Each year, I’m blessed to be able to take a couple of weeks and step back from daily ministry demands, meetings, and a fast pace to focus on growth and development that benefits ministry and leadership. We call this a study leave and it allows us to block all meetings, work off campus every day, spend more time with family, and pick a topic or a few to really explore in-depth.
Is this just another vacation or a chance to lighten the workload?
I know a lot of people wonder what pastors do on a regular basis. (That’s why I made the A Day in the Life of a Pastor video.) Much of my week is spent leading teams, coaching staff, connecting in the community, discipling church members, navigating long-term planning, and delegating projects. If you’re involved in one aspect of that, you may not see the rest. But let’s face it, much of what we do goes completely unseen and for good reasons. Many of our ministry activities deal with the most sensitive and confidential challenges in other people’s lives.
It’s natural to wonder what a pastor does with his time and even moreso during a break from usual ministry responsibilities. That’s why I’ve decided to share my study plans online and post updates along the way about what I’m reading, learning, and developing.
As I talked with one of our board members this week about my plans, he made a great comparison to his career requirements. He’s a doctor and, every year, he must complete continuing education to keep his license. A study leave is like continuing education for a pastor.
Why is a study leave even necessary?
I read and research every week. But being a pastor means I'm always on call and frequently brought into a wide array of challenges that make in-depth study more difficult. Temporarily stepping back from my leadership role allows for:
- Long and intentional times of uninterrupted study that greatly benefits our church.
- Discipline to structure ministry leadership in such a way that it doesn't fall apart if I leave for a couple of weeks.
- Opportunity for other staff to take the reigns of things I usually lead.
- Increased presence with my family and greater flexibility during that time.
How do we know you're not just sitting around eating donuts and binge watching Netflix?
If you know me well, you’re laughing at the very thought. I like to read and relax with my family every week, but I never just sit and watch a show. (Of course, there are exceptions for great action movies like Rogue One or Hacksaw Ridge.) A big part of that is my personality. I’m wired to keep moving unless I’m engaging with people.
To help keep me on track with my goals, I’ll post to my blog what I'm learning and working on regularly. If you want to follow along, you can subscribe to email updates. I hope to add some new tools, downloadables, reviews, and videos to help others grow too.
What will you be doing?
There are four main growth areas I'm pursuing and I'll include affiliate links to the books I'm reading. That means I'll get a tiny referral fee (usually pennies) if you click the link and buy something.
1. Building and Training High Capacity Leadership TeamsI've developed a lot of leadership materials, and I'm a big believer in a team model of church leadership. It removes bottlenecks, improves communication, and drives better decision-making which ultimately means, more changed lives. Now it’s time to compile some of my work into better training materials, especially instruction on running effective leadership teams that is currently in handwritten notes on my computer.
- Reading goal: Designed to Lead, The Secret of Teams: What Great Teams Know and Do
- Stretch reading goals: Teams That Thrive, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter
- Project goal: Convert my leadership team training notes into a training manual and make it available online.
- Project goal: Write guide on leading effective team meetings
- Stretch project goal: Revamp my leadership pipeline training manual and make it available online. (This is something we’ve been implementing at our church with great results, and more churches and businesses could benefit from this model.)
2. Saturating Life and Leadership in Prayer
I will spend a lot of time praying during my study leave, but I'll also complete a 6 month study on prayer. After reading about 10 books on prayer during that time, there is only one left on my list. I’m also in the middle of leading our staff through a study on prayer. Over the next two weeks, I'll begin working on a two-part teaching series on challenging aspects of prayer and prep for the last few weeks of our staff study.
- Reading goal: Prayer: The Great Adventure
- Project goal: Plan prayer teaching series
- Stretch project goal: Plan staff prayer training series
3. Being a Church That Reaches People, Especially The Next Generation
I still directly oversee outreach in my church (with the help of Morgan Hall and many amazing leaders), and I see some exciting things happening now and coming soon. I'm halfway through Growing Young, which has great insights backed by research. I’m also reading Secrets of a Secret Shopper along with our Pastoral Assistant over hospitality, Mike Crump.
- Reading goal: Growing Young
- Stretch reading goal: Secrets of a Secret Shopper
4. Becoming a Better Coach
Over the years, my leadership style has included more and more coaching. I think it’s the most effective way to bring the best out in others while leading them to accomplish shared goals. Leadership is not just about getting the work done, it’s about helping others grow and learn in the process. It’s not about simply following orders, it’s about a team of people contributing to the decision making process, owning the outcome, and being ambassadors for what we're doing. I think these three books will greatly enhance my coaching:
- Reading goal: The Coaching Habit
- Stretch reading goals: The COACH Model for Christian Leaders, Unlocking Potential
Isn't that too much for two weeks?
Maybe. But if you aim for nothing, you'll hit it every time. This isn't vacation, this is a chance for focused study and growth that should pay big dividends for ministry leadership. Everything we learn gets multiplied as we teach and coach others.
I won't be devastated if I don't get to everything. At the same time, having a road map means I'll be more intentional and make the most of the time. Posting about it online adds an extra layer of accountability.
Want to follow along?
- Subscribe to email updates and I'll share what I learned that day.
- Read the books I’m reading and share your thoughts as I do.
- Review my tools and resources as I share them and give your feedback and ideas.