7 Ways a Pastor has a Great Weekend (Sabbath)

Chaise lounge and umbrella on sand beach.

I recently wrote 7 Ways a Leader Has a Better Weekend. Read that post before you read this one. The most repeated response I received to that post, however, was “Where is the one for pastors?” or “Can you write one for pastors?”

Actually, I thought I was writing for pastors too, but obviously I need to add a little clarity. So, here goes. (By the way, I previously wrote 7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath.)

How does a pastor have a great weekend?

Here are 7 ways:

Plan ahead – Sunday is coming. It comes about the same time every week. And, so should be your Sabbath. It should come every week. I know too many pastors who wait to the last minute to get prepared. They may let everything else distract them during the week, and at the end of the week they have no choice but to cram for a message. I plan my week knowing I’m going to take a day off at the end of the week.

Delegate – Equip people. Lead leaders. This is so critical if you want to disciple others and be effective in your own pastorate. When you believe you are the one who has to do things, or has to know everything, you’ll be married to a ministry more than your spouse. Your schedule will be dictated by ministry needs, which are endless, more than by ministry objectives, which builds disciples.

Entrust people – This may appear the same but some need to hear it again. The fact is, many who think they know how to delegate actually don’t. They assign tasks, but they never delegate responsibility or ownership. In the end, they end up being just as involved in a project as if they’d never delegated. If you think you can do it all or you’re even supposed to you’re going to eventually hit a brick wall. I realize your church sometimes puts undue pressure on you to be everywhere and know everything, but you may have to learn better how to lead the church to a healthier (and more Biblical) reality. You may certainly need to learn to protect your family and your Sabbath.

Write your sermon all week – Get the main idea. Just one. Put it in your schema. All week build on that idea. I use Evernote and I’m consistently adding thoughts to the file for messages. I may have messages I’m building upon that won’t be preached for six months. It makes writing a sermon much easier when I have notes already in place that were spurred from my heart and mind through daily living.

Be willing to say no – It’s amazing how many pastors resist my encouragement on this one. They think they have to be everywhere, even on the weekend. Every social. Every invitation. Everything the church does. I’ve even had church members say “that’s what I’m paid to do”. They want me available when they want me available. I know pastors who agree. The problem is this isn’t practical for my personal health or the health of my family, especially longterm. Which ultimately is not health for the church. Pastor, if you would teach your church to honor the sabbath then shouldn’t you lead the way?

Listen to your spouse and family – If you are not sure if you are protecting your family or personal time…ask them. Give them the opportunity to speak into your life. Ask them if they think ministry gets in the way of your time with them. Ask them to be honest, but to tell you which they think you love more…them or your ministry. (Wow…will you really ask that?…even I’m not sure you should. Actually, I think you already know the answer…whichever it is.) Before I get the emails, let me be clear I’m not talking about your love for Christ. That always comes first. But, love (or devotion) for ministry doesn’t always originate out of love for Christ. Many times it originates simply out of a sense of obligation that’s man made not God inspired. Make sure you’re following Christ more than traditions of men. And make sure your honoring your family over any other human relationship.

Have a true Sabbath – Your weekend may not look like everyone else’s, but you can have one. You can do a Monday and Saturday combination or a Friday and Saturday, whatever works best in your setting. Again, don’t be ruled by what society says is a weekend. Just be ruled by the truth that you need rest. I work six days most weeks. I don’t recommend it unless you’re wired that way. But on my day off…I’m off. It is rare for anything to interrupt that day, except for unavoidable occurrences, (which obviously occur in ministry or outside of ministry). This sounds so harsh to some people, but I don’t mean it to be. I didn’t make up the idea of a Sabbath. I’m just trying to actually live it.

Those are my suggestions. I’m not trying to add more pressure to already stressed out pastors. I love you guys. I’m one of you. I just know you need your Sabbath. You need your rest. God seems to think so too. If you want to last for the long run…honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.

Pastors, who enjoy great weekends (great Sabbaths), what would you add?

How to Weather the Long Days of Summer as a Church

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A recent conversation on a Sunday went something like this:

Staff member: Where is everyone?

Me: It’s summer.

Staff member: But, it still seems low, even for summer.

Me: This is still up percentage wise well over last year…

Staff member: But, it doesn’t feel like it.

Me: No, it never does.

The next day I received an email from a church staffer at another church. His question prompted this post. He wondered how to handle the long days of summer, when church crowds are smaller, budgets are tighter, and volunteers are harder to find.

Honestly, it can be disappointing if you focus on attendance alone. And, anyone who says they don’t is simply much more mature than I am. You recently celebrated the crowds of Easter. One of the highest times of attendance is followed shortly after by this…the dog days of summer. (I know some churches that are equally impacted seasonally, but at other times of the year.)

