are you working  on  or  in  the ministry
A woman's hands shaping dough into balls for baking. Used with permission.

Last week was about digital distractions that keep us from thinking deeply. This week is about another form of distraction. It won’t necessarily prevent us from thinking deeply, but it will distract us from thinking deeply about our organizational well-being and mission accomplishment. This is the distraction of working in the ministry, but not on the ministry. Are leaders too busy doing the work that they don’t have time to think about the work?

Baker or Bakery—What’s the Difference?

I read a book called The E-Myth twenty years ago that has influenced my thinking about leadership ever since. The author had a change of heart of some of his ideas, and the revised book is still available today as The E-Myth Revisited.

Michael Gerber writes about a woman who loves to bake, so she decides that she should combine her career with her passion and open a baking business. As the sole employee, she has to do everything. She bakes, she buys supplies, she cleans the store, she sells at the counter, she manages the finances, and pretty soon she no longer enjoys having a bake shop. The business isn’t growing, it isn’t bringing in enough money, she’s tired all the time, and she has fond memories of when she used to bake just for the fun of it. She regrets opening the business.

The problem, Gerber says, is that she spent all of her time working in the business and never had the time to work on the business. She didn’t have a plan or even a vision for what the business would become. She had never thought about the management aspect of running a business. She never had time to slow down and think about how to get out of the trap she was in.

This entrepreneur (that’s the “e” in The E-Myth) had a choice to make that she hadn’t thought about: Did she want to be a baker or did she want to own a bakery? Two very different things!

Let’s take a ministry example. You may be an evangelist who creates an evangelism ministry. But leading an evangelism ministry is a very different role from doing the work of an evangelist.

The myth in the E-Myth is that a person who loves to do something can make a business of it and continue to do what they love to do. Any entrepreneur will have to shift from working in the business (doing) to working on the business (thinking). A completely different set of skills is necessary, and the leader has to acquire them if he or she wants to grow with the business and stay in leadership. That means that over time the leader has to reduce the amount of time spent working in the business. Of course, this applies equally well to ministries as to businesses.

‘Doing’ Distractions

Right now, I am writing this blog post, a doing activity. I leave this afternoon to spend the next two weeks in the Maritimes, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan delivering regional seminars, also a doing activity. While these are good things to do, if I allowed them to take all my time, I would be a CEO in title only. The function of the CEO would be left unfilled.

Because the doing activities are all good things to do, and because I truly enjoy doing them, it would be all too easy to devote my time to them and just give the leftover time to working on the business of CCCC: it’s organizational well-being and mission accomplishment.

And that would be a great disservice to our mission, to our directors and staff, and to our members. It is in the long term best interests of CCCC and all our stakeholders that someone be working on the business of the ministry, and that someone would be me, with the help of the senior staff. In your ministry, that would be you and your senior staff.

Eliminate ‘Doing’ Distractions

So how distracted by doing are you?

Look Back

Look at your calendar for the last six months, or even a year. If you track your time as we do at CCCC, look at your time allocation report. How much was doing time? How much time was spent on doing those things that are truly part of the CEO function (the part that no one else can do)? How much time should be spent on these true CEO activities? Depending on the complexity of your ministry and its environment, it might be 60% or 100%. Determine what that percentage should be for you. I think you will know in your heart of hearts what it should be.

‘Doing’ deadlines are very visible and usually very immediate. If you miss a doing deadline, people will quickly notice. But there are few deadlines related to working on the business, and if there are any, they tend to be much more distant in time. If you miss one, not many people will notice it right away because these deadlines are normally imposed by you and visible only to you.

However, the visibility and effect that missing doing deadlines has on others means that you will naturally find the doing deadlines more urgent and give them priority.

But don’t be fooled. Even though people may not realize this year or next that the thinking deadlines aren’t being met, the organization is suffering. it won’t be long before people realize the organization is stagnating, fossilizing, and grinding to a halt as an obsolete and irrelevant organization in an ever-changing world.

I know how easy it is to get stuck in the trap set by doing deadlines. It pains me to admit that I was too busy with looming doing deadlines to do my annual spiritual retreat in the summer. How could that be? I ended up doing the retreat in the first week of October.

By examining your time that has already been spent, you can objectively assess how you are spending your time and get a realistic grasp on the sufficiency of your time spent working on the ministry.

Look Ahead

The next thing to do is to realistically look ahead to all the things you want to accomplish. I did this recently for the period from that day until the end of our fiscal year (March 31). I listed everything from staff meetings, writing blogs, and doing workshops to working with the board, conference redesign, and assessing new program opportunities. Then I estimated how many hours each item would take and added another 10% slack time for those things that just come out of nowhere. (10% probably is too low, but at least it was something.) I even included the vacation time I am forcing myself to take to get my banked vacation days down to a reasonable number.

I knew I had a problem when the number of hours required to do what I wanted to do was double the number of work hours available! I had to defer or delegate activities where I could, resolve to work faster on some tasks, and otherwise find ways to reduce the hours required for what was left on my work list. The point was I had to make sure that I left enough time in the time budget to work on the business. The doing items could easily have absorbed my entire available time! Volunteer time can pick up some of the slack, but doubling my work time won’t be good for anyone, particularly family and staff!

How about you? If you look ahead, do you have any slack time built in for the inevitable unplanned things that come your way? Do you have planned time to work on the business? Be proactive in planning not only to do but to think; plan time to investigate, review, dream, and discuss.

The Blessing of Time Spent ‘On’ the Ministry

Recently I gave the other three people on the senior leadership team three consecutive work days so they could each take time for a personal spiritual retreat of silence and solitude of their own. I had the inspired thought in my own retreat, “Why wouldn’t I want my leadership team to have the same powerful time with God for the benefit of the ministry as I have?” So I gave them the time.

In line with the design I use for my annual retreat, I asked them to spend Day One listening for God to speak to them about their personal lives, Day Two waiting to hear God talk about their professional lives at CCCC, and Day Three waiting to receive God’s insights related to the ministry of CCCC.

All three reported the three days were a much-appreciated gift, and they came back with lots of insights that helped us with our 2015 action plan, which came together quite quickly.

So may your ministry be blessed as you spend time working on the ministry, rather than in the ministry. And I’m sure you will have your own ways of preserving time to work on the ministry.

Thoughts on Are You Working ‘On’ or ‘In’ the Ministry?


    Thanks for a valuable insight. Was reminded about the value of thinking, planning, delegation , execution and assessment in our daily commitment to God’s business.


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