Healthier Ministry May Require a Different Rhythm

Lead Pastors, tell me if this sounds familiar:

You seek the Lord.

You gain a sense of direction.

You develop an approach.

You implement.

And then carry a nagging sense that the impact was less than you’d hoped.

Here’s one of ministry’s unchanging truths: our efforts are not the agent of life-change. But that’s not to say the ways we go about ministry are neutral actors. It is quite possible that a portion of your impact disappointment may be connected to a very fixable staff team dynamic with steps forward that are quite achievable.

Ministry Rhythms

The four phases above are your ministry cycle. On average the seek-sense-develop-implement cycle happens 5-7 times per year. These are mostly teaching series but you may throw in one or more discipleship or other initiatives. So, maybe 8 or 9 times a year, this is your rhythm.

Now, let’s ask the cycle-frequency question for your staff and key leaders.

Childrens: maybe 5-7 as well, but likely not parallel to yours.

Youth: same, with a couple of conference/retreats and maybe a missions trip.

Missions: 3-4 short term trips and likely a handful of partner visits.

Groups: maybe 1-2 if there’s a pattern of training for leaders and/or groups on-ramps.

Worship: more directly tied to yours but with a few events or special projects as well.

Okay. Let’s go a step further.

Every cycle hopes to access two main capacities.

1 – Fixed-limited resources. 2 – People’s hearts.

The first is fairly easy to imagine as having a cap. Only so many rooms, staffing hours, tech and creative support options. The second is tricky. But think of it this way. It’s very difficult to capture people’s hearts if we can’t command their attention. Communication is a capacity. We only have so many moments and ways in which we can transfer vision and call to action. There is a real threshold at which that resource diminishes rapidly.

So, what do we have?

A group of people working very hard to seek-sense-develop-implement but on very different timelines and needing to access the same resources, but on very different timelines and–this is really important–with no means to know which cycles might be driving and which might be passengers.

“… our efforts are not the agent of life-change. But that’s not to say the ways we go about ministry are neutral actors.”

Lead Pastor, you think of your cycle as setting the pace.

If the above describes your team, it may not be. In fact, it may be very difficult to find the kind of impact you are praying for without making some changes. 

Two Healthier Approaches

Our first option is simply called margin. 

If you really want your team and congregation to engage, you’ll need to find a way to limit the other cycles. You can not run everyone at 100% and then expect them to remove themselves from their cycle in order to join yours. The practical side of this would look like establishing the other cycles on your team at something less than 100% and then training them to join yours at the moments you need it. This also helps with availability of fixed resources, leaving an established % unspoken-for.

So, good step. But it doesn’t really solve the issue of offset cycles. And it’s some measure less than the kind of team effort at which you’re probably aiming.

Option 2: Establish a livable ministry rhythm that is knowable, repeatable, and driven by initiatives that move the whole as opposed to the pieces. 

In Flow, I suggest and outline a rhythm of two six-month horizons. It’s a simple structure.

Jan-June: seek-sense-develop for July-December (implement)

July-December: seek-sense-develop for January-June (implement)

Each 6mos period has four months of ministry-level preparation and then two months of all-staff coordination. Then you live out six months of the good plans God has given you. Together. On the same rhythm. And with an agreed approach to resources.

I know this feels foreign. Likely a bit restrictive. Maybe impossible.

Different, yes. Impossible? No.

This may just be the way the huge, all-ministry initiatives begin rising to the top. And ultimately—like we all dearly hope—going deeper in and further out. 

For more ministry rhythm principles and a suggested approach, see Chapters 6-8 of Flow: The Surprising Effect of Systems on the Health of Church Staff and Key Leaders.

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