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Andy Stanley:  Why I Decided to Cheat the Church

Orginally published on Monday, August 14, 2006 at 8:48 AM
by Todd Rhoades

One of the better sessions at this year's Leadership Summit was Andy Stanley talking about how he decided to 'cheat the church'. And talked about the number one leadership decision he ever made, and it has to do with the balancing act between the demands of ministry life and the demands on family time...

Tony Morgan and Mark Waltz from Granger Community Church have given great blog summaries of Andy’s talk on their respective blogs.  Tony writes:

He talked about the best leadership decision he’s ever made. He made a deal with God. He explained it something like this:

God, I don’t have time to build a ministry and take care of my family. I’ll give you 45 hours per week as a church planter. If you can build a church on 45 hours, I’m your guy. I’ll let you build has big a church as you can with that 45 hours, and I’ll be satisfied with that. But I’m not going to cheat my family.

Andy decided to cheat the church before he cheated his family. With his wife, he decided to be at home by 4:30 every day. That meant he left work at 4:00.

Andy explained that God has never commanded him to love the Church. He was commanded to love his wife. He was never commanded to build the Church. Jesus said he would do that. Instead, we get it backwards. We try to go build the church, and we pray that God will take care of our family.

How did this decision impact Andy’s leadership?

1. It forced him to play exclusively to play to his strengths. Focus on the things you’re good at. The less you do, the more you accomplish. You’re not very good at very many things. Only do what only you can do.

2. It forced him to prioritize the success of the church over my personal success. He had to say no to lots of other opportunities. It forced him to focus on the main thing God has called him to do. North Point has his undivided attention.

3. The value has forced the organization to say no to many things and maintain a sustainable pace. That protects Andy’s time, but it also obviously also protects his staff’s time. We need to create a “to don’t” list. The value led to a decision to shut down the church the final weekend of every year to give all the volunteers and staff members a weekend to be with their families.

4. This value elicits incredible loyalty from the staff. Andy tells all new employees not to cheat their families.

This is a hard decision. People will be angry. We can’t fall into the “If I don’t, it won’t get done” trap. How many hours you work won’t make or break your career.

Charles Stanley said, “Never violate the principles of God in order to gain or maintain the blessing of God.”

Jesus has promised to build his church, and he’s done a great job. We’re just a small part of it.

Mark Waltz wrote:

Perhaps the word “cheat” seems harsh and uncomfortable, but I think Andy’s right. Because these two worlds call on me, pull on me, lean on me… there is a sense of “competition”, one against the other. In that light, then, someone’s going to get cheated. My sense of loyalty can’t be equal to both. Someone’s going to get less of me.

Although Laura and I (I’m married to her) have worked hard at this over the years, I still feel the fear Andy identified today: If I don’t do it… it won’t get done.

How arrogant of me. How self-serving of me. Who said it has to be done?

Of course when fear raises the question and the question presses hard, guilt can quickly follow.

I’m renewing my cheat list. My family - my wife, Laura, and our daughter, Olivia, will win.

God does command it. Jesus models it.

Ministry will get done… and better because I’ll need to keep handing off and building great leadership partnerships that honor God and value our families.

And all the while, people who matter to God will come to know him, ‘cause it’s his gig, his Church, his kingdom.

So… how are you doing in this tug of war between ministry and family?  It mattered so much, and made such a difference in Andy Stanley’s life that he says this is the #1 leadership decision he’s ever made.  How’s your balance?  Do you need to decide to ‘cheat the church’?  It’s a constant struggle, and one that we each need to think about and re-visit on a regular basis.

So… who are you cheating!?



FOR DISCUSSION: What things have you done to make family time a priority (or to make more time for family time)?  What’s the #1 leadership decision you’ve ever made?

This post has been viewed 9946 times so far.

