Working “Smart” in Ministry

We have all heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder,” so how does this principle apply to pastoral ministry? Here are five ways you can thrive as a pastor by working smarter:

  1. Start with “Why.” Starting by clarifying the “why” in your ministry is smarter because determining why your church exists leads to better decisions regarding what you should do and how you should accomplish it. Your “why” determines your filter and focuses your energy. Dr. Stephen Elliott, National Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church of Canada, believed that the church he planted in Kanata Ontario in the 1980’s existed to reach 10% of the community for Christ. He believed this was “why” they existed. By the time Steve departed the church had grown to over 1400 people. The “why” determined what to do and helped them determine how to get there. What is the “why” of your church?                                                                                                                                                                
  2. Work on ministry, not in ministry. In his groundbreaking book, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber presents three categories of workers: technician, manager, and entrepreneur (29). Technicians love implementing the skills in which they are trained. Managers value order and enjoy finding ways to keep everything running efficiently. Entrepreneurs are catalytic dreamers who propel organizations into the future. If you are the pastoral leader of a church it is imperative to understand ministry in terms of systems rather than tasks. I re-cast Gerber’s categories as church roles. Technicians become chaplains, managers are administrative ministers, and entrepreneurs missional pastors. Every church needs all three, but if you want to work smart you must adopt the mindset of a missional pastor/entrepreneur and work to improve the overall ministry system rather than merely managing current protocols or practicing your specialized ministry skill set. Missional Pastors work “on” their ministries more than they work “in” their ministries. Are you working “on” your ministry more than “in” your ministry?                                                                                                                   
  3. Ask “Who” before you ask “What” or “How.” Two books that emphasize asking “Who” are Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan’s Who Not How. Collins recommends that leaders operate with a “first who, then what” mindset (42). Once you know your “why,” it is time to pursue your “who.” When I was pastoring a church with a core of middle-aged and senior adults, we determined that if the church was going to continue being relevant in the city we could only do it with some younger “whos.” We could not move forward with the “what” or “how” without the “who.” I learned this the hard way because I continued to engage experienced older leaders who I thought would appeal to young people. Eventually, we had to sacrifice experience and hire younger leaders. These “whos” led the charge and attracted other young people. Suddenly, we were relevant with the next generation in our community. Are you asking “Who” before “How” or “What” in your church?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
  4. Understand organizations as starfish and spiders. In the 19th century, the music industry was a decentralized network of artists who travelled to various venues and performed for live audiences. The invention of the phonograph and vinyl records led to the centralization of the music industry in the 20th century. Eventually, most of the music produced for public consumption was mediated and controlled by fewer than 7 major record labels. In the 21st century, the digital age has revolutionized music so that the industry is again decentralized. The Covid-19 pandemic and advancements in digital technology have launched a phenomenon of church decentralization which we are still attempting to navigate. To work smart as pastors, we must adapt to the strongest method for accomplishing our mission. Centralized organizations are like a spider whose head controls all the legs. Decentralized organizations are like starfish with no central authority. If one section is cut off, a new section grows in its place. Churches and denominations undergo cycles of centralization (spiders) and decentralization (starfish). These concepts as described in the book, The Starfish and The Spider are not mutually exclusive. Every organization should recognize which leadership style should prevail to best meet the needs of the season. Do you understand which style, centralization or decentralization, should be emphasized in the next season of your church?                                                                                                                                                                            
  5. Pray and Act in a 5C Cycle. Entrepreneurial coach Dan Sullivan describes a cycle of action for leaders. He states that leaders whose organizations grow go through a cycle of Commitment, Courage, Competence and Confidence. To work smart as missional ministry leaders, we need to understand that when we want to see our church or ministry grow we will pray for these four C’s and appeal to God for guidance through the process. I add a new C of “Calling” on the front end that draws on a biblical perspective. As faith leaders, we understand that God calls us to undertake missions by faith which are impossible to accomplish on our own. Following God’s call, we prayerfully commit our way to the Lord. Thirdly, we ask for courage which is vital during this period when we are most likely plagued by doubt. Think of Joshua immediately following the death of Moses, David being pursued by Saul, or Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. The fourth C stands for competence. In this stage we reach a breakthrough and achieve the objective. In the fifth and final stage we attain confidence in the successful fulfillment of the original calling. After achieving confidence we are ready to listen for the next calling. Do you understand where you are in this 5 C’s cycle in your ministry?

To learn more about working “smart” in ministry, see the following resources:

Brafman, Ori, and Rod A. Beckstrom. The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Collins, James C. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.

Gerber, Michael E. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do about It. New York: HarperCollins e-Books, 2017.

Sinek, Simon. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. New York: Penguin, 2019.

Sullivan, Dan. 4 C’S Formula Your Building Blocks of Growth; Commitment, Courage, Capability, and Confidence. Ethos Collective, 2021.

Sullivan, Dan, and Benjamin Hardy. Who Not How: the Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals through Accelerating Teamwork. New York: Hay House, 2020.


Intellectual contributor: Dr. Eric Hallett, district superintendent of the Central Canada District of The Wesleyan Church.

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle