So much of Christian leadership is just doing the basics. So much of success in life is just doing the basics. For example, we all know that we need to get a good night’s sleep in order to do good work and be effective. Yet people can neglect their sleep, watching Netflix in bed on an iPad (which we know is bad for us but we do it anyway!). As Christians leaders, then, we need to act on the truth, doing what we know to be true and leads to effective ministry even if it is rather “basic.”
Pastor Brian Jones has written on this topic before, exhorting pastors to get the “basics” down before they take on new initiatives. Some of these thoughts are clearly his. I used his article as inspiration. I just adapted it to my own context and the new realities of living in a constantly connected age.
Habit 1: Daily Prayer
Someone has no business being in Christian leadership if they do not pray every day. As the famous phrase goes, “You cannot give what you do not have!” Ministry leaders must operate out of the overflow of their own relationship with the Lord, otherwise their own souls become hollow. They end up telling people to do things they themselves do not do, or worse, they end up people to have experiences of the Lord that they have never experienced for themselves.
Action step: Schedule time with God, preferably first thing in the morning. Why first thing in the morning? That’s when most people are at their best anyways, but also due to the fact that the rest of the world is not really awake yet either.
Habit 2: Weekly Exercise (3x)
God created us as embodied creatures, body and soul joined in inseparable union. You are your body. As God’s imager-bearers (Gen 1:26-28), we are called to steward the gifts He gives to us. This includes our bodies. The benefits of exercise are almost universally known now. I have found that exercising 3 days a week is the sweet spot, where I get enough exercise, but I’m still able to put in the work hours I need to.
Developing a habit of exercise involves three things, according to Brian Jones, “(1) days blocked off on your schedule (2) a place to do it and (3) an actual plan to follow.” I agree. Ambiguity leads to nothing. Specificity leads to getting things done.
Habit 3: Have an evening routine
Brian Jones says structure the last 90 minutes of your day. I totally agree. The point of an evening routine is to get you ready for the next day. So many people want to “get into the word” in the morning but fail to do so because they don’t plan the night before to do so. The day is won or lost the night before.
I developed an acronym to help ingrain my nightly routine into my life: C-BLASTED.
Clothes – I get my clothes laid out the night before. How much stress would be eliminated from your mornings, if you didn’t have to think about what you would wear?
Breakfast – I set the coffee maker, gather up the supplies, and know exactly what I and my family will eat for breakfast the next morning.
Lunch – I pack my lunch in my lunchbox the night before. Then, when I have to leave in the morning for work, I just grab it from the fridge and go.
Areas – I make sure all areas of the house are picked up and tidy.
Supplements – I take certain supplements every night for good health.
Emails – I used to take my inbox down to zero. I don’t really do this one any longer.
Dishwasher – I set the dishwasher to go off over night to make sure we have what we need to have a full day of meals.
The power of an evening routine is to get you ready to spend your next morning on the things which will nourish your soul (the word and prayer) and your body (exercise).
Habit 4: Weekly Sabbath
Christ has fulfilled Israel’s Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 4:9-10). So we’re not bound to rest on a particular day. BUT. The pattern of work and rest is established by God in creation (Genesis 1-2). Rest, however, is not just laying on the couch all day scrolling through Instagram. True rest is mindful enjoyment of God and His gifts. Rest must be mindful, that is, it must be done with intention and will. So much of modern life today consists of passivity, sitting and scrolling.
Such a definition allows flexibility in how each person or family enjoys rest. For some, this will mean that taking a nap will be rest. For others, it will mean going to the gym or going for a week. Rest does not necessarily mean inactivity.
But it does mean a break from work. It means setting boundaries and not thinking about, or actually working on, work. Some writers have called Millennials the “burn-out generation.” Could such a designation be applied to Millennials because they don’t sabbath?
So what’s your sabbath day? When do you turn off the devices and the work and the stress? If you never do, you will probably fall prey to the common phrase, “If you don’t take a sabbath, the sabbath will take you.” Don’t burn out. Take a weekly sabbath.
Habit 5: Undistracted Deep Work Time
Our world is beset with distractions, especially coming from our screens. As Christian leaders, we need interrupted time for prayer and reflection on God’s Word. As poet Mary Oliver has said before, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” We cannot worship God and lead God’s people without focusing on his word and our responsibility. Such a need for undistracted work time should lead us to practice digital minimalism.
Digital minimalism, promoted most persuasively by author Cal Newport, seeks to have technology be our servant, not our master. It means having technology serve our most important values, rather than allowing ourselves to be dominated by distractions. Getting a handle on your digital distractions is incredibly important for getting important work (deep work) done.
The most important work of a ministry leader revolves around preaching/teaching, prayer, and discipling leaders. But those activities cannot be accomplished without undistracted thought and deep focus. So how do you get a handle on your technology ues and its distractions?
Cal Newport argues that first you should do a 30 Day Digital Declutter. But a decluttering without a plan for habitual change is useless. Part of the decluttering should be focused on what “guidelines” or boundaries you will create for technology once your 30 day declutter ends. These are the guidelines for my technology use. I’m not saying you should adopt these. They are only my application of Newport’s principles.
- Phones are for work, not entertainment. Therefore, I will only have apps on my phone is are necessary for my work. Things like a calendar, mass texting apps, or a to do list make it. Netflix, YouTube, and entertainment apps don’t.
- No email on Saturdays or Mondays. Those are my day off; keep them truly “off.”
- Check my texts only the last 15 minutes of every hour. Constantly checking text messages breaks up intense focus and undistracted work. A couple of helpful hacks: First, turn off all notifications for your texts. If you are consistently checking your phone at a designated time, then you don’t need alerts. Second, keep your phone on “Do Not Disturb” almost all the time. Set your most important contacts (like spouse, etc.) as Favorite. Then if they call you, it will come through. But otherwise, you will not be distracted by texts.
Christian leadership is about executing on the basics. Of course, you may include other habits that are essential for Christian leadership. You might add, delete, or adapt some of these, just like I did. But you need to think through what the basics are. And then you need to relentlessly include those things into your schedule so that you master them.