Here are five habits that can make ministry more joyful and less stressful. I’ve been cultivating these habits myself, and they have helped me make big shifts. And at the end of the article I’ll share a habit-change strategy that I’m finding helpful.
This is a habit I’ve taken on this year, and I’m finding it to be a great mood-changer. When we complain about someone to someone else, we create a negative triangle. And nothing changes. When we complain about the church or church members to our families, we simply cause them to have negative feelings about the church. When we complain about the world or the news, we do nothing to create a better world. Since I’ve taken on this habit, I feel more positive about other people every day. Here’s a link to a fascinating article, “Help me stop being mean,” by someone who took this on. (Note: language warning for the question asked at the beginning. It’s well worth reading the whole, lengthy answer.)
Answer email in batches.
Turn off notifications on your phone and computer. I’ve said this before, but when you answer email as it comes in, you are letting other people set your agenda. When you choose when to respond, you are controlling your own schedule, and you’ll find yourself being more productive. True confessions: this is a habit I am still working to develop (see below for my commitment to you). I actually stopped while writing this article and answered an email. As my father used to say, “Do as I say, not as I do…”
Ask yourself, “What do I want?”
It’s not a selfish question, but a clarifying one. When I coach pastors, I frequently ask “What do you want?” and they say, “That’s a good question…I don’t know.” Then they get clear very quickly, and can decide how to take action. You can ask it about the smallest daily questions as well as the biggest life issues. It’s a good question to ask as a habit.
Pray daily for at least one minute.
I know, that’s not much. But one minute is better than no minutes. Three ideas:
a. Take one minute and give thanks for five things in your life (20 seconds each).
b. Take one minute and breathe in and out, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
c. Take one minute and pray for five people you love.
Every week, work on a project that isn’t due until after this Sunday.
Even if it’s just for five minutes, plan for the following week’s sermon or worship, Advent or even Lent. Or next year’s vacation. In ministry, it’s so easy to focus on the short-term, because the pressures of next Sunday, or immediate pastoral care needs, or you name it, are so relentless.
And here’s the habit change protocol I’ve been learning:
- Commit to it. Write it down, and tell others. (And here is my commitment to myself and to you – I intend to limit email to three times a day. No more avoiding article-writing by checking email.)
- Monitor it. Do it in writing. I like stars on a chart.
- Practice, practice, practice (without self-reproach).
- Joyfully acknowledge even the smallest steps toward change.
My suggestion to you: pick one of these five ministry habits, or another habit you’d like to create, and try the protocol. Let me know what your commitment is – either via email or a comment . (And for more on changing habits, see the book Falling Awake by Dave Ellis.)