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How to Be a More Productive Pastor

productive pastor

A pastor wears a lot of hats. One day you’re a scholar, writing a sermon to motivate your church to action. The next, you’re an administrator, organizing all the moving parts of the ministry. And the day after that, you’re a counselor, trying to help people follow Jesus with their lives. Maybe you’re also the custodian, fill-in worship leader and professional meeting leader. It’s not easy to be a productive pastor in all these areas.

When we think about stewardship, many of us think about money. But the most important limited asset we must steward is our time, being a productive pastor. Time management isn’t simply about getting more done or having more free time to do what you love, it’s about being a good steward of the gifts God has given you.

In Ephesians 5:15-17, Paul encourages believers to walk wisely and make the best use of time in days that are particularly evil.

Let’s apply that principle to our schedule, our calendar and the very churches we lead. Here are some ways to be a more productive pastor.

How to Be a More Productive Pastor

#1 – Review and plan on Sunday night.

Before you head to the office on Monday, take some time on Sunday night to reflect on the previous week and look ahead to the next one.

Preview the appointments on the calendar and look at the projects that need your attention. Review what you did last week and connect the dots to any next steps for this week. Think through what you really want to accomplish, which is much deeper than a list of random tasks.

#2 – Manage your day, not your calendar.

My friend Carey Nieuwhof says it’s important to pay attention to your energy levels and match them to your tasks. That’s why I do most of my writing in the morning, when I typically have the most energy and most of my meetings in the afternoon, when I can borrow from the energy of the room.

In order to be a productive pastor, look at your whole day and make sure you block off time for your most important projects and your most important time.

Maybe you need to block time in the morning to work on your sermon. Or maybe you need to work later one evening after you get your second wind. Adjust your day to your tasks not the other ways around.

Carey talks about this in his High Impact Leader Course, which is worth a look.

#3 – Make appointments with yourself.

Chances are, your calendar is filled with other people’s priorities for your time. Now that’s not always a bad thing, but it’s important to realize. Responding to needs is great, but we also need to intentionally plan time to work.

We frequently schedule interruptions to work (lunch with Jim, go to the dentist) and rarely schedule the work itself.

So change that.

Block off time to work on your projects. Put something on your calendar and treat it like a real appointment.

If you want to read more about this, check out my notes from Deep Work, one of the best books on work I’ve read.

#4 – Turn off notifications.

Do you really need alerts from CNN, your fantasy football league or social media?

Probably not! But even work notifications can be distracting if they pull you away from an important task at hand.

So go ahead and turn them off.

Put your phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode and turn notifications off on your computer. Those things will be there when you’re ready and you’ll be able to better concentrate on what’s important right now.

#5 – Own your schedule.

The leaders I admire the most rarely take to social media to complain about being slammed, overwhelmed or in need of a vacation. They have more responsibility than everyone, but they don’t act frazzled.

And I don’t think that has anything to do with the size of their organizations or their teams. I believe it’s a mindset.

These high level leaders realize they have just as much time as everyone else. They simply own their schedule.

They recognize their limits and guard their calendar. They say “no” more often than the rest of us. They go home at the end of the day and know how to take a day off. They don’t make excuses.

Being more productive isn’t about downloading a new app or using some new system; it’s about taking responsibility and ownership for your own schedule. 

#6 – Let some things go.

If you want to be more productive, stop doing a few things.

That’s right…don’t focus on juggling more plates, focus first on deciding what should be on your plate in the first place.

“Not everything we think we should be doing should actually be done. Some things should actually go undone on purpose,” writes Brandon Cox. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this really need to be done?
  • What would happen if it didn’t get done?
  • Am I the best one to do this?

If you don’t have clear priorities, then every good idea is going to look like a can’t miss opportunity. You’ll chase good thing after good thing after good thing when you don’t know why the biggest thing matters.

Many of the things we think are important really aren’t important to the growth or health of the church.

#7 – Choose to be less responsive.

Cal Newport says the world around us is wired for shallowness, with “crowded inboxes and incessant meetings, where quick responses are valued over producing the best results.” That’s one of the byproducts of an instant culture, where speed is most important. We’re not thoughtful; we’re responsive.

But maybe to increase our productivity, we need to intentionally choose to be less responsive.

Here’s an example: Most of the emails in my inbox and most of the voicemails on my phone are other people’s priorities for my to-do list. But you know what? I don’t have to respond to everything. Or I don’t have to respond right now.