Working “On” It, Not Just “At” It

I can remember stores and businesses that served our community and nearby town where I grew up that are no longer in existence today. There are many reasons why these businesses sadly did not make it. 

In some cases, they may have spent so much time working “at” their business that they forgot to work “on” it. Leadership experts today are encouraging leaders to take time to work on their business — making calculated changes and improvements — instead of getting too caught up in day-to-day operations. 

Even in ministry, it’s important to pause and think about your work. Then ask important questions: Are there opportunities we are missing? Do our programs still have their intended impact? Are our workers still motivated? What are the threats and opportunities coming our way in the future? 

Questions like this can’t be answered during the hectic pace of ministry leadership. They require taking some time to pull away from the demands of our leadership roles and thinking about our work and finding ways to be more effective.  

How can pastors, AMS leaders, missionaries, evangelists, church staff, ministry leaders and the like find time to do this? Here are five suggestions:  

1. Take an hour. Find one hour each week where you can get away from your home or office and go to a place where you can dream about your work. Take paper and pen and write ideas and possibilities as well as threats and challenges. Doing this week after week will create a rhythm where you are giving attention to the future and direction of the ministry. 

2. Invite others to dream with you. Find two or three key leaders who are invested in the work and spend time with them, asking how they view the ministry and what they think needs attention. You may be both encouraged and challenged as you hear how other key leaders view the work.  

3. Read books that will sharpen and challenge you as a leader. I am currently reading The Gospel Shaped Leader by Scott Thomas and find it challenging some areas of my leadership that need attention. I also read secular leadership books and glean insights that can be used in a ministry setting. Reading not only benefits us by exposing us to new ideas, but it may also generate fresh thinking about our current situation.  

4. Listen to a leadership podcast during your drive or exercise time. There is much common wisdom that can be learned from leaders who lead well in their place of responsibility. Many of these leaders are believers and are striving to do their work unto the Lord. I love Ron Edmonson’s leadership podcast and Dr. Hershael York’s pastor podcast. I also host a podcast each week with various ministry leaders you may find beneficial. These podcasts, and others, can help us think about our work.  

5. Study the life of another leader and spend time with them. You will not need to mimic their style, because God made you unique. But you can learn how they approach various situations. Invite a leader to lunch and come with a list of questions to discuss. This time can help you reflect on your own ministry and may also help you develop a friendship that can provide needed counsel in the future.  

I spent time recently with an active ministry director. The demands on him are such that he could spend every waking hour at work and still would not complete everything that could be done. How does someone with the unique demands of his work find time to invest in himself? He has decided that the cost of investment is less than the cost of not investing. He is currently working on a post-graduate degree that will complement the work he does in the organization he leads. 

Regardless of what this next step may be for you and the ministry you lead, decide today how you will take time to work “on your business” in 2023. Determine one practical next step and follow through with it this week. You never know how it might change your leadership for the better. 

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