Is This Thing Killing Your Productivity?

So, this is my scenario: I’m fifteen minutes into my ministry workday, I’m sitting in my office, and I am just getting into the groove of a project that has been hanging over me for a couple weeks, when…

Ding! Buzz! Ding! 

Simultaneously, I hear an email notification from my laptop, my phone buzzes in my pocket, and my iPad dings from my bag on the floor. Not only are my hearing senses alerted, but an email notification shows up on my laptop from the sender, and I can already read the subject… It looks urgent… I need to read it… I must read it now!

It’s like the notifications are crying out to me, “Read me, read me, read me!”

What do I do? What do you do? 

If you are like me, the typical routine is to click on the notification and get right to it! I’ll admit it, I have no will power. I’m like a toddler at a candy store! Show me the candy, and I’ll grab it. (Although email can hardly be described as candy… There are other words I could use).

Fascinating Results! 

According to a recent article in The Harvard Business Review, French IT company Atos Origin created filters and limits on email use and saw incredible results:

  • Reduced email use by 60%
  • Increased overall productivity of staff
  • Operating margin increased by 1%. (This is actually very significant in their space)
  • Earnings per share rose by 50%. (Gigantic result)
  • Administration costs are down by 3%

Now the article is quick to point out that while not all the improvements can be attributed to less email use, the correlation is definitely strong.

What can this mean for leaders in ministry? 

  • If you are like me, (and I hope you might have more self-control when you get an email notification), but what would it look like if we turned off all notifications on all our devices?
  • What if we chose to compartmentalize our email use to once or twice a day?
  • What would it look like to get up out of your seat and go to speak to someone? Or perhaps pick up the phone instead of sending that email?

In short, I believe that not only would the productivity improve, but the relational connections in ministry would be greatly impacted. I’m not saying we should do away with email, (as this French company is suggesting), but I wonder how ministry and could improve if we begin to drive our schedules, rather than the “ding” of an email alert?

Phil <><

4 Healthy Defaults for Balancing Family and Ministry – Part 4

money balancingIn this series of posts,  I have talked about the importance of seeking out a vision for family and ministry, while also establishing healthy defaults as we seek greater balance. Although balancing family is often a moving target, it doesn’t mean we should not aim to establish healthy patterns and systems in our family life. So far in this series we have talked about spiritual, relational, and physical defaults. Today, we wrap up the series by addressing financial defaults.

Now before you think finances are boring, consider this:

The way we manage our finances will positively or negatively impact both our family and ministry.

In addition, balancing family finances and ministry is a challenge and often feels like a sacrifice over time. My hope is that the sacrifice certainly feels worth it. (I know this is true for Lisa and myself). But it doesn’t mean that there are times when it is painful and bewildering.

Our Story: Six years ago we were blessed by the birth of our second child. We were also “blessed” with ER visits for myself, my wife, and our newborn in a span of 4 weeks. Before we knew it, we had thousands of dollars of medical debt and we were down to one income for a season. I can confidently tell you that our finances became a huge distraction that negatively impacted our family and ministry… I wish I could tell you that it was due to a set of unfortunate circumstances, (in part that was true), but I have to confess, we had our part to play in the perfect storm of financial struggles. Having medical debt only amplified our lack of healthy defaults in our financial planning…

What about you? I don’t know what your financial health looks like, but I would affirm the need to find some healthy defaults in this area of your family. Ultimately, financial health impacts family AND ministry.

