Self-Discipline: Core Leadership Competency for Clergy and Church Staff

“The very worst use of your time is to do very well what need not be done at all.”
-Benjamin Tregoe, The Rational Manager

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.”
-Jim Rohn

“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves; self discipline with all of them came first.”
-Harry S. Truman

“Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord”
-Holy Bible, Colossians 3:23

One of the blessings of ministry is the high degree of control we have over our schedules. Before you groan and push back, consider how much control you have. 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. Since it is a calling, since we are on call most always, and since we work odd hours, we also enjoy great flexibility in how we structure our schedules. If you have worked in another profession where you are required to be in an office 50 weeks per year, then you can appreciate our flexibility. This is one of the nice benefits of serving as a pastor or church staff member.

This is also a contributing factor to the need for high levels of self-discipline.
We are the one’s looking over our 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 repercusions. 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 will avoid exercising daily initiative. Over time this leads to low morale and spiritual lethargy, in oneself and eventually in the congregation.

Those with high levels of self-discipline will find ways to complete the undesirable tasks, initiate activities which 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.” He goes on to describe success principles: “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.”

Here are seven actions you can take to increase your self-discipline in your vocation.

-Do a brutally honest self-assessment of your work habits. (May need a Leadership Coach to do this honestly). The ancient wisdom of Aristotle reminds us, “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence then is not an act but a habit.”

-Commit to practicing the key practices 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.

-Eliminate the poor work habits which hold you back, while pushing to the periphery of your day the 80% which contributes so little to mission advancement. Leadership folk wisdom encourages this approach: Bad habits are hard to form, but easy to live with. Good habits are hard to form, but easy to live with.

-Consider the following word contrast and then choose which list will describe how you live out your vocation:


-Take control of your time.Effective leaders engage in proactive work more than reactive work. Sure, emergencies among the congregation arises, yet most of the time remain focused on the proactive 20% of your ministry. Be a good steward of your God-given time.

-Declare war on procrastination.
“Procrastination is the thief of dreams.”
-Native American Folklore
My procrastination usually happens around task activities, not around people interaction or direct service. It works this way: I’m tired and stressed, making the task appear far larger than it is (especially since I’m not task oriented – take the Peoplemap to learn your type). Therefore, 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.

-Watch for positive outcomes for you and the congregation. Social scientists prove over and over the strong correlation between high levels of self-discipline and self-esteem. Increase your self-discipline; increase your self-regard. Increase your self-discipline; increase your leadership contribution to this congregation’s mission and ministry.

Why all this fuss over self-discipline?

Does the good news of the gospel, the coming of God’s kingdom, and our world’s need call for anything less than our best?

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA

Helen