Sharpening your axe

Ecclesiastes 10:10 says, “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.”

Do you find yourself working harder and harder in leadership with little increase in effectiveness? Many ministry leaders around Kentucky work diligently each week to further the gospel and encourage their congregation, but those same leaders often overlook the opportunity to “sharpen their axe” by adding wisdom and effectiveness in their ministry where brute force alone can fail.

In leadership development circles, the practice of sharpening one’s axe has become synonymous with staying updated and equipped for one’s profession. Dr. Stephen R. Covey defined “sharpen your saw (or axe)” to be “increasing your personal productivity by having a balanced strategy to renew yourself in the four aspects of life: physical, social, mental, and spiritual.”

Many have heard the story of a wood cutter who was able with his trusted ax to chop down ten trees in one day which ranked him among the top woodcutters on the team. However, on day two his productivity dropped to 8 trees and by the third day only five trees. What happened? As the story goes, he failed to sharpen his axe. A dull axe resulted in increased labor and decreased productivity. The time needed to slow down and apply the file to the metal would have allowed the fictitious wood chopper to cut more wood in less time with less energy.

You may be thinking, “This is a nice story, but what does it have to do with church or ministry leadership?” Everything. You are the axe, and if you are to be effective in your work, you must spend time developing and strengthening your own skills.

Leaders who fail to invest in personal development are more likely to experience greater weariness and fatigue. They may spend more time in discouragement and pursuing distractions and may be less efficient in their work than one who regularly pulls away for personal development.

How can a leader sharpen himself or herself for the work assigned by the Lord?

One way to think strategically and systematically about personal development is to ask and answer what you can do daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually to invest in personal development. The answer to these questions can help you formulate a plan.

What can you do today to sharpen yourself for ministry and leadership?
  • Read a book: Richard Blackaby likes to say he looks at a pastor’s bookshelf to discover what year he died. What Blackaby is describing is whether there are any recent books being read by the leader. What are you currently reading to stay fresh for ministry?
  • Continue your education: For Kentucky Baptists, there are multiple options for those who want more education. Clear Creek Baptist Bible College offers a bivocational pastor certificate, an undergraduate degree, and a master’s degree either online or in person. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College also provide multiple degree programs.
  • Attend a conference: Your local Baptist association and your Kentucky Baptist Convention provide a wide variety of training opportunities throughout the year that address everything from missions development and evangelism to church revitalization and ministry-specific leadership. Go to to learn more.
  • Start a learning cohort: Ask two or three other leaders to join you in reading a book or researching a topic for growth.
  • Find a mentor: If you do not have one, then ask an older and more seasoned leader to lunch and come ready with your list of questions.

If you haven’t yet evaluated your effectiveness or “sharpness” as a leader, start today. The long-term impact of your ministry is at stake. What is one thing you can do to sharpen yourself as a leader? Click here to share your answer.

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