  1. Determine your limits. Quite honestly, for us, we have often made the mistake of not setting appropriate limits on what we need and want. We have also discovered that my priorities differ from Lisa’s needs. It’s essential we take time to get on the same page and agree on what is essential when it comes to spending.
  2. Agree on a plan. Creating a budget and sticking to it is imperative. I’m fortunate that Lisa is a number cruncher and is a stickler for detail. There are often times when she needs to reign me back in and remind me of our budget plan that we took time to create and agree on.
  3. Save for the rain. Growing up in England, I could confidently expect rain. I wish I had learned to expect more rainy days in our finances. It’s not that I want to be thinking negatively, but it’s simply a reality that we need to face. After all, stuff breaks, emergencies happen, and savings are needed. Expect rainy days and find shelter under your savings. Practically speaking, how are you ensuring that you are saving a specific sum to build your rainy day fund?
  4. Save for the sun. In our experience, saving for rainy days and paying for “boring” stuff is made a whole lot easier if we are also saving for a vacation or getaway. Part of our family vision is to have experiences with our kids that are memorable. In particular, we love to travel and allow our kids to experience different cultures. While vacations can cost a pretty penny, we would rather go without new furniture and gadgets than miss making memories on our family getaways. They are worth saving for.
  5. Give generously. In our experience, tight finances are always an opportunity to trust God more with what He has given us. While our default might be to cut back on giving God our first and best, it’s the lean times that allow us to learn about God’s faithfulness. Therefore, it’s essential that we not only continue to give generously, but also pray about giving sacrificially. God has amazed us with His faithfulness even when it has seemed to make no human sense to give generously… How about you?

What would you add to this list? What financial plan do you follow? What have you been learning about how best to balance family finances and ministry? 

Phil <><

photo credit: Precarity via photopin (license)

4 Healthy Defaults for Balancing Family and Ministry – Part 3

Phil Bell RunningIn my first post in this series I talked about the importance of seeking out a vision for our own family while we journey through ministry together. So often we are quick to craft vision statements and values for our churches, yet we neglect to have a God-given vision for our own family. If you are like me, when things are way out of balance, we begin to lose joy in what we do, while our families struggle with our workload… Know the feeling?

In my last two posts I have looked at two healthy defaults for balancing family and ministry. While balancing family and ministry is like trying to hit a moving target, it does not mean we should not seek to place some healthy defaults in place. These healthy defaults, along with a clear family vision can make all the difference. It’s imperative we create healthy spiritual and relational defaults, and today I want to focus on the third default of physical health. 

I have a confession… Up until about 3 months ago, I used to run 3-4 miles at least 3 times a week, play indoor soccer once a week, and mountain bike about once a month… My diet was mostly healthy with a few treats added in… Then we moved to North Carolina!

Changing ministry, moving 4 times in 4 months, (long story) has a way of not only tiring me out, it’s also killed many of my healthy habits! In the past 3 months I ran twice, I have not kicked a soccer ball once, and my mountain bike just arrived on the moving truck last week, (the tires are flat and my compressor is broken – It feels like a representation of my exercise life right now). As for food, it seems like tiredness has encouraged me to give-in to comfort food more often than I should…

Why is this a problem? It’s not hard to know the obvious problems of health and wellness. Little exercise and poor diet will obviously catch up with me in some way, but I wonder if we often miss out on a greater reason for staying healthy?

What are the emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits to being healthy?

What is the impact on our efficiency when we have healthy defaults?

When I have healthy defaults that are part of my rhythm, I just get more done! Have you ever experienced that? If not, let me tell you, it is a brilliant feeling! Right now, I feel like I am missing out a little… How about you?

So, what is next? While this post would get more traction around the new year,  I can’t wait for a resolution to get me back to my healthy defaults. Below, are some quick bullets that I hope will allow me to reestablish some healthy defaults in my life. While I don’t want to become legalistic, I need to set some goals in place to help me to get back on track… How about you?

Add in: 

  •  Running 2x a week. Start at 2 miles. Work up to 3 miles.
  •  Join an indoor soccer league locally, (by the end of the year).
  • Mountain bike once a month
  • Drink 6-8 cups of water a day


  • Stop eating after 7pm. (I often snack in the evenings… Chips and salsa can’t be good for me every night before bed)!
  • No snacks / candy during the day.
  • 2 cups of coffee a day. (Currently, I drink 3-4 cups a day).

What about you? What do you need to add into your schedule? What needs to change? How could some healthy defaults impact your emotional, mental, and spiritual life? How would it help you to be more effective in your family and ministry? What simple steps can you take to establish some healthy defaults in your life?

