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.

Advertisements

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.

Thoughts From Yard Duty

For the past couple of years I’ve been volunteering as a yard duty at one of our local K-8th grade schools. Twice a week I head to the school for a couple of hours and stand watch while the 4th/5th & 6th/7th grades eat and head out for recess. To say that it’s been fun is an understatement. Beyond the joy that comes from hanging out with a bunch of my kiddos a couple times a week in the (usually) beautiful SoCal weather, my time as a yard duty has repeatedly taught me quite a bit, and reminded me of things I’ve long since forgotten from Jr High. Here are a few things that I’ve learned/ been reminded of in my time working the yard:

Jr High crushes are a big deal. At least they are when you’re in the middle of one. I think as we grow older we forget how utterly confusing it is navigating your way around a crush for the first time, or the first few times. Without the benefit of perspective that comes with age, kids are simultaneously trying to express their hearts, guard their hearts, and grow their hearts. All of this with the potential pressure of friends that have no basis for comparison when trying to offer advice, and adults that can easily limit their influence to ‘you’re just a kid’. A few weeks ago I watched a jr high boy break down because he didn’t like his crush anymore ‘like that’ and had no idea what to say. His tears were only matched by hers when she received the bad news. Hollywood writers can’t even begin to capture this type of heartbreak.

The Breakfast Club begins a lot sooner than High School. It’s amazing to watch kids start to splinter off into different groups and personality types so young. The brain, the athlete, the basket case, princess and the criminal are all right there. It’s surreal to watch these traits develop. Knowing some kids are going to coast through school (and probably life), while seeing signs of kids that are on a much more difficult path, maybe even dangerous, is heart wrenching. The youth pastor part of me is so used to being able to speak into kids lives, to have a certain degree of comfort knowing that they’ve at least heard a Godly path presented to them. Not being in a place to speak into their lives is by far the most difficult transition.

Kids are hilarious. On any given day one of the kids will say or do something that catches me totally off guard. The Yard Duties laugh a lot. Despite some of the difficulties and frustrations that come with the role, any given day has it’s fair share of quotes and memorable moments. My favorite quote comes from the week when the kids were in a Heath & Wellness class, and they were telling me about the film they were viewing. “We had to watch Puberty. It was awful.”

The happiest kids are the ones that just want to play. I’ve always been a big proponent of not burdening families with a crazy youth ministry calendar, and working with kids that have so much of their time structured really drives that point home for me. On any given day I’ll run into a kid stressing about everything they have to do after school. Hint: it very rarely involves the dreaded word ‘homework’. Usually, it’s a sigh followed by the mention of a practice, or rehearsal. I’m all for kids playing sports and being involved in theater and music, but I think given a choice, most kids would be happy with the chance to simply play with their friends. In no way am I in favor of abolishing organized sports or art programs, I’m just saying we as a culture might want to back off the throttle a little bit when it comes to filling up our calendars.

The most prominent, and most convicting observation is how much their home life affects kids ability to navigate the day. Between the classroom, interaction with the teachers, interaction with other students, friends, crushes, homework, recess, who to sit with at lunch, dealing with bullies, and the millions of other difficulties that come with growing up, our kids do have lot on their plates. A solid home, and healthy relationship with both parents provides the foundation that kids need to navigate the day. You can see it in their eyes when things aren’t good at home. You can hear it in their words when they haven’t talked with a parent in a while. You can tell by their walk when they’ve been an afterthought.

My prayer is that we as adults can remember the joy and pain of growing up, that we can speak wisdom into the lives of kids, and have the wisdom when to let them figure things out on their own. May we value their time, thoughts, sense of humor and energy, and respond in kind. May we draw on the Lord for strength when things get difficult, and teach them to do the same. Oh yeah, and may we give plenty of high-fives. Kids love high-fives.

One love, one heart.

Mona Lisa and the Art of the Important Walkers.

If you head out to any school gym, on any given night, and sit up in the bleachers you’ll see them. They’re trying to make it to their friends, their seats, or just out from the obvious attention they’re getting by walking in front of ‘literally everyone’. They move in increasingly rapid strides as they near the center of the action, desperately trying to move out of the way quickly, but not too quickly, because that’ll draw too much attention.

They’re important walkers.

It’s a phenomenon we’ve all seen, but can easily be overlooked. The other day I was at a basketball game and I noticed them again. They moved in a closely huddled group back from the snack bar to the comfort of their seats, which were near-their-parents, but not too near. I’m sure you’ve seen it as well, kids cutting across the gym floor, or the stands at a football game, the stage at rehearsal, no place is exempt.

As we grow older its easy to forget this phenomenon. Being equally thrilled and mortified at the rush of trying to get to your friends, or your seat as quickly as possible. With age comes perspective, and a desire to camp out, and to skip the snack bar. But to those kids mid jaunt- there’s something significant going on. Wether it’s getting out of the center of attention (there’s a great basketball game going on that everyone is here to watch but, oh no!everyoneisstaringatmeibettergettomyseatquickthisissoembarassingwhatkindofweirdotakesthslongtowalkinfrontofmypeoplewasthatmycrushlookingatmeibettersitdownlikerightnowgoodimherefinally) or simply being excited to see someone, the important walk serves as a clear reminder that perspective changes with age, maturity and perspective. For example, those important walkers hustling across the court today may be the important walkers in a few years taking a carefully calculated stroll to make sure that certain someone knows they are cool enough to walk to the snack bar with their own money.

