The Perils of a Checklist Pastor

The church’s problems seemed easy to diagnose in our consultation with the congregation. The church was not reaching people with the gospel. They counted on transfer growth in earlier years to sustain their ministries. Of course, transfer growth means that the church was receiving (taking?) members from another church. Transfer growth is elusive these days. If churches are not growing by conversion or evangelistic growth, they probably are not growing at all. 

The pastor’s two responses to my questions surprised me.

Me: Do you know your church is not reaching people with the gospel?

Pastor: Yes.

Me: Can you tell me why you think that is the case?

Pastor: Because I don’t have time to lead the church in evangelism.

Digging Deeper

I appreciated the pastor’s honesty and thoughtfulness. He did not make excuses. He did not blame others. And he knew the problem.

Moving to the next step was rather easy because the pastor already diagnosed the problem. And to some extent, he took responsibility. His challenge was his inability to see a solution. “How can I find hours I don’t have?” he asked me.

That question led me to request the next step of him. I asked the pastor to write down his closest estimate of the number of hours he spent leading his church and being a pastor to the people. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he had already done this exercise to some extent.

He suggested to me that we should meet the next day. “This won’t take long,” he said. “I’ll have your list to you tomorrow.”

The Checklist

He seemed eager to share his list with me. This pastor did not want to continue doing the same things he had done for some time. He eagerly sought solutions.

I received his email a few hours before our Zoom meeting. It was straightforward. “Here are my typical work hours. Of course, they are always subject to change. You can’t neatly predict a day in the life of the pastor. Anyway, this checklist is a close estimate of my workweek.”

    • Sermon preparation: 12 hours
    • Sunday services (including prayer and three services): 6 hours
    • Church meetings: 3 hours
    • Denominational and community responsibilities: 2 hours
    • Custodial/building issues: 2 hours
    • Counseling: 4 hours
    • Working on newsletter: 2 hours
    • Hospital and nursing home visits: 4 hours
    • Administrative work: 9 hours
    • Community ministry: 2 hours
    • Attending and leading life groups: 3 hours
    • Leading staff: 5 hours
    • Crises and other unexpected events: 7 hours

Total hours: 61 hours

“If I have any cushion in this list, I try to spend more time with my wife and three daughters,” he told me. “If you suggest I cut back in one of these areas, I will have to deal with fallout from different church members. Sometimes, I use my ‘cushion’ for more sermon preparation time.”

Then the pastor said those words that stuck with me: “I have to get my checklist done every week.”

Good Is Not Always Great

This pastor works hard. He serves both his church and community well. He seems to be a good husband and a good dad. But he does not lead in evangelism because he must get the other checklist items done each week. Obviously, he has some level of expectations or accountability for all the responsibilities on the checklist.

But evangelism is not on his checklist.

And, frankly, this one omission is the most common problem we see in struggling churches.

Help us to help pastors like this one. What would you say to him? What would you recommend he do?

I would love to hear from you.

Posted on June 3, 2024

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I also struggle with finding time for personal evangelism, so I can sympathize. Nevertheless, it comes down to priorities. As the Lord often reminds me, if I’m too busy for evangelism, then I’m too busy, period!

  • It would seem I am interpreting this pastor’s blight slightly differently than others. I didn’t understand him to mean that he wasn’t sharing the gospel within his own sphere. He reported that the issue was that he didn’t have time to “lead the church in evangelism”. I take this to mean that he doesn’t have time to set up an ongoing training for people, in light of all of the other things he has on his plate. Many of the things that people are suggesting that he delegate are things that can actually happen during the day (where he potentially has more time). But trainings have to happen in an evening or on a weekend. Those hours are even more severely limited given that there are only 5 days in a week, and many of those evenings are already taken up by other activities, both by things he is doing and things the congregants are doing (sports, pta, band, etc). If he had a qualified person to hand evangelistic training and outreach to, that would be amazing, but that person apparently hasn’t organically materialized (and he may not even feel all that qualified himself). So, at minimum he will have to work more hours to find someone, train them, and then manage them so that they can take on the evangelism piece, and do it successfully. But this is a guy who already feels overloaded, and if he is working 61 hours/wk, he is. With 3 services, I would like to think that there would be someone there who he could delegate some tasks to in general, but in most cases that’s easier said than done. Depending on the size of the church, he will lose people if he delegates hospital visits, for example. People feel neglected by their pastor and will even declare that the church is too large if the pastor can’t do these things personally. I would also suggest that it’s also easy to say “just don’t do those tasks if you don’t have a leader”, but many of those tasks are what keep the back door closed. If you don’t do them, you are sure to lose people to churches that are doing those things. As a result, I’m sure this pastor feels like he’s in a real catch 22. I would also add that smaller churches in rural areas don’t seem to have the same number or level of leaders that a suburban church would have. Depending on this pastor’s context, he may literally not have anyone who is interested in serving in those areas or carrying the weight of responsibility. So, suggesting he delegate doesn’t help when he has tried and doesn’t seem to have anyone to delegate to. Certainly he could start building the framework for “friendship” evangelism into his church and create a space for testimonies as they come up. This could perhaps help to shift the culture without the commitment of yet another night, but others might still be able to look and accuse them of not being evangelistic, as this approach is slower and more subtle. Thus, it may not feel like an adequate solution. Pastors are literally expected to do everything, usually at threat of declining attendance. I feel for this pastor and his situation. It’s certainly worth reevaluating everything that he is doing to be sure that his activities are in line with his priorities and values. Perhaps there’s something in that schedule that could, in fact, be delegated or dropped.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That is an incredibly well-thought response, Shawn. You got to the core of the problem. Thank you.

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