Multitasking in Ministry: Don't Do It

November 29th, 2011

I’m a firm believer that most people who volunteer in churches should serve in only one ministry area. And if possible, paid ministry staff should try to do the same thing. I learned this the hard way when I tried to juggle the positions of youth worker and church treasurer for a couple of years. To make a long story short, I burned out. That’s why I feel churches should put a rule in place to prevent people from doing more than one ministry at a time.

Here’s a truth that many people don’t want to accept. Human beings can’t multitask. Some folks think they can, but multitasking is not what they’re really doing. What people think is multitasking really isn’t multitasking at all... it’s just switching back and forth from one task to another very quickly. This is multitasking in the classical sense—things you do simultaneously—like listening to music and studying, or watching TV while you read. While many boast about mastering this type of multitasking, in reality doing two things at once can almost never be done as efficiently as doing them separately.

For this piece, I’m going to expand the definition of multitasking to cover longer periods of time. In the church, I believe we’re multitasking whenever our attention is divided by two or more different interests, even if we’re not working on both jobs at a given moment. People who are in ministry of any kind know that the actual ministry activity itself is only part of the whole picture. Depending on the ministry, there may be prep time involved, and there should definitely be prayer time. Because of their importance and “on the edge” nature, many ministries may require more time for prayer than anything else! Time is finite, and common sense says that taking on a second area of work is going to take time away from the first. Leaders and ministry workers who have to focus their ministry time in two or more different places are ultimately shortchanging all the areas they serve.

A desire for excellence is another good reason not to multitask. If you want mediocrity in your church, there’s one surefire way to get it: just let your small group leaders and Sunday school teachers also lead youth group and serve on the church board. The saying, “jack of all trades, master of none” was never truer than it is in the local church. In this day and age, specialization is a key to excellence. We're told that in today’s soft job market, being able to multitask is essential. That’s true. But being able to do something in a pinch and doing it on a regular basis are two different things. Why do people shop at category killer stores like Office Max and Best Buy? Because they offer better experiences for office supplies and electronics than Walmart and Target. They do one thing and they do it well. Learn how to create a culture of specialization in your church. Train your staff and your volunteers to do one thing and to be better at it than anyone else.

When your church or ministry becomes a place where everyone finds their best fit and sticks to one major ministry role, you’ll gain a new appreciation for what it means to be the body of Christ.

What are your experiences with “ministry multitasking”?

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