One of the oddest things about church planting is determining whether or not you’ve put in an honest day’s labor.
When Paul describes his church planting experiences, you don’t get the sense that he spent much time casually schmoozing with people over organic coffee or indulging in rarified theological discourse with the petite intelligentsia (did I just make up a new term?) at the corner cigar lounge. Instead, you get the sense that when he wasn’t being shipwrecked, run out of town, broken out of prison, or receiving lashes, he was working in his trade to support his evangelistic endeavors, pouring out his heart from house to house, or writing to ministry colleagues in similar circumstances.
I’m pretty sure it never crossed Paul’s mind that he ought to log his hours and make sure he wasn’t becoming distracted by superficialities and calling laziness ‘work’.
It’s easy to impress people in the community by all your personal connections. Yesterday I was meeting with a colleague in Amélie’s, our downtown bakery and coffee joint. He was floored by how many people I greeted during our one-hour meeting. “Who do you not know in this room?” Well, I hang out. It’s not exactly hard. It’s not work.
Two ‘not quite’ solutions
What’s the solution for the troubled conscience of a church planter who feels guilty trying to justify all the coffee refills as ‘networking’? Some would suggest arithmetic. If the average person in your congregation works 40 hours per week, and then is engaged in 10-15 hours of church activities—worship, community group, discipleship, mission, etc.—then a pastor/church planter ought to work for 50-55 hours each week, regardless of where that work happens or what kind of work it is.
On the other end of the spectrum are work-hackers like Timothy Ferris, whose NYT bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek suggests that 9-5 is completely arbitrary. Ferris declares that there ought to be no correlation between the value of one’s work and the amount of time spent getting it done. He cites Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Give yourself 10 hours to do 40 hours worth of work, and you’ll do 40 hours worth of work in that 10 hours. The Ferris hack shaves off time mostly by eliminating time-wasting interruptions and by avoiding human beings.
A working synthesis
Here’s my current conviction. I think church planters need to give themselves to…
- Working on the System. Carve out blocks of un-interruptable time and stay laser-focused on the non-urgent, hyper-important, high-leverage work that will make the biggest difference in your missional endeavor.
- Working the System. Set aside small intervals of time dedicated to delegating tasks to the appropriate people within your system, and completing the urgent, important tasks that you’ve assigned to yourself or that need your attention.
- ‘Working’ outside the System. Hang out and be the ‘regular’. Pastoral and church planting ministry is a relational calling. Ignore human beings like Tim Ferris while you’re doing #1 and #2 above, but ignore #1 and #2 above when you’re doing #3. Keep track of the people you meet. Learn their names. If possible, become their ‘chaplain’.
At the end of every week, we church planters should know that we moved the ball across each of these three important fields: the systemic, the maintenance of the system, and the relational. Some weeks this might occupy 75 hours, and other weeks it might only take 25 hours. No matter what week it is, it will be impossible to quantify our “hours” with any amount of precision. But the best barometer is actually our gut’s response to an honest look at your task list: at the end of the week, at the end of every day, did we move the ball?
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