Phil <><


4 Healthy Defaults for Balancing Family and Ministry – Part 2

Balancing Family MinistryIn a previous post I talked about the importance discovering a new vision for balancing family and ministry. Ultimately, trying to find balance often feels like a moving target, so it’s essential that our family has a clear God-given vision of what is needed for the long haul. While finding balance is a moving target at times, it does not mean we shouldn’t try to discover healthy defaults.

In my last post, I talked about how imperative it is to create a healthy spiritual default that allows us to minister to our own family as well as the family of God. In this post, I want to focus on the importance of seeking and finding healthy relational defaults. Too often it’s easier to say “no” to our own family and friends, while saying “yes” to ministry.

While the following relational defaults are mostly for married couples with kids, I would encourage you to take note no matter what season of life you are in. Ultimately, it’s essential that we encourage the families in our own ministries to seek after these defaults…

  1. Cash & Calendar: For us, cash and calendar is a meeting we have every two weeks, where we pay bills and schedule. While paying bills and scheduling might seem to have nothing to do with relationship building, it helps us to tackle the bills and all that stressful calendar stuff without bleeding into our relational times. It used to be that our date nights were dominated by stressful topics until we began to implement this “business meeting.” It also helps us schedule in essential dates for our family and ministry, and for me to communicate the ministry calendar far ahead of time. Below are some essential times we schedule together: 
  2. Family nights: While our family gets quite a lot of opportunities to spend time together, we have found family nights to be an incredible opportunity to laugh and play with our kids. Often we will ask them what they want to do (within reason), and look to plan the night a few weeks in advance. In the crazy seasons, it’s always good for my kids to know they have some quality time to look forward to. Typically, we have about 2 family nights a month.
  3. Date nights: Before we had kids we could have a date night once a week. These days it’s about once a month and it’s not always a date night out. Sometimes given time and resources, we have to get creative and have a date night in! Either way, date nights are essential for Lisa and I and it’s crucial our kids see what a priority marriage When is your next date night scheduled for? Is there a day of week or certain time to make dates count?
  4. Daddy / Mommy / Child Dates. Our kids love to go on dates with us. Just this week my nine year old gave myself and wife a note saying she is looking forward to her next date with us. Over the last few years we have created a schedule whereby Lisa and I share taking the kids out on a special parent / kid date. The key is find something to do that is on their “turf.” While one kid wants a picnic at the park, another kid wants to shop at the mall. As long as it’s within reason, we try to do something that communicates an interest in them and what they want or need. In my experience, some of my most memorable conversations with my kids have come out of a date. You see, sometimes our kids just need time to “warm up” and open up to us. Having regular dates not only builds great memories, it helps nurture faith…
  5. Mentor time: If you follow this blog, you have likely read about my mentor Ron in the past. Ron is the guy who has poured into my life for the past fifteen years. It began with me seeking out a godly guy to grab a coffee with and ask questions about ministry and marriage, and turned into a mentorship.

I could also expand on the importance of personal friendships and being a part of a small group, but I wonder if you already hear that in your own church? For now, I want to encourage you to start at home and consider how you can make your calendar reflect your relational priorities. What are some relational defaults you have found to be helpful? What are you doing to be creative in dating your spouse? What kind of dates your kids would love to go?

Phil <><

photo credit: Get the Balance Right via photopin (license)

4 Healthy Defaults for Balancing Family and Ministry – Part 1

Balancing Family MinistryIn my previous post I talked about the importance of allowing a God-given vision for family and ministry. After, trying to balance family and ministry is a moving target for most of us. Just when you think you have it figured out, it changes! While trying to find balance seems like an impossible task, it should not mean that you and I shouldn’t seek out healthy defaults for our family.

In this post, and the following three, I want to take you on a journey with me. It’s a journey that my family has been on as we have looked to implement God’s vision for family and ministry.


While this list is not the last word on healthy defaults, I consider it a good beginning. Please do not see it as a legalistic list of obligations. Rather, see it as the start of a road map on a journey to greater health and balance for you and your family.

