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The perils of a checklist pastor

iStock/Worawut Prasuwan
iStock/Worawut Prasuwan

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?

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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.

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Rainer has written over 30 books, including three that reached number one bestseller: I Am a Church Member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, and Simple Church. His new book, The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation, is available now.

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