The fact is the time to prepare a summer sermon takes as long as sermon preparation does in September. Or it should. But fewer people may hear it. At least in person. If you are not intentional it can be discouraging.

What should the church do during the summer months?

Here are a few thoughts:

Plan and budget accordingly – Recognize the obvious. People are going to be traveling more. The lakes will be full of boats. If your church has them, this will include paid staff, but certainly volunteers. You know it’s coming. Plan for it. Intentionally.

Find ways to stay in touch – Emails are even more important. Facebook, church newsletters and websites become even more valuable. You want people to hear from you and know what is happening even when they aren’t always there. Information helps people feel and remain connected.

Enter in with lower expectations, not lower presentations – Less people may be with you Sunday, but the people who are there shouldn’t suffer because of it. What they receive may be different. You may not have the volunteers or staff to pull off a full schedule of activities, but what you put together shouldn’t suffer in excellence. The fact is people will visit in the summer, sometimes even more so than during the fall or winter. Churched people aren’t the only ones out of their routine. Unchurched people often have more open schedules and are open to visiting if they are invited.

Plan for flexibility – Realize last minute trips will occur and people you thought would be there may quickly decide not to be. I like for the summer series, for example, to have a central theme but each week be able to stand alone. (This is not a bad idea anytime of year, because people who attend less regularly are more likely to return if they aren’t intentionally made to feel they missed something. Ideally there should be a encouragement to want to be there next week, but not a slam for missing last week. That’s a delicate balance.) Something is likely to come up with me also and someone else might need to preach. This makes it easier. We sometimes preach through a book of the Bible or some theme from the Bible. This summer we are doing Bible stories of adventure…people who took risks for their faith. If anyone preaches for me this summer, there are plenty of stories from which to choose.

Carry this flexible attitude throughout all ministries of the church during the summer. It could be, in children’s programs, that you plan more large group activities for when teachers are on short supply. You may need to pull volunteers from one area to help in another area. However it works for your church, just create a summer culture of being flexible.

Do a few special events to boost averages – Special occasions build excitement and sustain momentum through the summer months. Ice cream socials. Outdoor baptisms. Pizza parties and swim parties for youth. Dinner on the grounds. Vacation Bible School. One day concerts. They serve a purpose. We are doing a high attendance emphasis this summer. It’s really just a branding emphasis to “invite a friend”, and obviously the goal is lower than a similar day in the fall, but the hope is to boost attendance for a day. I hear from teachers frequently that they lose ground with students over the summer. It can be that way with churches too. Plan some opportunities to keep engaged.

Use the time to prepare for Fall – People will return from vacation. School will start back. People will return to church whom you’ve been missing. Will you be ready? Rest up. Plan. Prepare some exciting changes to implement. Relaunch.

Remember the vision – Again, it can be discouraging when less people are around for the summer. You simply miss getting to see some of the people. That’s a natural reaction, but remember your vision is for when two or more are gathered. The number isn’t as important as the mission being fulfilled. Celebrate what is happening and whoever comes if they are growing in Christ.

Summer can be a special time if you use it intentionally. And, remember, time flies. Fall will be here soon.

What ideas do you have for churches to “weather” the summer months?

12 of the Biggest Lies I’ve Heard People Tell

Lies concept.

Here are 12 of the biggest lies I’ve heard people tell:

I’m not going to let him (or her) hurt me anymore.

I don’t need any help.

I’ve got this under control.

I’m only going to try it one time.

God and I have an understanding.

I’m a self-made man. (Or woman)

I can stop anytime I want to.

That would never happen in my marriage.

Be honest with me. I can take it. I won’t be mad.

I don’t have time.

I’ll call you soon.

I’ll be praying about that.

Add yours.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

I’ve been listening to Jadon Lavik’s version of the song below a lot lately. It’s speaking to me. What insight a pastor from 1757 who penned this hymn had even today into my heart.

I’ve made bold the parts which speak to me most (and made super bold the line which rocks my world).

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God

He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be

Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

Which phrases speak to you most?

7 Ways a Leader Has a Better Weekend

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If you are like me you love your weekends. T.G.I.F…right? If we are not careful, however, the weekend passes so quickly and we begin another work week feeling we wasted the weekend we had. Or we are so stressed by the week behind or the week ahead that all we do is catch our breath and we can’t fully enjoy the weekend.

How can we help guarantee better weekends? Every weekend. I have learned the more intentional Cheryl and I are about planning for it, the better weekends we had as a family when our boys are home and now as empty-nesters.