Healthy Default #1

Spiritual: How is your relationship with God taking a greater priority over what you do for God?

  1. Sabbath – Do you take a full day off from ministry? If not, why not? Once a friend said, “Does God need you so badly to build His Kingdom that He wants you to put aside His own relationship with you?” It hurt, but he had a point…
  2. Quiet Times – Are you able to reflect and listen to what God is calling you to do? When can you schedule a time of quiet? There’s a vast difference between rushing with God and resting in Him.
  3. Bible Study – Rather than studying God’s Word for another lesson plan, seek out a study or devotion to rediscover the wonder and awe God has for you. When is the best time to get away and read? What is your reading plan?
  4. Small Group – Are you able to grow in community? We often tell people the importance of being in a small group, yet it’s a challenge for us to make the commitment. What can you say “no” to in ministry that will allow you to say “yes” to being in a small group?

Confession Time: Before you think that our family is the model family in ministry, please know that we are far from it! It’s easy to read posts like this one and play the comparison game. Please don’t! The truth is, this recent season of moving and relocating has meant that some of these healthy defaults have taken a back seat. Therefore, would you consider joining my family and myself as we rediscover our vision and healthy defaults for family and ministry?

Next Post: We will take a look at Healthy Default #2!

Phil <><

photo credit: Balance of nature via photopin (license)

8 Signs of an Unhealthy Youth & Children’s Ministry Worker

8“The way you invest in your own family will significantly affect the influence you have with parents.” Team Up! The Family Ministry Playbook for Partnering with Parents. 

God has called parents to be the primary investors of their child’s faith journey. It’s essential that we comprehend the greater influence of time that parents have with their children.

Our ability to partner with parents will depend greatly on the example we set before them. 1 Timothy 3:5 calls us to take care of our family first, so that we can know how to take care of the family God…

What are the signs that our own walk and family life could be in trouble? Here are eight signs that I list in Team Up! The Family Ministry Playbook for Partnering with Parents. 

  1. People Pleasing: We live to impress others instead of pleasing God first. We say “yes” to everyone and everything and feel ashamed at the idea of saying “no” to anyone who asks. We almost feel selfish if we want to say “no” to someone’s request. In the meantime, we become worn out and ministry has little joy or excitement. We are running on empty and our own family gets the few leftovers, if anything meaningful from us.
  2. Platform Builders: We attempt to build a platform of significance for ourselves and live little to no room on the platform for Christ. We are constantly fueled by the accolades of success and by the making a name for ourselves.
  3. Stolen Identity: Our identity is staked in what we do rather than who we are in Christ. It only takes a negative comment or a failed event to make us wonder if we are really cut out for ministry. Rather than being confident in the person God has called us to be, we are stooped in the identity of the position we hold.
  4. Broken Boundaries: We don’t know how to say “no” to ministry needs, yet we constantly say “no” to our family with our time and focus with our own family. Saying “no” to family is often the easier route since they will be more understanding, right? Wrong. Over time an understanding spouse or child can easily become bitter and resentful of the church and your ministry.
  5. All Work and No Devotion: Our personal devotional time has become more of a study time for creating the next great idea or message for our ministry. Reading God’s Word and applying it personally and practically has been replaced by lesson preparation for the benefit of others.
  6. No Time for Worship: Making it into the church worship experience is a distant memory as we look to serve others and ensure that everything depends on us. While we encourage families to sit together in church, our own family has not experienced this for a long time…
  7. Present but not Really Present: In an over connected world where we can be contacted every minute of the day, it’s easy to be with our own families but not fully present with them. Rather than shut off the communication at strategic times, we feel like every phone call, text message, email, and social media request has to be answered instantly. Over time our kids and spouses conclude that the outside world is more important than what happens inside our own homes.
  8. The Temple is Crumbling: We are told that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, yet for some of us it feels like the temple is crumbling. There’s no time for exercise and food is often a comfort that leads to health complications over time. More than anything, we lack energy, and always feel like we need more sleep…

