Ministry Toolbox: The Minimalist Calendar

One of the easiest ministry traps to fall into is over-calendaring your ministry. Early on in my ministry career I struggled with this, and have worked hard to find a balance that makes sense for our church. Even with the addition of several events to our calendar this year, we run a pretty sparse calendar compared to a lot of my compatriots. Here are a few thoughts on the benefits of a minimal calendar.

Minimalist art isn’t just simple, it is very intentional. Every brush stroke has to be well though out to make sense. Likewise, in ministry, it’s important for every event to be well thought out, and make sense. “Is this event necessary?” needs to be asked of everything. Everything. Pulling events from the calendar to only the necessary will help you focus on events with meaning, and purpose. That doesn’t mean you cut out every ‘fun’ event, it means you understand that ‘fun’ events are a necessary part of the ministry calendar. So is worship, community, service, etc.

On a related note, the fewer events you have the easier it is to communicate their meaning and potential impact. Also, it makes it easier to promote those events, and give them the necessary attention beforehand. I find it a lot easier to promote an event as a ‘big deal’ if my families haven’t heard that from me for three different events the past week.

Over calendaring puts an misplaced value on attendance. I get it, scripture says that we’re not to forsake the assembly. But when your assembly takes up every night of your week what you are actually communicating is attendance is valued, not the power of God in the assembly. And what about those that can’t make every event? What are you communicating to them? Are they going to feel as connected to the body if (gasp) their kids happen to play sports or want to be in the school play? I worked at a church that had a clique problem (surprise surprise). When I looked at who felt ‘in’ and who felt ‘out’ there was a clear line between families that lived in close proximity to the building and could easily attend multiple weekly events, and those who had to travel at least 15 min+ to get there. Also in the ‘out’ group were kids with single parents, and low income families. I would argue that a busy calendar is not meeting the needs of a single parent family, but creating more stress. And if your events cost money (even gas money) to attend, theres is an even bigger need to filter those down to the worthwhile and necessary.

Speaking of parents, I would be hard-pressed to find a parent in my ministry that would say “We don’t have much going on, I wish there was something more to fill our free time.” Most of our families are busy; too busy. Over calendaring reinforces that busyness. How are our families supposed to learn to say no to busyness if we’re only asking them to give up non-church practices, and filling up their time with church events? Healthy families spend time together. Reinforce that, and communicate that with your calendar.

A packed calendar will keep new people from joining your ministry. When I was starting my first full-time ministry job, I planned and event and asked our teens to invite their friends. They all said that would be easy because all of their friends were in the youth group. They did so much together that they didn’t have time to develop relationships outside of the church. That was great for making friends, but terrible for outreach. And for the families that do want to join your ministry, expecting them to participate in a packed calendar is like asking someone to merge on to the freeway while riding a moped. It’s possible, but not very wise. At the very least, a packed calendar is communicating to new families that you either expect them to have nothing going on during the week, or they need to drop whatever it is they’re doing to be a part of the church.

A minimal calendar allows you to focus on the events that make sense for your ministry. It’s easy to look at other church events and say, “We should do that too”. Every ministry has a different personality, and that personality can change very easily over the course of a couple years. What worked for another group, may not work for your ministry. What worked in the past, may not make sense anymore. I’m looking at one of our biggest events in spring right now, and planning on making some massive changes to it’s structure, maybe even it’s existence. I’m sure that’ll meet some resistance, but the best way to silence that critique is to keep doing things that make more sense.

Minimalist calendars allow for healthy pastors. If the expectation of the church is that the pastor is at every event, and there’s a ton of events, what is the church communicating to the pastor’s family? Healthy pastors have a healthy balance of work and should be able to model that for other families. Also, if a pastor feels they need to fill the calendar to justify their position, or their salary, then there is an unhealthy system or set of expectations in effect.

I love church events, and I know how easy it is to say, “This was great, we should do this more often.” But my encouragement today is to take a look at what you have on your calendar, and what values it communicates. Talk with your leadership about why you do what you do, what needs to be changed, tweaked, developed, or let go altogether. Have the courage to make the necessary changes. Focus on making what does make it to your calendar your very best effort, and give those events over to the Lord as worship.

One love, one heart.

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Ramblings 8.29.17

I’m not sure if this is the average age of the people on my Facebook feed getting older, or a commentary on our culture at large, but it seems like I’m seeing more and more “If I won the lottery I’d pay off my bills” posts. Evidently buying a yacht with a helicopter pad isn’t as cool as it used to be.