Here are 7 suggestions I try to live:

Plan on Monday – Set your week up for success. Plan what you can realistically do in a week and end the week with a sense of accomplishment.

Do hard things now – Handle the hard stuff as they arise. Try not to carry it into the weekend. Obviously that’s not always possible, but many times it is. for example, don’t put off that difficult conversation you know you have to have until Monday if you can and should do it today. It will haunt you all weekend. Whatever the issue, bite the bullet and handle the tough issue, as soon as effectively possible.

Be honest with your schedule – Don’t feel bad about declining activities on the weekend. If you want to go then go, but if you’d rather relax then do that. No guilt. Say yes sparingly when accepting weekend appointments. They sometimes sound good on Monday but are less exciting on Saturday morning.

Attend church – That’s an appointment you should keep. I know it seems self-serving to suggest it, and I’m not being legalistic. That’s not my nature or theology. I’ve just hardly ever heard someone say they wish they’d skipped church. But I’ve heard many who believe it gave them a better weekend. God always seems to bless the time I give Him.

Plan ahead for a true Sabbath – Even though it makes for slightly longer weekdays, try to accomplish many of the “chores” you have to do before the weekend. Try to have some unplanned time simply to do what you enjoy.

Keep a fairly normal sleep schedule – If you always have to “catch up” on your sleep on the weekends, or you spend your week tired because of the late nights on the weekend, you never gain a healthy rhythm for life. Be reasonably consistent in your bedtime and waking up time and you’ll feel better and enjoy a more productive awake time.

Share time with people you love – The best memories center around time with people we love. When the family is running in many different directions you end the weekend feeling like you “missed” the weekend. Limit activities your family commits to or do things your family can do together. This takes prior thought and coordination but makes for a more enjoyable weekend.

Pastors, this list includes you too. I originally wrote it for you and decided to expand it to a more general audience. Your weekend may look different, but you need to protect it. I wrote THIS POST on how I protect my Sabbath.

What tips do you have for a better weekend?

5 Times Change is Hardest

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Change is hard. Almost always. Sometimes change is harder than other times. It’s then where leadership is tested. Tensions can mount. And people are more likely to object.

It’s good to know these times before a leader approaches change. Change is necessary. In fact, while change may produce conflict, without change there will be conflict. Read THIS POST For more on that statement. Since change is necessary and inevitable, understanding these scenarios before we attempt change may help us lead change better.

Here are 5 times I’ve discovered that change is hardest to accept and implement:

When there hasn’t been change in a very long time. Change becomes more comfortable when it occurs regularly. When nothing has changed for a period of time, people feel even more uncomfortable and are likely to resist more. Leaders in this scenario should make smaller changes to get small wins to hopefully spur hunger for more change, or at least stretch the comfort level for change again. Ease into it.

When there isn’t a culture of change. Sometimes people are conditioned against change. Imagine a work environment where everyone wears the same colored pants and shirt every day. Black pants and white shirt uniforms. Remember IBM? I was raised to believe they had “uniforms” of black suits and white shirts. Apparently, they never had a policy of a strict dress code. It just sprang up as culture. Changing that culture took years. When the culture is sameness, leaders often have to address culture before they address change.

When the vision for change isn’t abundantly clear. This doesn’t mean people will always agree with the change even if it is clear. Some people never agree with change. Any change. But, when there doesn’t appear to be a compelling reason for the change, opposition is more likely to occur. Good leaders help people understand the why behind the change as much as possible. It would be better to over communicate than under communicate.

When there isn’t an obvious or capable person to cast the vision and lead the change. People follow leaders they trust. It is vital when implementing change that a leader be in place who can carry the charge for the change. In cases where there is not a clear person to own the vision of change, I usually back away from the change until the leader is in place.

When the risk seems bigger than the return. By definition, faith moves us into the unknown. When we can’t discern the return on the risk we are more likely to object. While this needs to be understood, it should also be understood that anything of value requires risk. Obedience to God requires faith. Every time. So the greatest things we can achieve in life will almost always appear to have bigger risk than the return we can see in the beginning. Good leaders challenge people beyond their level of comfort. Leadership is the tension between the comfort of where we are and the potential of where we could be.

Again, none of these are reasons not to change, but understanding these can help us better navigate through change.

What other reasons have you noticed that make change especially difficult?

12 Leadership Principles of Jesus That Inspire Me

Jesus hand

There are many leaders I admire who have influenced my own leadership. I admire the teachings on leadership by guys like John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, and Patrick Lencioni. There are leaders from my personal life such as a former pastor, a former boss, a high school principal and leaders in my own community who have influenced me as I have watched their leadership. I also love to learn from a great athletic coach. I have been known to choose the teams I support by the coach that leads them. I love leadership. It is so needed these days; especially in our churches.

