A Fall NOT-to-Do List

By Rev. Erik Samuelson
Vibrant Faith Coaching Team/Coaching School Faculty

As you finish your Fall planning, now is a good time to look at the big picture. If you’re like most church leaders, many of the COVID adaptions you made are now embedded in your ongoing plans. And in this “getting back to normal” season we’re restarting many programs and events that have been on hiatus.

But do we need to do EVERYTHING?

When Jesus was inundated by the crowds and felt the weight of his ministry, I’m sure there He felt tremendous pressure to just keep at it—to preach all the sermons, to heal all the people, and go to all the towns and villages. But when the load was overwhelming, Jesus made time to get away to a quiet place to pray, reflect, rest, and refocus on God’s call. When he returned, it was with a renewed clarity about what he was called to do and what he was called to NOT do. (Matthew 4 and Luke 10 are clear examples—the call was to not do it all alone!)

In light of His example, here’s how to make a NOT-to-do list and create some space in your life and ministry.

  • Gather all the calendars and lists that will guide your life for the next three months. If they aren’t up to date or are scattered in notebooks and sticky notes, get everything in one place.
  • Follow Ron Heifetz’s advice: “Get off of the dance floor and look at your operation from the balcony.” Perhaps make a list of all the activities in order. Or put on the calendar the steps needed to complete big tasks and projects alongside your commitments and meetings. You need some way to see the bigger picture.
  • Get away to a quiet place and pray. Offer these plans to God, and sit in the weight of it all (even if it’s overwhelming).
  • Get clear about what you are called to do and be, and the ways you get distracted from that calling.
Reflect on questions like these:
  • What items are central to my calling, my ministry role, and/or are things that only I can do?
  • What could or should others do? Who might find a calling through an invitation to take on a new ministry? Do I need a team?
  • What has been on the list or calendar a long time? Why is that not getting done? Is it time to do it? What would happen if I just let it fall off?
  • How will I make space for rest, relationships, and spiritual formation?
Now make your “NOT-to-do list.” Here are some examples:
  • NOT read email until after morning devotions
  • NOT have the retreat unless 12 people are excited to participate
  • NOT schedule more than three meetings a day
  • NOT have the event, even though it’s great, so we can focus on… ____________________________
  • NOT lead all six Bible studies alone—find leaders and coach them
  • NOT feel like I need to step in if someone drops the ball
What emotions did making this list stir up? Offer those to God, too.
  • Who could you share this list with (a friend, colleague, or coach) to help you stay accountable?
  • Keep this list in front of you in the next few months, and remember to be gracious to yourself. Even for Jesus, the always-changing nature of ministry led Him to reflect and refocus again and again. We would do well to follow his example (always!).

Rev. Erik Samuelson is a leadership and transformation coach who works with individuals, teams, congregations, judicatories, non-profits, and educational institutions. His wider work is in the areas of vocational discernment, spiritual formation, organizational innovation and change, leadership development, and alternative theological education.

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