The Big Question… How In The World Do I Balance It All?

A Busy Leader's Guide To Keeping First Things First (Part 1)

BALANCE…  we all want it.  We all need it.  Yet it’s a bit harder of a thing to find than it is a word to say.

Balance

In my annual Reader Survey, I found that over half of the readers on my blog are either paid staff or leaders in some capacity in their church or children’s ministry.

And when asked these questions, “What is the #1 challenge you are facing or question you would like answered about the family… children’s ministry… and ministry and leadership”, the overwhelming response to all three questions was the same – How Do I Balance It All – family, work, ministry, etc.?

I can certainly relate with this challenge, having struggled through the years to find this balance myself.  But thankfully, while I’ve by no means arrived, I do feel at a place in life having better balance than any time before.

While these principles may come from the slant of a pastor’s perspective, whether you serve as full-time staff, a bi-vocational pastor, or a ministry volunteer, I believe that these principles can apply to all of us if we’re willing to implement them.

So with those thoughts in mind, let’s address the issue of The Big Question – How in the world do I balance it all?

Here’s three things that are the best place to start…

1. DETERMINE YOUR ORDER OF PRIORITIES – God, Family, then Ministry

Long before God established the church, He instituted the family, as both the cornerstone of society and the world itself.  (Genesis 1:27-28, 2:22-24)

From the start, we must understand that before we will ever find balance in our lives, our families, and our ministries, we must align our order of priorities with God’s – He comes first,  our family comes next, and the ministry follows.

While God’s calling to the ministry is one of the greatest on earth, it is not above God’s calling upon our lives to be husbands or wives, and fathers or mothers.

Because no matter what we accomplish through our ministries, if we fail to accomplish God’s plan through our family, we’ve truly made a deal with the devil that’s not worth the trade-off.

Far too many Christian families have been guilty of prioritizing their work for God above their love for family, and ended up losing their family as a result.  God never intended it to be that way, nor does it have to be.

I submit to you that it is possible to serve in a busy and growing ministry while at the same time having a thriving and successful family life.  It simply takes intentionality about prioritizing what matters most.  (This is one of the reasons I recently introduced The Intentional Family Game Plan as a free resource. If you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to check it out.)

Remember this – you may invest into multiple churches or ministries throughout your lifetime, but God has given you only one family to invest in.  Following your relationship with the Lord, your family is to be your primary priority.  God. Family. Ministry.

Once you’ve determined your priorities, you need to…

2. DEVELOP YOUR SCHEDULE AROUND THOSE PRIORITIES 

This requires that you intentionally evaluate your life, your time, and your schedule, to see if they’re lining up with your priorities.  Because no matter what we say our priorities are, if our daily life doesn’t back them up, they’re nothing more than words, and we’ve successfully deceived ourselves into thinking that good intentions equal intentionality.

Sadly, it’s much harder to deceive our families, because whether we want to admit it or not, they know where they land in our order of priorities.

You may have heard of Stephen Covey’s powerful illustration of the big rocks (representing your most important priorities) and the small pebbles (representing the secondary things in your life that are of less importance).

In his illustration, if you pour the small pebbles into a jar first, then try to fit all of the big rocks on top, it’s impossible to fit them all.  But if you put the big rocks into the jar first, pouring the small pebbles in afterwards, the pebbles fill the cracks in between the big rocks, allowing everything to fit in the same jar after all.

Rock Illustration

The point is simple – that first things must come first… then the rest.  Learn to prioritize what matters most first, and then do those more trivial things.

Unlike the illustration, sometimes, even after scheduling what matters most first, you still won’t have time for all of the more trivial things, and guess what, that’s okay.  Learn to accept it.  Life will go on, and the most important things will have been accomplished.  This has been a hard lesson for me to learn.

I’ve found that the best and sometimes only way to make all of this happen is to put in on your schedule.  Because what get’s scheduled gets done.

Finally, you must…

3. DEPEND ON SOME PEOPLE YOU TRUST TO HELP HOLD YOU ACCOUNTABLE

Once you’ve determined and scheduled your priorities, make yourself vulnerable, and your schedule of priorities available to someone else that you trust.  It might be your spouse, a good friend, or someone else you trust to have your best interest in mind.

