Oct 12, 2021

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Carey Nieuwhof on Designing Space for Rest & Productivity

This week on ChurchPulse Weekly, David Kinnaman flips the mic to interview cohost Carey Nieuwhof about making space for rest and healthy rhythms for leaders. Nieuwhof talks about designing physical spaces for productivity, managing your energy to avoid burnout and fostering relationships after years in ministry.

On Designing Spaces for Work & Rest
Recent Barna data reveals that one in three pastor says they’re not satisfied with how they spend their time during the week.

Nieuwhof speaks into this need with some practical advice on designing space to improve leaders’ productivity and focus, saying, “The ability to generate sermons that connect, to create a compelling vision and to align a team is very deep work. I found I couldn’t do it in most traditional office settings.”

Now, he works out of a renovated office he built in his basement. He notes, “I would recommend that every leader find the space that gives them the fewest distractions.”

Nieuwhof shares, “If you get a single interruption, and you’re working on Sunday’s message […] after a single knock at the door or that text that distracted you, it can take as much as 25 minutes for you to refocus your thinking.” He continues, “That just doesn’t work when you’re actually trying to do an exegesis of Ezekiel or trying to figure out what that has to say to the 21st century.”

He has found many of these same design principles apply to the way churches construct their buildings to foster hospitality, noting, “You’re communicating through the way you design your church, what you value and how you value people. […] You may say, ‘Well, the early church didn’t have to worry about that stuff.’ but you’re reaching people who are used to evaluating things through that lens, so I think you have to pay attention to that.”

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On Relationships After Ministry
This same Barna study found that three in five pastors reported frequently or sometimes feeling lonely.

Nieuwhof shares some of his own challenges with loneliness as he transferred out of being a full-time pastor. He says, “You find out who your friends are when you’re done ministry. Toni and I always wondered, ‘Are they really our friends, or are they just my friends because I’m their pastor?’ You’ll be shocked to discover that you have a few friends, but most people are just there because you hold a title or a position.”

As he’s working to continue to foster deep friendships, he notes, “Don’t confuse followers and attenders with friends. Friends are people who know you inside and out and whom you spend regular time with.”

One practical way to build this type of community is through designing intentional spaces for hospitality. Nieuwhof shares, “We remodeled our backyard this year and put in a hot tub and some space and a new fire pit. Hosting groups for the last few months here has been incredible because the space does what it’s supposed to do. People feel very special, and they want to hang out and linger.”

On Healthy Rhythms to Avoid Burnout
Nieuwhof closes the conversation by talking about healthy rhythms for leaders to avoid burnout.

He reflects on his own story, saying, “I had a decade of growth, and I had a terrible equation of working more hours because God had sent us more people. That doesn’t scale, so my body quit, and I went into a season of burnout. […] I lost all my passion and energy; it was awful.”

As Nieuwhof worked towards recovering, he began to rethink his time and priorities. One of the practical changes he made was around energy management.

He says, “The principle in a nutshell is that you have three to five peak hours in a day. Researchers would agree that you have 24 equal hours in a day, but not all hours feel equal or produce equally.

He continues, “Even though I’m a morning person, I used to give most of my mornings away in breakfast meetings. Then I realized that breakfast meetings don’t help you get your sermon written. […]  I started using that time in the morning to solve the biggest problems and write the content that needed to be written, and that’s when I saw exponential results in terms of my productivity and also my effectiveness.”

He challenges leaders, “The question should be: 24 months or three years from now, are you going to emerge healthy into that space or so exhausted that when the dust settles, you don’t even have energy for today, let alone for tomorrow?”

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About the Research
The research for this study consisted of one online study conducted September 16-October 8, 2020 with 408 U.S. Protestant pastors. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 4.8 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.

Featured image by Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2021

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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