  There are 61 Comments:

  • Posted by

    I go back and forth. For the most part, I don’t cheat family on my time. My church has services on Saturday and Sunday both, three services total, and this means although those days are normally not heavy, I do have only one full day off a week, which is Monday. I’m expected to work about the same number of hours per week as Andy, and we do place a very high value on family here. (We call it the “hurry home” value...)

    BUT… Although I’m okay with the amount of time (and I don’t lose time in traffic, I work only 8 minutes from my home) I think I am cheating my family with regard to ENERGY. (Anybody remember Jack Groppel’s talk last year or the year before at the Summit?) I need to save a lot of my best energy for family and home, and I don’t think I’m doing that. I’ve got some plans to make that happen, however…

    But on the time front, Andy has really woken me up (and the talk by Wayne Cordeiro REALLY finished Andy’s talk. I can’t separate them.) I need to find a way to get one or two full weekends off per month (my wife works mon-friday, so we don’t always get the same time off work, we don’t have kids yet, but we are adopting in the near future...)

    Also… if you notice, it’s Monday, and I’m posting on MMI… I’m supposed to be not working. So this is the end of my post----- (see ya tomorrow… I need to start leaving this stupid computer at the office!)

  • Posted by

    I would think this message would be important for the bi-vocational pastor. Someone who is torn between church, family, and another job.  It’s also difficult when you have church members who just assume you’ll do everything for a ministry because that’s what you get paid to do.

  • Posted by

    I really appreciated Andy’s talk.  I’ve done the 7 day a week stuff inn the past to the detriment of my family.  I still struggle with giving my family the appropriate amount of time they deserve and need. 

    I wish Andy would have talked a bit more about how they manage the 45 hours with staff.  Also, it would have been helpful for him to drill down on how he and his staff do volunteerism.  We have great unpaid servants in our churches who work 45 hours a week and then volunteer 5-10 hours weekly.  My quandry: should we work at least 50-55 hours per week at the church to honor their commitment?  Are we as staff “expected” to volunteer outside the church 5-10 hours a week?

    Just some thoughts.

  • Posted by

    I don’t struggle with this balance yet.  I don’t have kids however so that is a whole another thing.  My wife is involved in the ministry here, but I suspect someday when we have children that role will not be as involved.  It is good to read this ahead time.  I have heard this before that we need to make time for the family, but it nice to hear a story of someone who actually followed through especially someone like this guy.

  • Posted by Steve

    I would agree! This was the best session of the already stellar conference. It challenged the way I look at ministry and my family. Good thing I’m learning this early in my ministry and marriage (both 3 years old).

  • Posted by

    I have the same question as MPM…
    I wasn’t at Summit...and the article on 45 hours a week sounds great...but does that 45 include his weekend services? Or is he just referring to office hours?
    If he is saying 45 hours of office time, plus weekend services...that makes sense to me… and would put us on the same “playing field” as your normal Joe.
    What about weddings and funerals? Maybe Andy doesn’t do many of those? How does that factor into his calendar?

    Another question I would have for Andy: is 45 an average? so does he work 25-30 during slow weeks, then other weeks work 60+? That’s what I do. I don’t know any other way to manage “peak periods” than to “make it up” during “slower” periods.

    Anyone able to bring some clarity that heard his talk?


  • Posted by

    I WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE… my family has suffered in the past becuase of my inability to say “NO’ - I had to finally reach a point where I put the needs of my family FIRST.

    The saddest part of this is that in most churches - the leadership and the people don’t understand that - and getting them to the place where they do is difficult at least.

    I believe that they are still stuck in the old school mentality that the pastor is their chaplian - who should be at their beck and call. Some will never get past it but I do believe that it is an issue that must be forced - a place where the pastor must take a hard and fast stance - while at the same time teaching the church leadership the “why” of it. There will always be those who don’t like it, you can’t change that… but they won’t be there when you are old and gray to hold your hand and rock with into the sunset.  DONT SACRIFICE YOUR FAMILY ON THE ALTAR OF CHURCH… Force the issue and don’t take no for an answer. JUST DO IT!