When it come to balancing ministry and family for me, I’m very blessed with a pastor/boss who not only exemplifies such balance himself by following a pre-determined schedule that includes consistently leaving the office each night on time, but also strongly encourages his staff to do the same.

Whether you find yourself in a similar situation or not, take matters into your own hands to both hold yourself accountable and find someone else to help hold you accountable as well.

While these three things may seem like overly practical reminders of how to set your priorities, I hope you’ll personally and honestly answer the question of whether or not you’ve actually taken the time to do them, and then take whatever actions necessary.

Once you’ve done these things, you’ve laid the groundwork for successfully benefiting from what I’ll be sharing with you in the next post – 7 Practical Keys to Balancing Family, Work, & Ministry. These are seven things that I’ve learned to put into practice that have helped to bring the needed balance in my life, and I trust that they’ll help you to do the same in yours.

“Remember, balance is never an instant luxury to be assumed, it’s an ongoing discipline to be achieved.”

If you’ve found the tips in this article to be helpful, please share it with others!

5 Essentials To Becoming A Star Staff Member

How to become a first rate 'second man'

If you serve in a staff position or as a leader in ministry at your church, one of the most important relationships you have is the one with your pastor.  In an effort to make that relationship the best that it can be and yourself the best that you can be, here are 5 specific ways that you can strive to be a star staff member…

Star Staff Member

1. Prioritize Your Pastor

  • By prioritizing his Vision… Your Pastor’s ministry (not your own) is your first priority.  While you certainly need to have a vision for your own ministry, you are not there to carry out your own vision.  Your ministry is an extension of your pastor’s.  Your vision must first and foremost align with his.
  • By prioritizing his Reputation… You are a reflection of your pastor’s leadership and ministry.  Guarding your testimony is in essence guarding his.
  • By prioritizing his Awareness… Your pastor ought to be a better leader because of you, otherwise, why are you there?  Keep him in the know of things that he should be made aware of, and learn to take care of the things that he shouldn’t have to be bothered with.  If you don’t yet know the difference, ask him about his preferences concerning what he does and doesn’t want brought to his attention.  It will be a win-win for both of you.
  • By prioritizing his Time… Pastors are busy people, and if anyone knows that, it should be a staff member.  Do your best to guard your pastor’s time and to relieve him of any and all burdens that you can.  This requires that you be a servant willing to do any and all things that ministry requires, whether that be cleaning toilets, mowing grass, shoveling snow, making visits or running errands.  Just remember, until you are the one preparing 3+ sermons a week, it’s important that you are making it possible for your pastor to be able to do so effectively.

“Allow the term ‘Servant’ to be your job description.  Anything that falls under that description, do it.”via Twitter, The Second Man (@TheSecndMan)

2.  Leverage Longevity

Why is it that statistically, the average church staff position is only filled for 3-4 years?  If the people leading can’t learn to work through adversity to be real and lasting leaders, why should we wonder why we lack in seeing real and lasting results?

I’m convinced that there are certain joys of ministry that some pastors and staff will never experience because they don’t stay long enough to see those joys come to fruition.

Certainly there are times when it’s just “time to go”, but one of the greatest blessings in ministry for both pastor and people is when staff members stay the course to make a real, lasting difference and eternal impact, and not just use a position as a personal stepping stone to greener grass somewhere else.

3. Overcome Offenses

One of the reasons for such short term staff life is that oftentimes, as soon as offenses or difficulties come, staff leave.  There is always an end to every honeymoon stage, whether it’s in a marriage or a ministry.

For as long as you’re in ministry, you’re going to get hurt, and things are going to get hard at times. But that’s often when the boys are separated from the men.  As leaders, we can’t carry our feelings on our shoulders.  If we expect our people to overcome offenses, we’d better be the ones leading the way.