Our intern Scotty is non-stop basketball talk. With the Chargers off the radar for me, I’m thinking of picking up an NBA team. Probably the Thunder. It’d be nice to have a team in common with some of my OC friends. Although they did do to Seattle what the Chargers just did to SD. Maybe I’ll be a free agent fan.

While we were at lunch today we saw an accident at the intersection from across the street. From what we could tell, a man hit an elderly woman who was crossing the street. I was reminded of the quote from Mr Rodgers that reminded us to look for ‘the helpers’, those that come into a bad situation and help. It was also a great reminder that on any given day someone is having the worst day of their life.

Speaking of helpers, is there anything more refreshing on the news than seeing hundreds of people rushing towards Houston to help rescue people from the flood waters? I’ve got nothing but respect for folks like the ‘Cajun Navy’ and others who step into serve. Definitely has me asking what I can do to help.

Props to the guy on the news who responded to a reporter with, “ We lost everything, but God is good. So We’re thankful.”

Every year I pick a word to focus on with the youth ministry. My word is leadership. Our intern picked integrity. I think integrity and leadership are two principles that work phenomenally together, and I’m excited to see how that manifests over the course of the year. What a great one-two punch. What do you think of when those two words come up?

Little man is 11 months old today. 11. Wow. Time is already flying by. He’s crawling at nascar speeds, and should be walking soon. So far the toughest part of parenting is trying not to rush growing up, miss younger days, and focus on enjoying where he’s at now.

If you haven’t seen the movie Under an Arctic Sky, check it out. Surfing under the Aurora Borealis in Iceland. Nuff said.

At first I didn’t really get all of the hype for the eclipse, especially in a place so far off the path of total coverage. But props to everyone who took a minute and stared into the sky at one of the many marvel’s of God’s creation. After seeing a billion amazing photos aftwerwards, I definitely had a much better appreciation of the hype.

There’s a Facebook group up for my 20 year reunion next year. That can’t be right, 20 year reunions are for old guys haha.

I’m doing my best getting pumped for the football season, but it’s hard not having a team in my hometown anymore. I wish nothing but the best for the players, but the organization will not get another dime from me as long as LA is in their name. I’m going to do my best to hop into the 12’s crew for the Seahawks, but its difficult to root for a team from afar.

Me and Traaavs dropped the ball last week. We went to see one of our favorite punk bands, and saw the lead singer (a legend to both of us) walking down the street downtown and went and met him. Neither one of us thought to get a picture though. We were starstruck. Oh well, at least we shook hands with a legend. Bonus points for getting our pic with the lead singer of another band, and running into (and actually talking with) members of another great band.

Midway through trying to toddler-proof the condo last week I realized there was no way to complete that mission. Tabs on the drawers and cabinets will have to do.

The Babylon Bee is hands down the best satire site on the web. “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘You Best Life Now’ ” might be one of their best headlines ever.

Our local coffee shop is like a real-life Babylon Bee article. It’s constantly filled with Pastors and Seminary students. It’s like all of these people have sought out a coffee shop to engage others and share their faith, and everybody here is already Christian.

More later.

One love, one heart.

The Back To School Post.

This is the time of year where most of the people in my ministry, parents and teens alike, are focused on heading back to school. A lot of my conversations with teens revolve around preparing for the start of a new year, and laying a foundation for healthy, balanced growth. Here are a few things I like to share, divided up by grade/age group.

To parents:

Put the big rocks first. If you feel the faith development of your child is a priority, make it a priority. Often, that means putting church on the calendar first before extra curricular activities. It may mean saying no to other activities that are more ‘fun’ or ‘college-friendly’. Your kids will find a way to have fun; over-scheduling their lives is not the way to achieve that goal. Also, many colleges like seeing a well-balanced applicant, and “this teen has consistently been a great leader in our youth ministry” looks awesome on a college application. Either way, sending your kid off to college with a solid faith should be priority number one.

Tweens:

Heading into Jr High may seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Right now is a great time to decide how you are going to make and keep friendships. Be kind to people, watch out for those who are being made fun of, and don’t worry too much about being ‘different’ (embrace it!). If you need any help on how to treat people, now is a good time to read up on how Jesus treated those around him.

Jr High kiddos:

You’ve got a ton of energy, and the instinct will be to move first and think things through later. Take a minute to think about what you’re about to do or say, and ask yourself, “is this right?”. You should have a pretty good handle on that by now. And for those situations that you don’t know, or have made a mistake, own up quickly and take the chance to learn. The consequences for learning these tough lessons without serious ramifications is going to run out soon. Start praying on your own, without a prompt from your parents or YM. Taking the time to pray is often the exact type of slowing down that you’ll need to make wise decisions. And if you need help, ask.

