This is a continuation of Al Stewart's analysis of the key things that can come between you and building a grounded, growing church. You can read about barriers 1 & 2 here.

Barriers 3 and 4 are similar in that they are both about what a minister does with his time. You can be really busy and work really hard, and humanly speaking your church still won’t grow. Let’s see why…

Why is it that so many ministers can work hard in ministry work, even be good at it, but no matter how hard they work the church can’t get beyond a certain point aften 50-80 people?

The problem is about working 'IN' vs 'ON' the ministry.

Guys who are in ministry are there hopefully because they love people and they like the face to face Gospel work. Chasing people one to one, leading church, preaching, frontline evangelism, leading a bible study, ringing people who weren’t at church – these are the bread and butter of ministry work.

But if that is all you ever do, if ministry means you doing the jobs yourself, then your church will never have the capacity to grow. As Rod Irvine (former minster at Figtree Anglican) taught me,

“You have to work ‘ON’ the business, not just ‘IN’ the business”

By 'ON' the business he means developing capacity. What are you doing now that means you will have more capacity in a year’s time? For example, are you training Bible Study leaders so you can grow more small groups? Are you setting vision so people can see where you’re going? Are you working on fund raising so you can employ more people? You can run a kids club by yourself for ever and you’ll be stuck at that level, or you can give people a vision for a children’s worker who will train volunteers to develop kids clubs, run family events and expand the ministry much further than you could ever have managed personally.

If you are a senior pastor, no matter how small or new your church is, you must be working ‘IN’ the ministry. However you also need to be doing these four things:

  1. Set the vision: Show people where you’re going, what is possible, help them to see over the horizon
  2. Staff the vision: Recruit and train the workforce to make the vision happen – volunteer or paid. You must expand the team working with you.
  3. Resource/finance the vision: Convince people of the vision, so that they will back it financially.
  4. Manage the vision: Essentially this means to keep track of the three elements above, ensuring that they are moving forward.

Why is it that so many minsters don’t do this? Well there can be a number of reasons…

  • Some can’t see the vision of what could be, they can’t see beyond the status quo. These men shouldn’t be in the drivers seat.
  • Some are reluctant and afraid to talk about money. They know they will get ‘push-back’ when they do. So the 'vision – giving – money' issues don’t get addressed. Some ministers leave finances to their deacons, elders or church wardens. This doesn’t work. The one who sets the vision has to raise the money for the vision. The two are inseparable. To quote Rod Irvine again,
    “Church wardens count the money, the senior minister has to raise it.”
  • Working ‘IN’ the ministry is often rewarding, concrete and appreciated by people. Working ‘ON' the ministry is usually about pushing people out of their comfort zones, asking them to lift their eyes above their own welfare, and changing the status quo. It is hard work. It is often easier to not do it. Working ‘ON’ the business is rarely urgent, but it is important.
    You need a compelling and urgent vision of what can be and what needs to change, to drive things forward. This kind of leadership is the biggest single human factor in church growth.


It is possible to be very busy, but busy with the wrong things, or not the best things.

Many guys running churches of 80 people appear ‘flat out’ just maintaining those congregations. There’s rosters, counseling, administration, church meetings to organize, school scripture, kids clubs, bible studies, administration, OH&S, elders committees, emails, administration… The list goes on.

Very little front line evangelism happens in the minister’s week. Visitors aren’t followed up quickly, absentees aren’t contacted, men are not discipled one to one or in small groups. But they are busy, just not busy with the best things. “But they are necessary things”, I hear some of you say. Well, let's look at this is in a different way…

Let's considera a church of 80 adults with six to eight Bible study groups, and a public meeting once a week. If you have six days a week how much time should it take to maintain a church of 80 people?

Let me suggest the following:

  • One day a week to prepare a sermon
  • Half a day to organize church services
  • One day a week pastoral visiting/ counseling/ meeting with leaders etc etc
  • A half day per week to do other administration, including rosters, church committee meetings etc.
    TOTAL: 3 days per week.

That leaves 3 days per week to work in front-line evangelism, and working ‘ON’ the business.

My question to many ministers is, what are you actually doing with your time? You decide what you do with your time, you aren’t a victim. If the denomination wants to bury you in paper work, ignore it. If people smother you with emails, let them accumlate. Do what is important first.

Remember when you first put your hand up for full-time ministry? I’m sure you signed up to be a missionary to your area or people group. None of us signed up to maintain a denominational outpost as a religious administrator, surely? But there is a constant pressure to mould us into that very creature. How are you going at resisting that pressure?

The failure here is so often a failure to stop doing good things so that the best things can be done. We must fill our diaries first with the best things – evangelism and working on the business – and be disciplined enough to allocate small amounts of time to endless array of administrative matters that will mean nothing on judgment day.

So, what are you actually doing with your time?