Here’s a couple of tips when it comes to dealing with offenses in the ministry:

  1. Men, lead your wife, not the other way around.  Don’t get quickly offended through your wife and her offenses. There’s a reason why God put the man in charge in the home.  Decisions must be made rationally, not emotionally.
  2. Don’t make major ministry decisions based on offenses, but based upon prayer and God’s leading.  Yes, there may come a time when God moves you, but I’m afraid that too many ministries have ended prematurely because men of God have acted in the heat of the moment, rather than as a result of waiting on God and walking in the Spirit.
  3. Get over it.  In ministry, there are much bigger things at stake than just our feelings.  So for the bigger purpose, one way or another, we’ve got to learn to move on.

“Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” Psalms 119:165

4. Contribute to Your Culture

Every church staff has it’s own culture, and it’s okay that one is different from another.  It’s important that as a staff member, you understand and adapt to the culture of your particular church, while at the same time contributing to making it better.

If a staff member is not careful, they can come into a church situation and see all the things they don’t like about the culture, and set out to change them.  When in reality, none of those things are biblical principles, as much as they are cultural preferences.  An understanding of this difference can prevent a lot of headache and disunity in a ministry.

Remember that the culture is ultimately set by the pastor and it is usually not a doctrinal issue.  It is, for the most part, a personality issue. Meaning, there will be as many different styles of church cultures out there as there are men leading them.

Just as every pastor’s personality is different, every church culture will be different as well.  And that is a good thing, as God has placed that specific man in that specific place for His specific purpose.  Wherever God has placed you, learn to both adapt to the culture, while at the same time contributing towards improving it.

5. Excel in Excellence

Whatever your area of ministry, strive for excellence!

Constantly be working to improve and pursue bettering yourself in your areas of passion and gifting.

Never forget that you are your pastor’s representative and a reflection of him to the people of your church and community.  When you excel, you make your pastor look good, and it ought to be your desire that your leadership reflects well upon him and his ministry.  And honestly, if that’s not your desire, you need to find somewhere else to serve and someone else to be paying you your salary.

God deserves your best.  Your pastor deserves your best.  And the people of your church who sacrifice to make your salary possible deserve your best as well.  So Excel!

Just as Joshua enhanced the leadership of Moses, and Timothy reflected well upon the ministry of Paul, may the same things be true of us as “second men.”

What would you add to this list of ways to be a star staff member?

If you’re a ministry leader in any capacity, I’m praying for you today.  Feel free to let me know if you have any specific requests that I can pray with you about.

5 Ideas to JUMPSTART Your Mornings in the New Year

How To Have Your Most Productive Year Yet!

Let’s be real honest… some of us need some super jumper cables to revive us and jumpstart our lives every morning.  (Yes, we call it Coffee! Preferably with french vanilla creamer to be exact.)

Our groans when the alarm goes off sound similar to our car engines on a cold morning trying to turn over… and over… and over again.  Whether you’re a parent who’s feeling the drag, a kidmin or other ministry leader who can’t seem to find the time to get it all done, or anyone else, let me quickly give you five ways to jumpstart your mornings in the coming year.

I challenge you to try these things for just one week, 7 days, and see if you don’t find yourself more productive as a parent or leader, and well pleased with your results.  I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll like these 5 things, but I can pretty well guarantee that if you’ll discipline yourself to do them, you’ll gladly reap the benefits.   So here they are, 5 Ideas to Jumpstart your mornings in 2016.

1) Get out of bed immediately when you’re alarm goes off

I know this sounds absurdly crazy for some of us, but why should we continue wasting 10, 20, 30 minutes or even an hour of our day every day trying to get more sleep that’s not even good for us, and actually slows us down throughout the rest of the day?

For me personally, it gives me a headache throughout the day if I push the snooze button multiple times in the morning.

Years ago, a friend and I decided to both try this out – to wake up “snooze-less” for two weeks, and hold each other accountable each morning.  We both found that it was actually quite beneficial to our daily routine.  I can’t say I’ve always been consistent since then, but I’m finding it’s value once again as I’m trying to make my mornings a time of peak productivity.

Try it… if you dare.  You’ll feel more refreshed at the start of your day (of course, that is, after the initial painful forcing of yourself to get up out of bed.)