9th graders:

It’s okay to be a little overwhelmed by High School. The workload is tougher, the expectations are higher, and there’s this whole figuring-out-who-I-am thing going on the whole time. Take time to play, and take time to be still. Our culture has a set of expectations for high school that are propped up by Hollywood. Very few of them are true, and you don’t have to fit into their stereotypes. Your true identity is found in your faith, so give your faith some exercise… daily. The basis of your friendships will likely change from proximity to deeply shared beliefs. Develop your beliefs, speak about them, and learn how to share them with others without demeaning others. Read Romans a few times and let it challenge you and help you figure out who you are.

10th and 11th graders:

Your parents love you. Remember that.

You’ve figured out that High School is so much more than what you learn in class. Congratulations. You’ve probably also started to narrow down your interests to a few things, which is great. Dive into your hobbies and passions, they may be the key to finding a career that you’ll love later on in life. Yes, decisions you’re making now may affect the rest of your life. Try not to stress out about that too much, focus on making good decisions today. Jesus himself said that every day has enough worries of its own, and there’s a good chance that you’re right in the middle of that statement. The cool thing is, when you focus on making wise decisions on a daily basis, the days start to add up to a lifetime of wisdom. Draw that wisdom from God and you’ll navigate whatever the next few years throw at you.

Treat homework like a job. The more homework you do now, that more that will pay off, financially and from a discipline standpoint. I once estimated how many hours I spent doing homework, and how much money I received in college scholarships, and figured that I made about $15/hour. That was back in the 90’s. And not taking into consideration how much I would have saved paying off interest on student loans. The bottom line: put your work in now, it pays off later. But don’t break yourself in the name of good grades. Good habits > good grades. That means spending time on your faith too. It also means going outside and playing every once in a while. That’s right, it’s still okay to be a kid once in a while.

Seniors:

Congrats on being at the top of the food chain! (don’t laugh college kids, they’ll know soon enough). This will be the year that will bring the most temptations to check out of church. Don’t. Your presence and maturity can be a huge blessing to the younger crew, even on the toughest of days. You know your right from wrong, and it’s time to lead others. Wether that’s serving in the children’s wing, or just providing a good example for those a few years behind you, you have a unique opportunity to bless others.

Don’t get caught up in the pressures of your Senior year. Academically, you should know that the work load is going to be difficult. You’ve probably also figured out how to balance that work load with the rest of life. There’s this amazing word ‘no’ that you’ll have to use with your friends every once in a while. Fear of missing out is real, but don’t fall victim to FOMO. Nobody can say yes to every opportunity that comes their way and survive. No, not even the busiest of your friends can do it all.

Start up on the search for college as soon as you can. Figure out how you’re going to search for colleges. (Here’s my post on how to tackle this beast.) Set aside time with your parents (they’re the ones that still feed you when you check in at home every once in a while) to talk college, or whatever plans you have for after high school. Treat your college search like a job and make progress weekly, so you’re not overwhelmed when all of your Senior projects are due the same time as your applications.

College freshmen:

Find a church home. Plug in. Serve. Say yes to what you can, and don’t regret saying no to things that you can’t do. Make friends with people who bless your life, and avoid those who only add drama. Take the time to re-adjust who you are. You’ve got the opportunity to start over and learn from your high school mistakes. Do it.

Don’t get any tattoos. As much as you’ve changed since you were 12… that much change is about to happen in the next few years. And then it’ll happen again around the time you graduate. Seriously, this is the worse time in your life to get a tattoo. If your idea survives the next few years, get it then.

You may notice that your parents may not seem as smart as they once were. You’re wrong. They’re about to become geniuses. Be sure to thank them every time you come home with truckloads of laundry, and sleep for days on end.

Take advantage of the opportunities that will come your way. The world loves to help someone who is actively working hard to make their life better. That ends once you graduate and you’re another person looking for a job.

Most importantly, remember your faith, and put it into action. That whole serving part I mentioned before… it’s the best way to grow your faith. Putting your faith into action is putting flesh onto your beliefs, and will make the words of Jesus pop off the pages like never before. You’re at the cross section of life where energy and opportunity intersect, and God has amazing things for you to do in His name.

One love, one heart.

I was just thinking about you…

Today marks seven years since the passing of my youth minister, John Austin Smith. It’s a bittersweet day for those of us who knew him, because the memories of joy, deep conversation and massive bear hugs associated with him are in stark contrast to the feelings of sadness that comes from missing our dear friend. I suppose as always the best place to find peace is in the comfort of knowing that he is in the full presence of our Lord, whom he served so openly, and with complete abandon.