  • Posted by


    Andy Stanley actually has a book on this very subject called “Choosing To Cheat”.  Maybe Todd has it in his bookstore.  It’s required reading for our church leadership & recommended reading for the church staff.  This book might really help you with your questions, or it may not.  Andy probably doesn’t focus on the details as much because they will be different on a church by church basis.

  • Posted by

    I also loved Andy’s talk on “cheating”. I applied much of it to my two worlds as a woman, wife and mom who works full time for the church.
    I change my work schedule for the summer when my teens are home more. I go in much earlier and go home by noon which is when they want to rock and roll.
    I also have perfected napping so I can also stay up later to be involved with them and their friends.
    One of the things I love about my job is the ability to flex my time with the changing needs of my family, always remembering as Wayne Cordeiro said that they are my ministry first.

    Andy’s talk did not address the life situations of single folks in full time ministry, who are even more vulnerable to “If I don’t, it won’t” mentality and feel guilty leaving early without a family at home. It has made me sensitive to the singles on my staff and team to help make sure they are not getting overwhelmed.

  • Posted by Dave Greene

    Andy gave an awesome talk.  When hasn’t he?  I took his words about time literally.  At TOTAL of 45 hours.  And the comment about talking Andy’s and Wayne’s talks together is right on.  Wayne got into a few more of the specifics regarding implementation.  (It involves a week of silence torture in a monastic community).  I was reminded of an incident in my second year of ministry when I was pulling 70 hour weeks, we had just moved into our first home and my wife was staying at home with a baby and a 2.5 year old.  One night when our dinner was interupted yet again by me answering the phone my wife made a startling statement to me after I hung up.  She said, “I am gong to call the office tomorrow and make an appointment.” When I asked her who the appointment was for she said, “Me.  You have time for everyone else, but you don’t have time for me.  Everyone else gets priority over me.” When I got into the office the next morning, I went to my assistant and told her that “from now on if my wife calls, it does not matter what I am doing, you put her call through.  Tell her what I am doing, but if she still wants to talk to me, put that call through.” I also stopped answering the phone during dinner.  When someone calls my house needing me for some emergency, I say, “If you really need me, I will come, but right now I am trying to spend some quality time with my family.  If it can wait until tomorrow, I will meet you in the morning.” It is amazing how many things are not really emergencies.

  • Posted by

    I was at the Summit and loved Andy’s talk.  I have a propensity to workaholism so I know what he says is important and felt some conviction.

    But I have the same issues as Brian and MPM.  None of our churches could (or should) run without hours of work from dedicated volunteers.  If Stanley’s 45 hours is office hours then it makes sense.  But I don’t feel good about counting every hour of ministry activity into my maximum hours worked when most volunteers are on overtime every time the do anything related to ministry.  I bristle when church staff get to take an extra day off because we’ve had some big event that took hundreds of volunteer hours.  The volunteers who worked arm in arm with us all weekend don’t get to take an extra day off. 

    Occasionally I’ve had staff team-mates who count devotions and school work (bible college or seminary) as work hours.  I’m not sure about that either.  The average Joe has to make time for the Lord and his job.  If we can’t, how can we challenge them to?