2) Drink a glass of water before you eat or start your day

I’m going to guess that all of us need to drink more water than we do.  A great way to start is by holding off on breakfast or that first cup of coffee until we’ve first downed a good sized glass of water to replenish and rehydrate our system after the night’s rest.

This is one of our family’s goals for the coming year… to drink more water this year than any other…  And it all starts for each of us as soon as we wake up.  The benefits are too many to list, but here’s a few… it purifies the body, helps you eat less and loose weight, and even forces you to take more breaks throughout the day 😃.

Try it out, and you’re going to feel more refreshed, more healthy, and less weighed down.  God made water for our bodies, and we need a lot more of it than we get.

3) Get up one hour earlier than normal

For years I would wake up around 7am, giving myself an hour to get up and ready to leave for work. Until one day I realized I was cheating myself out of potentially some of the most productive time of my day – early morning.  (It’s the quietest time of the day, everyone else is still asleep, and my mind is sharper than at other times.)

If you want to get up an hour earlier, it’s really pretty simple, don’t miss this… go to bed one hour earlier!  Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep to get a full night’s rest.  Find out what your need is, and then plan your sleep accordingly so you can get up and be productive in the morning.

I think you’ll find that it’s not just your mornings that become better, but you’ll actually notice the benefit of it the entire rest of the day.

4) Have a specific plan

Getting up an hour earlier does you no good if you don’t have a plan for what you’re going to do with that extra hour.  (If you’re just going to wake up an hour earlier to watch Good Morning America, then you might as well stay in bed.)

Write your morning game plan down on a piece of paper.  If you’ve now got two hours in the morning instead of just one, it might look something like this (you could allot 30 minutes for each)…

  • Wake up and get ready for the day
  • Spend time alone with God in Bible reading and prayer
  • Eat breakfast and/or exercise
  • Spend time writing, reading, or journaling

Whatever you decide to do, have a specific plan.

And now for the biggin’…

5) Say No to Facebook until after your morning routine

I know, some of you just about spilt or spewed your coffee when you read that.

Statistically, 80% of smartphone users check social media within the first 15 minutes of waking up. And, as I’m sure you know, sometimes it eats up the first 30 minutes or more of their day. You don’t have t0 be a statistic.  You can be an overcomer of the little red notification button. I believe in you.  (I know, I know, it’s calling you’re name as soon as you wake up and see it.)

For some of you, don’t even look at or open FB, because once you do, you’ve just shot your morning game plan in the foot.

The average person spends 87 minutes a day on social media Monday through Thursday, and over 160 minutes a day on the weekends.  However, also on average, a person can read about 12,000 words per hour and write about 1,000 words per hour. (this blog post is a little over 1,000 words, in case you’re wondering)  Think about that… How many books could a person read… or write, notes of encouragement could be easily written and sent, or how many prayers go un-prayed because we’re just too occupied with something like FB novelty?

Think of what you could do in the coming year if you scratched off an extra hour of your day, every day, and implemented these five things. I have a sneaking suspicion that you, your family, and maybe even your friends will notice both the difference in you and also the greater difference you’re making beyond you.

Well, there you have it.   The question now is, will you do it?  I’d challenge you to take on any one of these 5 things and implement them into your morning routine.  Or if you’re up for it, take on all 5, for just one week, and then look back and consider the benefits.  You might just decide not to stop.

I’d love to hear how it goes.  Also, I’d love to hear which one of the five you feel is the most important.  You can share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

3 Surprisingly Unexpected Ways To Evaluate Your Year

At the end of a year, wise people will stop and evaluate the previous year, and see how they can improve themselves over the next 12 months.  Well, the last page of this last year is soon to be written, and the first page of the next is almost ready to be turned.

Before you turn the page on a new year, here are 3 super simple, yet easily overlooked things to check to evaluate your 2016.  I hope you’ll take this challenge, and check these 3 things, even today.

1.   Your FACEBOOK

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are pretty high that you have a Facebook account, and that you even use it quite frequently.

