Establishing Healthy Staff Rhythms

“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” – Genesis 2:2-3

This passage from Genesis intrigues me. God is infinite, all-powerful, and isn’t constrained with a physical body to maintain. In other words, it’s not like He needed to take a break. However, He decided to do so anyway.

So, why did God decide to take a day off?

Was He trying to set an example for His creation?

Since He’s infinite, and there’s no real hurry to get stuff done, did resting simply make sense?

I don’t know for certain, but if He saw the wisdom in a rhythm of working hard, then resting…perhaps we should follow His example.

Here’s the deal:

Our physical bodies can’t remain in a constant state of movement or rapid pace. Neither can our churches (staff, volunteers, and congregation included).

We need rest and time to catch our breath. However, many churches run at a frantic pace trying to reach as many people as quickly as possible. While that goal is admirable, is the pattern of constant busyness really helping us achieve that objective?

When you look at your church’s calendar, when is there time available to breathe?

Does this look familiar?

  • August-September: This marks the start of a new year for many churches. That’s when most schools are back in session, so this marks the start of a new year, especially for youth/kids ministry areas.
  • October-November: We barely get through back-to-school when fall activities begin, notably Thanksgiving (which often involves a holiday outreach).
  • December: Up next is the big one…Christmas!  We have Christmas parties, special programs, and services to celebrate.
  • January-February: Once the New Year starts, we have a bit of a break before we begin to prepare for Easter in February.
  • March-May: We’ll spend lots of time preparing for Easter in March, not too much going on in April, then we’ll start having a flurry of high school and college graduations in May (along with Mother’s Day, National Day of Prayer, and Memorial Day).
  • June-July: Father’s Day, then VBS, various youth trips, and Independence Day. And then we start the cycle all over again in August.

Oh, and that’s all in addition to regular services and any other special events or outreaches your church provides.

If you fill-up the church calendar with events or special services throughout the year, your staff will start to wear out. A marathon runner doesn’t try to sprint 26.2 miles. He paces himself to ensure he makes it to the finish line.

So, how do you get off the busy path and find a healthy rhythm for your team?

Tip #1: Identify your church’s current rhythm.

Many times we don’t realize what’s going on until we pause to see the big picture. That’s where a church event calendar can come in handy (if you don’t already have one, this is a great time to create one). This calendar should include all services, events, Bible studies, Sunday School classes, outreaches, etc.

Review your church calendar and consider the following:

  • Are there any months in which you don’t have a special event (anything in addition to weekend services)? If not, are there any weeks where that’s the case?
  • What months have the fewest holidays or special events?

These less hectic months are the ones where you have some natural downtime to some extent. That means you can use this time to let your team breathe.

Tip #2: Build margin into your church schedule.

If you have something going on at the church every day of the week or several special events each month, you lack margin. Anytime the church is open, there’s a high likelihood someone on staff has to be there. If that’s the case, when can your team take time off or just have a “normal” schedule?

Maintaining margin also gives you time to invest in your team through training, for people to take vacations without feeling like they need to check in, and for you to seize opportunities that you hadn’t planned for but are suddenly available.

If you don’t already have some margin, check out Tip #4 on how to start building it into the schedule.

Tip #3: Make sure your staff takes time off.

You and your team need a full day off once a week (Sabbath is still a great idea, even though the specific day isn’t too important). Each team member will also benefit from at least one full week off during the year.

Time off, whether it’s a day or longer, gives you a chance to recharge. A week long vacation can help you relax, regain a healthy perspective, and rest. Don’t let your team not use paid vacation days (especially if they don’t roll into the next year).

This may require a team effort to cover for someone when he’s out or developing volunteer leaders who can keep things moving for weekend services. Each team member should train and mentor a backup to cover his responsibilities when he’s on vacation. The backup may need to be a volunteer and that’s actually a great way to live out our responsibility to equip the saints for ministry.

“for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” – Ephesians 4:12

Tip #4: Decide if something’s gotta give.

If a program trips us up on our way to fulfilling our mission, we need to eliminate it. – Brandon Cox in Building Rhythm Into the Life of Your Church

Maybe that one event your church has hosted for a decade just isn’t bearing fruit anymore, but folks are reluctant to let it go. Regardless, if your church calendar is jam-packed, it’s time to take a hard look at each event.

  • Is participation declining?
  • Is the amount of work (number of hours and money spent) worth the results you’re seeing?
  • Can the purpose of the event and the people it’s intended to reach/serve be met in another existing event?
  • Will anyone care (or even notice) if you stop doing this event?
  • Is this event creating the results you’ve determined are the purpose of the event?

If the event isn’t achieving much and if people aren’t attending it as much as they used to, then perhaps it’s time for it to go.

Eric Geiger recommends three options when it comes to burying a church event:

  1. Cancel and Combine
  2. Attach to an Existing Program
  3. Keep, but Use More Strategically

Removing any program or event can be tough since we tend to be emotionally invested in them. However, a church schedule with zero margins isn't sustainable for long, so tough decisions may be necessary.

Tip #5: Build in rest after big events or busy seasons.

Between campaigns and holidays, we regroup. Most years, we close our offices between Christmas and New Year. It’s okay that some weekends are intentionally designed to consume less energy than others. – Pastor Rick Warren, Finding a Rhythm and Raising the Energy Level in Your Leaders

God built rest into His design, plus we all know our physical bodies have limits. After a big push leading up to Easter or Christmas, give yourself and your team some extra time off. You all need to rest, recharge, and spend quality time with your loved ones.

If you’re thinking this sounds lazy or unproductive, consider this:

First off, God worked on creation for six days and then took a day off. He modeled a work hard, and then rest rhythm.

Second, once your team returns, they’ll be well-rested and looking forward to getting back to work.

However, if you try to push through yet another busy season with minimal rest, you (and your team) will likely be frustrated, exhausted, irritable, and not as effective. Working hard and being diligent is great, but so is taking some time to recharge.

An exhausted team will not perform as well as a refreshed team who knows their pastor is dedicated to cultivating a healthy environment. Take a few minutes this week to review your church event calendar. Talk with your team about the current pace of the church and if they think it’s healthy or not.

Be willing to make some tough decisions to cancel events or not add new ones that aren’t the best for your church to do at this time. Pray, seek God’s direction, and ask for wise counsel from others. A healthy team can stay in ministry for the long haul…a burning out team simply won’t last. Which kind you have is up to you.

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