When people ask why I got into youth ministry, I often joke that its part of a penance program for what I did to my old youth minister. The truth is, John called all of us into ministry in different ways. He serves as a constant reminder of what it looks like when we completely give our hearts over to Christ, and look for ways to constantly and creatively love our neighbors in a powerful way.

Today, that’s what I’m missing most about John Austin, I miss deep conversations about things that matter to the soul. I miss hearing him laugh, and I miss the way that he would articulate Godly wisdom in a way that provide the push that we needed to hear.

I wish that my current youth ministry could meet him, and hear his crazy stories. I wish that the young man at our church who is named after John Austin could meet the man behind the stories. I wish that he could have met my wife, and bless her with the kind words I grew up with. As with so many of our fallen friends, I wish that we could have that one more conversation.

So tonight, a group of us will gather in his honor. We’ll catch up, share stories, pictures and jokes from back in the day. We’ll spend most of our time laughing, and enjoying being in the presence of friends, because that’s how we want to remember our John Austin Smith. My prayer is that we also search our hearts for the presence of Christ, and fully embrace living from that place where he lived, in a way that he lived, and for whom he lived.

One love, one heart.

From the YM: Choosing A College

One of my favorite parts of youth ministry is sending graduates off to college. It’s bittersweet in a sense, because I’m sad to see kids go, but that is easily trumped by the joy that comes from watching students head off for their next big journey. Wether it’s a local community college, an Ivy league school, or a prestigious institution of higher learning like Oklahoma Christian University (Go Eagles!), college has the potential to be a pivotal time in our student’s lives. Here are a few things that I’ve tried to pass on to students and families in regards to the process of choosing a school.

  • There are over 5,000 Colleges, Universities, and Community Colleges in the US alone. That number can be staggering, like drinking water from a fire hose, and can scare some people off from starting the process early. Start with narrowing down your field to a select few. There are six processing factors that I recommend to students and families when it comes to narrowing their list of potential schools. Rank these in order of importance to you and your student for a streamlined search:
    • Location. Do you want to stay close to home, or head to the other side of the country? Do you want to be a road trip or a plane trip away from home? Do you prefer somewhere by the beach or near the mountains?
    • Cost. What are you willing to spend on an education? Are you willing to go to a dream school and do the work for more financial aid? How much debt are you willing to take on? Is it important for you to graduate debt-free?
    • Size. Do you prefer the feel of a small campus or a large campus? Do you prefer smaller classroom setting or large lecture style? Would you prefer to know everyone on campus, or have the opportunity to constantly meet new people?
    • Atmosphere. Doe the school have a Christian atmosphere? Is it a party school? Is there plenty to do on, or near campus, or is there something nearby? What is the housing situation like? What kinds of activities are popular with the student body?
    • Major. Are you looking for a specific major, or a school with several options? If you already have a specific career path in mind does this school offer your program? If you don’t have a major in mind, does the school have a reputation for a specific degree?
    • Recruiting. Are you going to compete collegiately in a a sport? Are you a stellar musician? An actor? Are there schools vying for your attendance?
  • When I was looking for a school, location was a big factor for me. Every school I applied to was more than 1,000 miles from home. Next was atmosphere. I knew I wanted to be in a Christian environment, and wanted to be active on campus. I had two majors I was interested in, so that came next, with cost, size and recruiting rounding out the list. The level of importance of these determining factors varies for every student, and may change over the course of time, but it helps to keep a clear view of what is important in mind when beginning the initial search.
  • Visit as many schools as you can, even ones you are not necessarily interested in. Visiting non-recruiting schools can give you ideas on what to look for in schools you are looking towards. Also, familiarity with the questions recruiters ask, and the type of things tours show-off can help you determine what is important in your decision-making process.
  • Consider this a part-time job. Routinely dedicate specific amounts of time towards the college search process. I’ve encouraged families to take a couple of hours once a week to dedicate to college related work, or a whole day out of the month.
  • Start your search early. It is never too early to start saving for college, and it is never too early to start the search process. While the crux of college planning lends itself to junior and senior year of high school, taking a freshmen to a college campus to familiarize themselves with the environment can do wonders for motivation, and may take away some of the fears that come from trying to figure out what direction to head after high school.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Wether it’s talking to your local guidance counselor, a college recruiter, or a family that has been through the college process, feel free to seek as much advice as you can.
  • Pray. Choosing a college has the potential to be one of the biggest decisions you make in your life. I can’t imagine making that big of a decision without seeking the counsel of the Great Counselor. While you may not get the specific name of a school, humbling yourself before God and asking for wisdom in the process carries with it the promise of God’s blessing wherever you choose.

 

One love, one heart.