For a long time I’ve known that churches and leaders grind to a halt on issues of capacity. A kind of Parkinson’s Law is at work. Expectations and busyness build up until they reach the maximum amount you can do - and then exceed it. Along with many others I tended to normalise this and assume that working at (or slightly beyond) capacity was the only way to do things.
About a year ago I read Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next. It is basically a variation of Getting Things Done with application to Christian ministry in mind. (If you aren’t familiar with Getting Things Done it’s a method for structuring your inputs and outputs to free up space and time). I enjoyed the book. It’s worth reading.
One phrase in it hit me hard: amorphous chaos.
Confession time: that can describe my life pretty well sometimes. I can tend towards chaos for a number of reasons including:
- lack of structure exacerbated by having an itinerant ministry
- external reasons - too many inputs, people, projects, expectations
- internal reasons - ministering in a context with few validation mechanisms. Which leads to wanting to do more in public which in turn feeds the point above
- the consequences of pioneering
- its the line of least resistance
The thing is that chaotic though I can be, I also tend to be high performing and therefore disguise it well and survive the chaos by frenetic rushing. Being high performing also enables me to avoid being proactive about the chaos and making choices to change it.
I’m going out on a limb here. I’m going to tentatively suggest I am not the only person in ministry who struggles with this. (I talk to enough ministers - I know it’s not just me!) All ministries are people-oriented and thus have a large number of potential input points of people needing a slice of you. And a large number of ongoing items in any week that never get closure or can be ticked off as done.
The thing about Getting Things Done methods is that they assume there is a finite amount of stuff to do and that doing it more efficiently will free up space and capacity. The flaw as I see it is that most churches work with the assumption that ministers have more capacity than they actually do. (Far more in fact - I am constantly amazed at the list of things churches expect their ministers to do with finite time and outside their gifting and calling. Or expecting one person to expand their capacity when they should be releasing volunteers or increasing the team. And not much surprised when it precipitates a crisis which happens disturbingly frequently).
There is little incentive to work efficiently to free up time if you know there is are potentially unending additional demands on the time you create. Add to that two things that giving more time to will always improve - pastoral work with people and preparing Bible ministry - and where is the reason for structuring your time use more effectively?
This is the reason for doing so: wisdom comes from time with God and fearing God. And time with God is the thing that gets squeezed out by chaos. Having a margin in our lives for thinking and praying comes from a discipleship-oriented rhythm of life. And that is about being proactive about our habits and systems of life, not reactive. We are formed by our habits, especially our spiritual habits.
In Phil 1:9 Paul prays for the church that their love may abound in knowledge and depth of insight so that they may be able to discern what is best, be pure and blameless for the day of Christ and filled with the fruit of righteousness.
I want to suggest that ultra-busyness and amorphous chaos is a tactic of the enemy that is designed to stop us discerning. It operates according to worldly assumptions that make me out to be the Christ of my own ministry. Busyness is the enemy of love abounding in knowledge because it prevents deep reflection on who we are serving and how we are serving them. But it can masquerade as good ministry because it enables us to say we are doing a lot in service of people. However it sacrifices depth for quantity.
So there is my contention: ultra-busy leadership that juggles too many balls can tend to chaos. And chaos is the enemy of wisdom in leadership.
Over the last year I think I have made some progress. Only some, mind. I haven’t got it all cracked yet by any means. At the least I have realised, in the words of John the Baptist that "I am not the Christ"! I’m going to post a number of blogs on this subject reflecting on the journey I am on and hope you might want to interact with wisdom and insight of your own.