor there are things only you can do in your role (for example, perhaps in your church only the pastor can officiate at baptisms), it’s likely that your church service can get along quite well without you once in a while. (And maybe more…)

    It’s a matter of trust and training. Do your people and your staff know what it’s like when someone else is doing something only you can do? For example, do you let others have the pulpit once in a while so you can sit in the back and listen–and then even take off and have a vacation while others preach?

    It’s possible, and I think it’s good. In my own church all the pastors get time off, including the senior pastor, who took off for a month last year for his sabbatical.

    The world won’t end if you have another guest speaker. And you’ll get recharged just by doing something else once in a while.

    • ScottWilliams

      very well said… thx for the comment

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