  • Posted by Cody

    I agree wholeheartedly with the underlying violation of several of God’s principles and one on the top ten commands with respect to cheating your family. How many of us truly keep a Sabbath? How many of us just read over this commandment - say it means Sunday - after service - when we’re somewhere near exhausted (for church planters at any rate), and we don’t really rest ...if we are pastors shouldn’t we be the one’s that model healthy biblical living for others? Can I effectively cousel a person who is spending too much time chasing a career and ignoring his or her family if I or my senior pastor are doing the same?
    Team building is important. But teams fluxuate and there are times of slack and our inclination is to abandon faith and say “I’ve got do it or it won’t get done.” Or we are tempted - in the case of the lead pastor - to pass it off to someone else who may not be equipped or in any way spiritually gifted to do the job. What about a helthier approach - one that says - God can do it. And if it cannot be done it is not necessary. God has given us clear guidelines for living: all of which were mentioned above in the article and posts - love my spouse as Christ loved the church, Jesus will build his church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And on the top 10 have a Sabbath. Period. How many stand in the pulpit or on the stage or at the altar every week having violated the Sabbath rule? Having sinned against God? How many senior pastors have a sabbath but have a staff that cannot take one because of what they “hand off” as team work? This is an important area that will have many different solutions for each situation and each church. But I agree - follow God’s rule for living, don’t have one set of expectations for you and another for your staff. And to answer an earlier question...if your volunteers are feeling called to do additional ministry or volunteer hours on thier own - wonderful - they may be at a season in their life when they have a few extra hours to give without cheating.

  • Posted by

    Andy is such a remarkable leader, speaker, pastor, etc. I just finished one of his books, “The Best Question Ever.” There is great wisdom in his writings.

    What things have you done to make family time a priority (or to make more time for family time)?

    My wife and I make Friday nights a priority with the kids. Friday’s are family movie night. With a little help from Netflix and my wife making some excellent homemade popcorn, Friday nights have become a real blessing. Also, my wife and I try to make at least one date night per month, sometimes more often.

    What’s the #1 leadership decision you’ve ever made?

    Saying “no” to a few church activities, leadership positions, etc.

  • Posted by

    I’ve listened to Hybels and numerous other “big guys” over the past several years warn us (church leaders) about “burn out”, cheating U’r family, etc.  These warnings have been significant and important to me personally.  I work 7 days a week, but i’m always home w/ my family in the evenings (5 days a week).  I take about 8 weeks off during the year - my elders have been very gracious to allow this.  These adjustments are a result of listening to these warnings.  But in the final analysis, i wonder if there are many mega ministries built these days that, in the early days did not necessitate dangerous, mega work hours ... or they simply would not have been built or exist today?

    Ya, its nice to hear the warnings now - but they are now - after the ministry foundation has been built.  Could it have been built had these guys practiced then what they preach now .  No i am not skeptical nor critical of Stanley, Hybels, etc.  I love these guys!  But it is not so difficult to cut back U’r work hours when you now have a 2000 or 4000 seat auditorium available to which people throng, give and provide the foundation needed for a guy at the top to slow down his rpm’s.  But ya gotta get to a certain level of support first.  How many ministries actually get there w/out burning out dear brothes and sisters? 

    These are just random thoughts, but i wonder what the implications are as we seek to slow down and maintain a more healthy lifestyle while are ministries are revving up - sometimes beyond our expectations.

  • Posted by

    I love Andy! He is a great leader in our generation. His church merely gives him a platform. He was great even back when he was a (though reluctant)youth pastor. He lives out his beliefs. In regards to a work week he hits the nail on the head. YS has a piece called diary of a mad housewife that was similar in a warning. I remember Andy speaking in the National Youth Specialties convention(many years ago). He spoke on this commitment with such transparency it was moving. He will continually shape me personally and my ministry. I have tried to appreciate him via emails. I also want to “give a shout out” on the blog too. I recommend his bit (series) on prayer too.  He’s good people. Thanks ANDY!

  • Posted by

    Cody, you said:

    [And to answer an earlier question...if your volunteers are feeling called to do additional ministry or volunteer hours on their own - wonderful - they may be at a season in their life when they have a few extra hours to give without cheating.]

    Problem is that every single volunteer who has a FT job is adding additional hours.  It seems that with the philosophy that you’ve described, we’d have to only have ministry that can be supported without volunteers, in case no one feels “called” to giving the additional hours as you suggest.  That’s neither practical nor biblical.

    I’ve heard it said by several church leaders that reasonable for a pastor/church staff member is 40 hours PLUS whatever we would expect from a dedicated volunteer.  How can we ask less of ourselves than we ask of others?