Here’s the challenge… Go to your profile page and take 30 minutes to scroll through your entire 2015 year’s posts.  Look at the type of things you posted about the most and ask yourself some questions:

  • Are the majority of my posts positive or negative?
  • Did I post anything in the heat of the moment that looking back, I regret now?
  • Did I tear anyone down, build anyone up, or exalt God through my posts?
  • Did I post about anything spiritual, encouraging, or helpful?
  • If I were someone else, would I want to follow me and get my posts in my news feed every day?
  • What do my last year’s posts reveal about my priorities and life perspective?

2.  Your CHECKBOOK

Jesus said that “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Look at your checkbook log over the last year (yes, please tell me that you have one 🙂 )  It reveals not only where you’re investing, but more importantly, it’s a good indicator of where your heart is.

Grab your checkbook, and here’s the challenge as you look through it… Ask yourself these questions:

  • If someone else were looking at my checking log, could they easily see that God and His Church were given first priority in my giving?
  • Apart from my giving to God, can I find any other expenses that were used for the benefit of others outside of my family?
  • Approximately what dollar amount did I spend each month on personal convenience, pampering, and entertainment?
  • Looking at the previous year’s log, where do I feel I need to adjust my spending habits or my priorities?

3.  Your copy of GOD’S BOOK

While we’re checking the “books” that play an important role in our year to year life, let’s not forget about the most important book of all – God’s Word.

Here’s the challenge… Pick up your Bible right now, open it up, and answer these questions as you flip through it’s pages:

  • Is your Bible any different at the end of this year than it was as the beginning?
  • Are there any more highlights, notes written in the margins, or wear and tear from usage?
  • Did you read it more or less than the previous year?  Did you read it daily?
  • At the end of another year, do you know more about your Bible than you do about the latest TV series you watched or the latest gossip on FB?

Someone once wisely said, “A Bible that’s falling apart belongs to a Christian who isn’t.”

Unfortunately, if we were to put all three of the above “books” into printed form, I have a feeling that the first two in the list might show significantly more wear and tear than the last.  Sad, but true.

Will 2017 be any different?  Well, Now is the time to decide!

Let’s get ready to write the first page of 2016 with things like building up others, investing our treasures into what really matters, and spending more of our time in the only Book that has the power to change our lives!

Books I Read In 2015

Throughout the year, I try to read through a new book every couple of months.  Here are the books I read in 2015.

Books Read in 2015

These are not in order of importance, simply in the order that I read them throughout the year. (I purposefully didn’t include the Bible in this list considering it should be a given.  However, by the end of the month, I will have read through it this year as well.)

What If Jesus Was A Ministry Volunteer?

A Glimpse Of What It Looks Like To Be The Perfect Volunteer

Churches are some of the largest volunteer organizations in the world.  Without volunteers, ministry doesn’t get done.

Ministry Volunteer

Yet, every church and ministry struggles with having both the number of volunteers they need as well as the level of commitment from the volunteers they have.

Imagine with me, what if every volunteer in your ministry was a ‘perfect volunteer’?

Well, we know that there’s no such thing as a perfect volunteer.  That is, of course, unless Jesus Himself were to walk through the doors of your church to serve.

So… what if this week in your church, Jesus did, in fact, walk in to serve as a volunteer in your ministry?  What would that look like?

