One of the blessings of vocational ministry is the high degree of control clergy have over their schedules.
If you are a minister, before you groan and push back, consider how much control you have.
Because it is a calling and because clergy are on call most always and work odd hours, they enjoy great flexibility in how they structure their schedules.
For example, I heard a minister say recently that it’s possible to take a couple days off to go visit friends elsewhere when one is in this line of work.
If you work in another profession where you are required to be in an office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 50 weeks per year, then you can appreciate the flexibility of clergy.
This is one of the nice benefits of serving as a pastor or church staff member, but it is also a contributing factor to the need for high levels of self-discipline.
Clergy, like myself, are the ones looking over their own shoulders much of the time. We are our own quality assurance supervisors, at least in the short run.
One can coast for a while in ministry without immediate repercussions. But when one coasts, this lack of self-discipline will become self-evident over time.
Those with low self-discipline will procrastinate on activities they don’t enjoy, only do the minimum to get by and avoid exercising daily initiative.
Over time, this leads to low morale and spiritual lethargy, first in oneself and eventually in the congregation.
By contrast, those with high levels of self-discipline will find ways to complete the undesirable tasks, initiate activities that will develop the church and consistently invest in their callings.
The payoffs are huge. I’m frequently amazed at the gargantuan accomplishments of those who simply stay after it day by day.
Elbert Hubbard, a 20th-century American writer, describes self-discipline this way: “Self-discipline is the ability to do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.”
“There are 999 other success principles that I have found in my reading and experience, but without self-discipline none of them work. With self-discipline, they all work,” he added.
Here are seven actions you can take to increase your self-discipline in any vocation, and especially in local church ministry:
1. Do a brutally honest self-assessment of your work habits.
The ancient wisdom of Aristotle reminds us, “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence then is not an act but a habit.”
2. Commit to practicing the key initiatives first and foremost every day.
The Pareto Principle is helpful here – 80 percent of the value of what you accomplish will come from 20 percent of what you do.
3. Eliminate the poor work habits that hold you back.
Push to the periphery of your day the 80 percent, which contributes little to mission advancement.
Leadership folk wisdom encourages this approach: Bad habits are easy to form, but hard to live with. Good habits are hard to form, but easy to live with.
4. Consider the following word contrast and then choose the list that you wish to describe how you live out your vocation.
â— Self-mastery – internal locus of control; long-term, investment oriented; self-control and self-denial; principled actions; goal achieving; proactive.
â— Impulsive – external locus of control; short-term, least resistance oriented; immediate gratification; self-enjoyment focused; tension relieving; reactive.
5. Take control of your time.
Effective leaders engage in proactive work more than reactive work. Emergencies inevitably arise, but if you remain focused on the proactive 20 percent of your ministry, you will be a good steward of your God-given time.
6. Declare war on procrastination, which Native American folklore called “the thief of dreams.”
This requires identifying when you are more likely to procrastinate. For example, mine usually happens around task activities, not around interaction with people or direct service.
When I’m tired and stressed, the task appears far larger than it is and I delay tackling it.
During this time, the task size grows in my mind, becoming a huge dreaded activity. When I finally give in and make myself do it, I discover it was far smaller than I imagined.
Procrastination breeds dread and misperception.
7. Watch for positive outcomes.
Social scientists prove over and over the strong correlation between high levels of self-discipline and self-esteem. When you increase your self-discipline, you will increase your self-regard.
For clergy, this means increased self-discipline leads to increased leadership contributions to your congregation’s mission and ministry.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this column first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.