    Your Sabbath point is excellent.  That is a commandment most of us break all the time (at least I know I do).


  • Posted by

    Volunteers vs. Staff

    This may belong somewhere else, but I noticed a few people remarking on it, so I thought I’d add my 2 cents.  One of the things to consider is that when a volunteer walks into the church after a 40 hour work week, it’s different for them.  It’s different people, different atmosphere, different responsibilities.  For a staff member, it can be the same things they’ve dealt with all week.  The same people, the same issues, the same responsibilities, the same fires to put out.  I choose to volunteer in an area that is COMPLETELY separate from the department I work in.  I have found a place to serve that allows me the pleasure of volunteering without getting bogged down in my day-to-day staff position.

    This works for me as I work in a mega church.  But it may not work in a church with a smaller staff.

  • Posted by

    Lots of good comments regarding the article listed and the topic by Andy.  I think it’s all great.  I’m glad there is a generation of ministry personnell that are taking a stand and prioritizing time schedules.  It’s one of the hardest things to grapple with.  It’s not just a one time decision.  It’s daily.

    Personally, in response to those who wonder what fits into those 45 hours, I believe it’s anything that I get paid to do.  If I’m paid to speak on Sunday, it counts.  Paid to lead worship and and lead choir rehearsals on an off night, it counts.  If it’s something that I have no option to eliminate because I’m paid to do it, it counts.  Boy I wish there were a clearly defined line where that ends, but at least it’s a starting spot for me.

    Good stuff, as usual.


  • Posted by

    Does anyone remember hearing or reading “that the ministry is the hardest profession in the world in which to succeed and the easiest profession in which to get by”? At age 25, just out of seminary, appointed to a “vacant lot” to start a new UMC, I made the mistake of working 70-80 hours per week for 19 years.  Then I resigned from the ministry , and I was totally burned out.  Truth be told I did not want to be preceived as one who just got by, i.e. “the easiest profession ."While my family survived and today we remain strong (age 76), I can look back and totally agree with Andy Stanely. The “key” has to be balance between ministry (work), family, study, rest and silence,and these words apply to laity as well as clergy. Both laity and clergy are the priesthood.

  • Posted by

    I am a Pastor but I do it Only for the Kingdoms sake at this time my church is small and money is tight so I do not receive a pay check and I work a full-time Job in which I am on call 24 hours a day and then my Church folk expect me to be there for their calls also which I usually am but not to the point where I can run right out and pray for them if needed I have to schedule them in.  And now recently my wife and children tell me they feel like they must be scheduled in to see me because I am either dealing with work or church buisiness all the time to the point where I had to schedule off on Saturdays and only use them for Baptism / Church picnics because we baptise in a local lake and then picnic and enjoy the day and then staff meetings which we have to schedule around an all volunteer staffs employment but like the article says if you do it right God will make the church come together and it will Grow.  I just need to retrain myself to as I walk by my wife to kiss her hug her and let her know I appreciate her and then schedule a date time each week to let her have her special time so we can grow together and not apart it is easy to type it out in here this setting but finding actual time means I take it from some where and I have to make sure I do not fall a sleep while I am having this time with her