Meanwhile over at the Louvre in Paris, thousands of people line up daily to see the Mona Lisa. If you haven’t seen the Mona Lisa, it’s a 30” x 17” painting of a lady who may or may not be smiling. Or, if you’re an art lover, It also happens to be considered a masterpiece painted by one of the greatest minds in history.

I’ve got friends who don’t ‘get’ the Mona Lisa. They know it exists, but they have no idea why it’s a big deal. They know it’s attached to an important part of history, and it’s image is used in a lot of places, but if you ask them to break down why it’s important, they struggle. On the other hand, you can sit down with many artists, or art aficionado’s and comb through volumes of thoughts how every slight gesture or change in hue secures the Mona Lisa’s status of masterpiece.

One of the things that I’ve learned from working with teens, is that there is an art form to understanding what is a big deal to others. We may see a teen crush that’ll blow over in a few weeks, but they may not be able to see anything but that crush. We may see the latest gadget that’ll be obsolete this time next year, but they see the item that consumes seemingly every conversation.

Recognizing what is a big deal in the life of others doesn’t stop at youth ministry though. Operating with perspective when dealing with others was one of the masterful strokes of Jesus’ ministry. If you’re the woman at the well, having a Rabbi acknowledge your presence with grace means the world. If you’re a leper who’s used to having others required to avoid you, being touched by a Rabbi is a life changing moment.

A few years ago my friend asked me why I like the Mona Lisa. She said she had tried to understand why that painting was such a big deal. I talked to her about composition, lighting, juxtaposition, the history of da Vinci and that mysterious look on the Mona Lisa’s face. We had a long discussion about art and she asked a ton of questions, letting me geek out on art along the way. The important thing is, she understood that it was a big deal to me. Even when she didn’t ‘get it’, there was never an attitude of dismissal, derogative language, or placating comfort. There was an authentic desire to understand something she knew others saw as important.

May we all seek Jesus’ perspective when it comes to recognizing what is a big deal in the lives of others. May we seek His grace when it comes to dealing with situations that are difficult for those who don’t have the life experience that comes with age. May we ask questions when we don’t understand, and listen well when someone struggles with an answer. And may we all chuckle a little bit and remember that we all have been an important walker at some point in time.

One love, one heart.

From the YM: Tips and Thoughts on Kids and Social Media

Lately I’ve had a few parents ask me for tips on helping their kids navigate the world of social media. I’ve talked with a few of the NVC teens about this as well to get their thoughts and here are a few tips/reminders that I’d like to share.

The question I get asked most often is, “When is my kid old enough to be allowed on social media?” My usual answer is every family needs to make that call on on their own, based on the individual child. Much like rated R movies, dating, driving, and curfew, how ready a kid is to navigate social media ultimately comes down to the parents belief in their maturity, and their willingness to walk alongside their kid as their world expands. The keys are an open and honest talk beforehand, clear expectations and guidelines, and a willingness for kids and parents to revisit the issue on a frequent basis.

There are a three areas I recommend talking about before allowing your child on social media:

Setup.

  • Parents should register social media accounts to a shared (or parent) email so notifications of changes in security are sent immediately.
  • Parents should have password access to the account for an agreed upon time. My recommendation would be until High School. Obviously, that timeframe should be based upon trust that has accrued.
  • Especially when it comes to younger kids, parents should be on every social media platform that their kids are, and connected to their account.

Safety.

  • All social media accounts should be set to private, meaning anyone that views the posts or profile have to request permission beforehand.
  • All friends requests/followers/subscribers should be approved by parents for an agreed upon amount of time.
  • Turn off all location settings for posts until an agreed upon time. Almost every social media app has a setting allowing your location to be displayed. A quick internet search can help you turn that off.
  • Report all bullying immediately to the social media outlet.

Posting guidelines.

  • For the first several weeks/months kids should get verbal approval from parents before posting anything to social media. This allows kids and parents to establish a mutual understanding of what the family does/does not want public. It also allows parents to speak to the kids about potential dangers of social media in a non-threatening way.

A few other ideas to consider:

Social media is well past mainstream acceptance, and is a viable means of communication, but like any other means of communication there are social cues to be learned. Talk with your kids about what they see on their feed, and how they feel, or want to respond.

One of the dangers of social media is the temptation to use it as a means of self-worth. Unless you are getting paid for posting (a growing, viable demographic we’ll talk about at another time) how many likes, followers, reposts etc… does not determine your self worth.

Like I mentioned before, social media is an increasingly valid form of communication. Encourage your kids to think about what they want to communicate. Do they want to share extraordinary events? Daily life? Encouragement? Connecting with others? Creating an intentional plan for how to use social media encourages your kids to use social media to be a blessing to others. For example, instead of posting selfies, maybe there is a friend they can build up instead.

Respond to what your kids post in person. If your kid posts a great picture of the sunset, let them know you enjoy their photography, or the way they see the world. If they post a picture of their group of friends, compliment them on their decision making, and ask how one of the friends is doing. If you’re struggling with a conversation topic, your kids social media account may provide a great lightning rod for conversation, and insight into their personality.

I’d love to hear your tips and advice for helping kids navigate social media as well. Feel free to share in the comments below.

One love, One heart.