One of the most challenging aspects of leading in ministry is spending time and energy reacting to everything that’s being thrown at you. Reacting to the constant drumbeat of another Sunday coming, reacting to moral failures and personal crises, reacting to meetings being interrupted by that emergency call that you just can’t ignore. Getting side-tracked by every email, text, social media comment that seems to come out of left field. So much of a ministry leader’s time is spent reacting. If you’re not careful, the urgent stuff will begin to supplant the important stuff in your schedule. The more often that happens, the more frustrated you will become because you will not see the results you are longing for.

If you are going to go to the next level as a leader, you must be proactive and not reactive.

Notice the word “active” is in both words—and being active is good. But the prefix makes all the difference. RE-active means responding in the moment. Everyone else’s emergencies start setting your daily agenda, and you find yourself always in a passive posture. PRO-active, on the other hand, means deciding ahead of time, planning ahead, anticipating needs, and determining direction for the future. You are setting the agenda up front based on the most important things.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when ministry is reactive. And that’s a good thing. In fact, Jesus allowed strategic interruptions to “side-track” him all the time. A hungry crowd, a woman touching his garment, an impromptu lunch with a short guy in a tree. To follow in the steps of Jesus we must also follow in the stops of Jesus. He was always present. So, we must be more diligent in not rushing ahead of the here and now. The Scriptures clearly temper our fore-planning with a reminder that “today has enough trouble of its own.” (Mt. 6:25-34). In our desire to be moving onto the next thing, we need to ensure that we don’t move away from being present and engaged in the current things.

However, Jesus also demonstrated an internal compass that kept his main thing the main thing. He was proactive in his approach so that he could be reactive to the right things. Intentionality up front will allow you to respond to what pops up spontaneously. Being proactive instead of reactive is the key.

3 Decisions in Becoming a Proactive Leader

1. Be Proactive with your PRIORITIES

Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re doing the right things. A critical first step is to identify the most important contributions you can make and do those things first. Ask yourself this, “What is my greatest contribution to the church? What do I bring to the table that no one else does?”

Jesus was proactive with his priorities. He stayed crystal clear even when it meant saying “no.” We see this in his exchange in Luke 4:42. It says, “And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them…”  So here was a group of people who didn’t mean any harm, but their request would have distracted Jesus from his calling by making him stay with them. They wanted to capitalize on the spectacle that was Jesus. So they said, “Jesus, stay! Everything you need to do, you can do right here in our village. We’ll raise some money and set up a school – you’re a great teacher. Or what about a medical clinic or counseling center? You seem to have some great skills in those areas. But just please stay!” Verse 43 says, “but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” Jesus knew that his priority was a missionary teacher and healer with a global purpose – which meant that he couldn’t stay in one place, he had to go. He was crystal clear on his calling and proactive in his priorities which meant he wouldn’t be sidetracked by other things, even if they sounded nice.

For me, the big three always come back to Preaching, Mission and Vision, and Leadership Development. Those are my three PRIORITIES and I need to make sure those things are getting my energy every single week. And If you find yourself spending a lot of time on things that aren’t your top priorities, it’s probably time to empower authority to someone else. It takes time up front to offload some responsibilities, but the payoff is huge.

There is one other non-negotiable ­— sabbath. Being proactive doesn’t mean that you do more, it means that you do more of what matters most.

One of the tools that we use is called 4×4 lists. At the beginning of each month ask and answer ‘what are the 4 most important things I can accomplish for this organization in the next 4 weeks?’ Share the list with your inner circle so that others can speak into it and help you shape it, and then hold you accountable to it.

Once you’ve clarified your priorities, ask yourself, “How much time am I spending on these handful of things that make the greatest contribution to my church?” You want to spend the majority of your time on these things because they’re going to give you the majority of your results. But you have to decide ahead of time.

The second decision in becoming a proactive leader is…

2. Be proactive with your PEOPLE

I would venture to guess, that for many of you, your best people aren’t getting your best time and energy. Do you know who probably is? The squeaky wheels. The problem people, the underperforming staff, the dysfunctional complainer with an agenda. Being proactive means deciding ahead of time to give your best energy to your highest caliber team members.

We encourage all our leaders to identify their ‘first team.’ These are the top leaders, the best producers, your inner circle who have some organizational authority. It shouldn’t be more than five or six people and it also shouldn’t be less than three. Then once you Identify your first team … give them your prime time.

That sounds so harsh and un-biblical, doesn’t it? We’re in ministry after all. Shouldn’t we be giving everyone equal and unfettered access to us without being cliquey and choosing an inner circle to spend the most time with? I’d rather use Jesus’ model. He had the crowds who got a certain level of access to him, then there were the 120 who had a little more access, then there was the twelve who had special access that no one else had, and then there were the 3, Peter, James, and John who had the most time, the most access, the most mentoring, the most special experiences. This isn’t a matter of favoritism; though you will be accused of it, instead it’s good and efficient and proactive leadership. It’s the best means of getting the most done.

When you give your first team your prime time, when you train them properly, they will be empowered to take both the people load and the task load from you. And they will also begin to multiply the effectiveness of the ministry you are leading. More people will be reached and cared for than you could ever do on your own.

The third decision in becoming a proactive leader is…

3. Be proactive with your PLANNER

The final important step is to pre-decide when your most important priorities and your most important are going to hit your schedule. Obviously your time with God, with your family, soccer games and track meets, your sabbath, your exercise regimen, they all need to be in there. You can’t say something is important to you and then never have that thing make it to your schedule. If it’s not scheduled, it’s not important.

Do you realize that the thoughtful and prayerful arrangement of your calendar is one of the most spiritual things you do? The Christian life is truly lived out in how you spend your moments. Your calling is lived out in how you leverage your time. You calendar plays a critical role in determining who you will become as a person and as a leader.

Then you lay in the big rocks first; priorities and people. Most people do reactionary calendaring. They schedule around their demands rather than their priorities. What if we didn’t just let all the urgent stuff drive our schedules, but instead let our priorities lead the way. What if we decided up front what our top values and priorities were in life and then let everything else fill in.

So being proactive means you lay the big rocks in first. For me preaching is the first thing in. Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning are sermon days. Everyone knows it. Nobody messes with it. On top of that, monthly sermon planning, sermon outlines, sermon outline review. They are all on my calendar a year out. Insert your priorities here ___. Then set up a recurring schedule that blocks out time for them from now into the future.

This practice also allows you to create time and space for stuff that pops up. Once a priority or a person is already on your calendar, if an emergency does arise, you have a reminder to find a new time for that priority or person. They don’t just drop off into the abyss, they need to be reschedule because they are most important. Yes, there will be divine interruptions sometimes. And we absolutely have to allow for that. But I have found that I have both more mind space and more actual calendar space for divine interruptions to occur when I’ve decided my calendar ahead of time.

The benefits of being proactive are amazing. You get more done, you have less stress, you have better ideas, you are more focused and less frustrated, and your team is grateful. I don’t know about you, but sign me up for that!