  • Posted by Dave Greene

    The problem with “volunteer hours” is that it seems to ignore the fact that every believer is a minister in in God’s kingdom!  The way I work it is that I do my forty hours trying to focus on what gives me the biggest bang for my time spent.  I work in a mega church, so I get the luxury of staying focused on my strengths [most of the time ;O) ] I try to stick to specific office hours and then I expect to do what my volunteers do - give at least five hours beyond my “work hours.” I never seem to have trouble doing 50 hours of work each week (including my volunteer time.) But, I do not include hanging out with my friends in that time. That is what many of the volunteers that I lead become to me - friends.  We are family.  We care for each other, support each other, show up when something goes wrong.  We do life together. All of my life is lived in service to God.  I don’t have “time off” and “time on.” Instead, I have time to be a servant.  If I go to the beach to hang out and relax, I am on call and God often provides someone who needs to be cared for and given the good news. 
    As I read this blog, I keep thinking about how Jesus “went to a quiet place and spent the night in prayer as was his custom.” I wonder if he counted that as ministry time.  I don’t think so.  I think he was getting refueled so that he could do it all again the next day!  I think he new that his time was limited so he focused on the essentials.  When he left, there were still sick people in Palestine!  He did not do everything.  He poured himself into others - some of them did not continue with him - but he still invested in them anyway!  I am increasingly blessed as I focus on those areas where God has made me strong.  I can do other things, but those things will suck me dry, because they do not flow out of how God has wired me.  When I work in those areas, I really do need to take time away.  When I work in the areas where I am gifted, I get filled up, not drained.  My advice is for each of us to keep seeking that sweet spot where God has gifted us and do as much of that as we can.  We will get the most return for our labor which means the kingdom is getting our best.  When we have to work in areas that are not “us” we are just being reminded that a servant does not always get to do just what he wants and likes.

    I encourage you to get your Bible out and read Luke 17:7-10.  It is a good attitude check for me.



  • Posted by

    I am not complaining about not getting paid Jesus said he would supply all my needs and he has supplied me with a Job but my ministry is to be a pastor and for this articles argument we were talking about cheating the Church or Cheating the family and my point is that I don’t have the luxury to have the church as my full time paid position but I am required by my calling to give them ( the Church Family my service ) and what I was saying is that my wife and Children feel like I have to schedule appointments with them because I am always working for either the Job or the church. The church is just over 2 years old but we don’t have a mortgage the church is paid for utilities in the winter are a killer about $5000.00 so there is no money for a paid postiion other than the maintenance man but as I said God provides and he will pay me some day and I will receive riches beyond what this world can give me but in the mean time what I am saying is I beleive I have to Make room for the wife and children and cheat the Church so to speak

  • Posted by

    I appreciated what Andy had to say, though I wish he had addressed single people---who do we cheat if we over-work in ministry?

    I think 45 hours plus Sunday is a reasonable expectation, but the reality is that implementing that limit with require both additional pastoral staff and volunteer hours OR a cut-back in ministry programming. It’s a lose-lose situation when a pastor decides to reduce work hours but tries to maintain the current level of ministry the church is doing. And hiring additional staff may mean that the head pastor’s salary will be affected. Are pastors willing to make less in order to have more time at home? I sure don’t know of anyone in the secular workplace who puts in a 45 hour week and brings home more than $50K in our city.

  • Posted by

    Good comments.  I wonder. . . the pastor is to train the church to do the work of the ministry per Ephesians 4.  The problem is we have lots of churches that expect to be ministered to by a pastor who instead should be trained to minister.  How did that happen?

  • Posted by

    Nancy - no disrespect… but the area I am in people in the secular put in 65+ hours a week and make $140K+ and expect the pastor to put in the same 65+ hours only at half the pay… while paying the same mortgage rates… not that we do it for the money… but the pastors are already doing it for less money… so the only thing left is “comp time” - one MUST balance the church’s expectations versus the family’s needs.  I dont believe it is a “lose-lose” - It is lose lose if the pastor is so burnt that they cannot function - and there by become cynical and short fused… it may just force the church to actually DO ministry and minister to each other (bearing one anothers burdens) ----- Dan Moore is correct - the CHURCH are the ones who “DO” the ministry… the pastor (and pastor staff) are to equip the church to do that.
    I do speak of this from experience of trying to match the churches expectations and it really cannot be done… there by “Please God” because with Him there is only one opinion - with the church there are as many opinions as there are members. I found out that trying to please God is actaully much easier…
    A pastor who can learn to “self-care” and balance the demands will be better able to serve the church they are in… just my two cents

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