I know there are more to add to this list. What would you add? What steps are you taking to ensure that your family is healthy and your example to parents is worth following? Remember, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about seeking the author and perfecter of your faith…

Begin to today by admitting to God the areas in your life and ministry that need help… Invite a friend or mentor to encourage you to take healthier steps. Pray for God’s strength and wisdom to discover a healthier way to balance family and ministry… 

Phil <><

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5 Social Media Ministry Boundaries for Leaders

Social Media BoundariesI wrote this article a while back, but recently I have heard about friends in ministry who have been burned by some poor decisions when using social media. I’m reposting this today in the hope it will be helpful to those of us who are in ministry and use social media…

Using social media can be your friend when doing ministry, but it can quickly become your enemy too…  I have heard stories of youth workers who are getting into trouble because of the way they are using social media. I have also heard quite a few stories of people not getting a new position because of the social media ‘past.

5 Social Media Ministry Boundaries

1) Accept that leaders live in ‘glass house.’ This is hard to accept, but when you are in ministry and you are using social media, it automatically means that you are under the spotlight. Leaders, parents, students, and children are looking up to you and will often follow you for inspiration, guidance, and hope. On the other hand, others will follow you to get an inside track to see whether you fit their mold of someone in ministry…

Like it or not, the reality is that a leader is always watched closely. What are others seeing?

2) Wait to be Friended or Followed: If you don’t know a student well, wait for them to friend or follow you. I know this might seem a little extreme, but unless I know a person quite well, I will wait for them to friend me. If there is a person in your ministry who is new and getting plugged in, it might be worth waiting for them to friend you. Waiting for someone to ‘friend’ you simply avoids any weirdness and ensures they are happy for you to get an inside track to their life.

3) Avoid Private Conversations: When working with students, try to keep messages public and for all to see. If a students wants to talk to you about an issue or a problem, try to do it face to face in full site of others. It’s also essential to communicate with parents that you are talking to their student. I know this might seem a little over the top, but here are two good reasons why contacting parents is a good idea:

  • It opens the door for a relationship to partner with parents.
  • It avoids parents wondering what your intentions are. In this day and age, parents are protective when other adults contact their kids, and rightly so. Honor parents by touching base and letting them know who you are.

4) Consider carefully what you post: Here are three things that can get you in trouble.

  • Questionable pictures: In certain social media platforms such as Facebook, you can create a setting that gives you the option to ‘allow’ pictures you are tagged in. Ensure that the pictures of you will always allow others to see you in a positive light.
  • Complaints: Complaining about others simply does not look good. It shows weakness that we can’t talk to the person directly as well as modeling a poor method of dealing with conflict.
  • Controversial Issues: For me I don’t post  anything that could divide people in my church. Political statements, local controversies, and attacks on political leaders should be avoided.

In what you post, would others describe you as a  divisive and opinionated person, or an inspirational leader? 

5) Leverage social media to inspire and uplift:  This should be a given, but many of us have discounted the great value of regularly posting to inspire others. As I said at the beginning of this post. People are looking for hope and direction. Consider what influence you can have by using social media effectively?

What would you add to this list? In what ways has social media caused issues for you? What are the most widely used forms of social media by your students? Where are your students trending to? 

Phil <><

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Hanging in for the Long Haul of Ministry

Ministry can feel like climbing a huge mountain at times can’t it? When I first started out things seemed so simple… If you are like me, while ministry is exciting and fulfilling, you have also come to realize that ministry can be challenging and overwhelming at times.

What began as clear-cut becomes confusing…

What began as a blessing can feel like a curse at times…

Just like a stranded rock climber, it’s easy to get worn out, we feel confused and disoriented, and we have lost sight of all the beauty around us…

Rock Climber

So, how can we avoid getting to this point? How can we refocus and rediscover the passion if we already feel this way? Here are 4 essential keys I live by.  These keys in essence have become my personal ‘home base’ to come back to… Read more

Where to Begin When You Have a Long List of Tasks…

Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves. Dale Carnegie. 