Well, imagine with me for a moment…

  1. He would have spent sufficient time with the Father prior to showing up for ministry to make sure His spirit was right, His motives were pure, and His #1 goal was to please the Father.  John 8:29
  2. He would be committed and dependable in His area of ministry. He would take His ministry as seriously as if He were going to give an answer to God for it.  John 5:36
  3. He would be passionate, going above and beyond what was expected, reaching for what was exceptional and remarkable. He would be trusted to get a job done and to get it done right.  John 17:4
  4. He would “own it.” He would show possession for whatever responsibilities were given to Him, and would seek to excel in the use of His talents and abilities to make that ministry better.  John 17:12
  5. He would take ministry as seriously as any other job.  He would show up on time, every time, to be in His place without fail.  Luke 16:10
  6. He would be invested.  To Jesus, it wouldn’t be just about filling a time slot or appeasing the pastor until the next time. It would be about making a real, eternal difference by giving it all He’s got.  John 6:39
  7. He would have an obvious passion, an infectious smile, and a warm and gracious spirit with all those He interacted with.  Mark 10:13-16
  8. He would submit to and support the church leadership and their vision for moving the church forward, even when He might have personally chosen to do things somewhat differently.  He would align to the vision, adopting it as His own, and owning His piece of that vision.  John 8:28
  9. He would motivate and encourage those who serve alongside of Him by His positive attitude and team spirit.  John 13:14-15
  10. He would be flexible when changes and adjustments were required, willing to change His plans as necessary in order to make ministry happen effectively.  Luke 22:42
  11. He would serve, not for the praise of men, but for the glory of God. He would realize that no ministry is too big or too small to serve in.  Regardless of what responsibility He was given, He would understand that it mattered, whether it was done in public or in private, whether it was done to be a help to the saved or to the lost, whether He was recognized for it, or seldom noticed.  John 13:31
  12. He would guard His testimony as a believer, understanding that He is a walking Bible, and a reflection of Christ and His Church to the world, either for good or bad.  He would protect the testimony of Christ and the Church through His words, His actions, and His conduct (both online and offline).  John 8:29, 14:9
  13. He would understand that His commitments to ministry take priority over his desire to be comfortable, entertained, or never having to be inconvenienced.  Matthew 8:20, 20:28

As a Christian, our job is to continually be conforming to the image of Christ.  This would include our service to the Lord as a ministry volunteer.

If you are a ministry volunteer in any area, while we may never attain the status of “volunteer perfection”, let’s make it our goal to try!

Because if the church were filled with lots of Jesus’s for volunteers, the church would be an even better and more effective place at making a difference and reaching the world.

Romans 8:29  “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

Leading From the Bench – The Discipline of Delegation

After more than 14 years of ministry, if I had to do it all over again, I’d certainly change some things.

Discipline of Delegation

I’d change some things about myself as a leader and my leadership approach. And one of the things that I’d do differently is I’d have been equally a delegator as much as I was a doer.

Earth is Playdough, Eternity’s a Stone – No Difference We Can Make In Heaven

“Earth is playdough, Eternity’s a stone.”

Earth is Playdough

Image Courtesy of PlayDough World Channel

Does it ever suddenly occur to you that life is quickly passing you by, and eternity is even more quickly approaching? Every day, eternity could literally be just one breath away for any of us.

I’m a Better Christian Today Because of These 4 Things a New Believer Taught Me

With the new birth at salvation comes new life in Christ. It’s fresh. It’s raw. And it’s real.

Salvador

I love seeing the “new man” develop in the heart and life of a new believer in Christ. And one of the biggest reasons is because it’s energizing and motivating to those of us who are sometimes guilty of allowing the “newness” of what we’ve been given in Christ to wear off and begin to fade a bit.

Life and Ministry Lessons I’ve Learned from My Pastor

In just a few weeks, our family will be answering God’s call and transitioning to a new ministry in Illinois.  As I look back on the the past 14 years of ministry in Liberal, KS, God has blessed me abundantly with an amazing church to call home, and a wonderful pastor to call my friend. Pastor Bill Prater has been a mentor, an encourager, and a friend to me, for which I am thankful.

Pastor and Katie

The life and ministry lessons I’ve learned from him are more than I could express here, but I want to give you a few of them that have shaped and made me a better pastor and ministry leader.

Here are 8 life and ministry lessons I’ve learned from my Pastor:

5 Qualities of Great Servant Leadership

Ronald Reagan, who was a great servant leader, once wisely said, “In the end, it all comes down to leadership.”

Reagan

All of us, in some way or another, are leaders in some area of our lives, because as John Maxwell puts it, leadership is influence, and we all have influence.

And one of the greatest ways to leave a positive impact through our influence is to not just to be a leader, but to strive for being a servant leader.

Leveraging Your Most Contagious Asset – Your SMILE :-)

Every person, every day has something to offer to make the world around them a better place. Whether as a student or teacher, an employee or employer, a parent or a grandparent.

DSC_4363-03

Each one of us have a unique contribution that we alone can be or do to change the world around us.

However, there’s one thing that every single person possesses that has the positive power to influence for good… if they’ll simply choose to put it to use.