The principles, however, that I admire most are found in the leadership style of Jesus. Jesus’ leadership is still impacting culture today.

Here are 12 leadership principles of Jesus that inspire me:

Jesus was willing to invest in people others would have dismissed. Consider the disciples. They were not the “religious” elite, yet Jesus used them to start His church.

Jesus released responsibility and ownership in a ministry. Consider how Jesus sent the disciples out on their own. No micro-management it appears.

Jesus had a leadership succession plan.  Jesus consistently reminded the disciples that He wouldn’t always be with them. Of course, He was still the “leader”, but He left others to take the ministry forward.

Jesus practiced servant leadership better than anyone. The King of kings was willing to wash the feet of His followers.

Jesus was laser focused on His vision. Regardless of the persecutions or distractions, Jesus kept on the mission God had called Him to complete.

Jesus handled distractions with grace. When the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched His garment, Jesus stopped to heal her, even though headed to a definite purpose.

Jesus was into self-development. Jesus constantly slipped away to spend time with God.

Jesus was into leadership development and replacement. He very purposefully prepared the disciples to take over the ministry. He pushed people beyond what they felt they were capable of doing.

Jesus held followers to high expectations. Jesus was not afraid to make huge requests of people. “Follow Me” meant the disciples had to drop their agenda to do so. He told the disciples they must be willing to lose everything to follow Him.

Jesus cared more about people than about rules and regulations. He was willing to jeopardize Himself personally by breaking the “rules” to help someone in need.

Jesus celebrated success in ministry. He rewarded people generously who were faithful to Him and His cause.

Jesus finished well. Any questions whether His ministry was effective? Still working today.

Any other reasons you admire the leadership of Jesus?

7 Things that Keep a Pastor from Leading Well

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In my talks with pastors and ministry leaders, I hear some repeated themes. One common theme is that they have a story of a failed leadership experience. Their first church. The church experience that went bad. Or, many times their current ministry and that’s the reason for our conversation.

They grew (or are growing) from the time, but looking back, they wish they had known then what they know now. You’ve probably got some of those learning experiences too. It may have been an incident or the entire time in that ministry, but there were critical errors that kept you and the church from accomplishing all God had for you. Errors in leading. Why don’t we learn from each other?

I’ve reflected back on some of those conversations and there are literal words I have heard consistently over time.

Here are 7 things I’m hearing that kept a pastor from leading well:

“I failed to delegate” – Many pastors try to be a solo leader. They know the expectation placed upon them and they know what they want to achieve, and they begin to think if it is going to be done right they must do it. They begin to try to control every outcome. Sadly, it can even limit the leader’s willingness to walk by faith. It doesn’t take long until a pastor burns out, potential leaders disappear and people are never developed and discipled. It’s a recipe for eventual disaster in leadership.

“We couldn’t see beyond today” – Many pastors get a tunnel vision in leading people. They only see what they see. They don’t consider the unseen…the yet to be imagined…the hidden gems of opportunity. Again, often this is a matter of faith, or laziness, sometimes a personality wiring, or maybe just falling into a rut of routine. In the sameness of today, things become stale and eventually people become bored…and someday they disappear.

“I ignored the real problems” – The real problems aren’t always the spoken problems. They aren’t the obvious problems. The real problems are the underlying reasons behind a problem. They usually deal with heart problems. What people are really thinking, but aren’t saying. The real problems always involve people and often involve perceptions, which may or may not be reality.

“We resisted change too long” – Change is coming. One way or another. Better to be on the side of change where you are the change agent, rather than being the agent that has to be changed. (If you get what I mean.) Over time, if change is ignored, change will be thrust upon you. And, that’s never welcomed change.

“I tried to please everyone” – When you do this you really please no one. Your time management isn’t under control. You are pulled in so many directions you do nothing effectively. Instead of leadership there is chaos. The loudest voices win and the silent ones you actually have a chance of leading somewhere disappear. And, you end up one very tired, skittish, ineffective pastor.

“The momentum was allowed to die.” – Momentum is extremely difficult to get back if you ever lose it. It’s easier to shift momentum to something new through change than it is to rebirth it when momentum is completely absent.

“I neglected my family” – Many pastors tell me they started to have problems at home when the ministry received more focus than the family. Three times in the past month, I’ve talked with a pastor who walked away from ministry…for how long I don’t know…because they realized they were going to lose their family if they didn’t. Sadly, too many pastors stay until it’s too late to repair the damage. Very sad.

That’s what I’m hearing…consistently.

What are some reasons you’ve heard that kept a pastor from leading well?