If you are like me there are seasons when my list of things to do seems to be never ending. If I am honest, there are times when I can get a little overwhelmed as scroll through my task list trying to decide what needs to be done. What about you? Ever get overwhelmed?

To do list

A few years ago I read a great little book called Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. The book is full of 21 great ways to be more productive and efficient. However, there is one nugget of wisdom that has changed the way I get things done in my ministry and home life…

What I used to do: When faced with a long task of things to do, there is a tendency to tackle the easiest ones first and try to check off a number of tasks quickly and easily. You would think that a few easy wins would build momentum and give you the enthusiasm to tackle the tougher tasks right? Wrong! Waiting to tackle the hardest tasks later becomes a form of procrastination of priorities and ultimately leaves the harder tasks hanging over us. Psychologically speaking, it can easily cause us to stump our enthusiasm and slow our productivity. Here’s what an excerpt of the book says:

There’s an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s probably the worst thing you’ll do all day. Using ‘eat that frog’ as a metaphor for tackling the most challenging task of your day – the one you are most likely to procrastinate on, but also probably the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life. 

In other words, once you have tackled the most challenging task of the day, all the other tasks seem easier and more attainable to accomplish. As a leader, I find this to be so true. It’s so essential that I devote my time to the tasks that will impact my ministry the most and bring the greatest return. These are often the most challenging and perplexing tasks however. But ultimately, a leader who tackles the most challenging tasks each day will him or herself a cut above the leaders who are quickly checking off the easy tasks each day.

What is your greatest priority today? What have you been putting off that you need to tackle today? What is the biggest ugliest ‘frog’ you can eat today that will make all the other tasks seem easy? 

Phil <><

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When You Don’t Have Enough Time… What to do…

We have 24 hours every day…

There’s always more to do than we have time for…

What can we do when there is more to do, and not enough time?

Time Clock

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”  So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. Mark 1: 35-39

Where did Jesus go? Can you picture this setting? Practically the whole town arrives at the house to be healed by Jesus and he’s not there! It’s like Black Friday shopping as everyone gathers waiting for the stampede when the doors open! Can you imagine the disciples frantically looking for him as they search the house wondering what to do with all the people outside? Talk about a stressful situation! And then one of the disciples find him…

“Don’t you Realize Jesus?” Do you catch the tone of voice from the disciple who caught up with Him? “EVERYONE is looking for you!” Not a few, but everyone! In other words, “Jesus, I need you to understand that this is a BIG deal. I need you to come and take care of this crowd of people…” And what is Jesus reply? He doesn’t even acknowledge the need, he simply points His disciple to a greater purpose: “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

Knowing what to say “yes” to. Right after Jesus has spent time with His Father, he is confronted by a great need. Yet, it is after spending time with His Father that He is able to be clear about what to do next. While there were many pressing needs for Him to contend with, He knew His purpose so clearly that He was able to say “yes” to preaching elsewhere, which ultimately meant He was saying “no” to something else.

Jesus, God in flesh had limitations and could not be everywhere, for everyone, and do everything…

You and I have greater limitations than the Son of God. We cannot be everywhere, for everyone, and do everything…

As a husband, parent, and pastor, I have come to realize that there is ALWAYS more to do. There are always many good opportunities awaiting me, but I cannot say “yes” to every need. Because of my limited time, every time I say “yes” to a need, I am usually saying “no” to something else. In times like this, it’s essential that I follow in Jesus’ steps:

1) Find a solitary place to seek God’s wisdom and direction. 

2) Discern the God-given opportunities over the good opportunities. 

3) Take specific steps to say “yes” to God and stand confidently in the things you are letting go of.

Now, this is easier said than done. However, I have discovered that time away with my Heavenly Father is the only sure way to find clarity in a busy and blurry world of frantic schedules and fast-paced families.

If we want to set the course for our lives with confidence and purpose, we need to get away from the busyness and seek God in the quietness.

How are you getting away to hear God’s voice in your frantic schedule? Where is a place of solitary for you? How has God shaped you for a purpose? What are some of the priorities that need to be reassessed in your life, family, and ministry? 

Phil <><

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