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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Beatboxing with Julliard.

I saw a link for this video a few weeks ago, and was immediately drawn in to see how these two styles of art would work together. The end result was pretty impressive.

This performance highlights a popular pratctice in creative design; utilizing new and old together to create a unique piece, or structure. It doesn’t take much looking around to see this principle in action:

  • Petco Park is one of my favorite baseball stadiums, and one of the defining features of this new ball park is the old Western Metal building the stadium was built around. If you look closely in the pic, you can see the old building has now become the foul pole down the left field line.

Petco_Park_Stadium

  • Hatch Show Print is an old printing company, specializing in concert posters. They are responsible for one of the more popular classic looks in poster design, and still print originals from their vintage typefaces today. Here’s a pic of a Johnny Cash print I own, printed a few years ago off of the original plates:

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  • I just looked up and realized that even now, I’m in a coffee shop that just opened up in an old brick building. The decor? Black and white photos hung up on an old brick wall. Modern and classic.

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This concept of new and old working together can benefit the Church as well. We named our Church New Vintage because we felt a call to communicate classic ideas and truths, from a modern perspective. When it comes to the look and feel of our church we try and maintain a healthy balance of new and classic design. This applies top down, incuding everything from our physical presence, our advertising, preaching, worship, ministries, events… We even work on ways that younger families can grow relationally with our senior saints.

Here are a few tips for making new and vintage work together in harmony when it comes to church:

  • Vintage works best in proper doses. If everything in your house is vintage, it’s easy for the individual pieces to get lost, and they lose their appeal, or simply feel ‘old’. If you put a few of the best vintage pieces in a room, they become a highlight, or a talking point. For an example, we like singing older songs in worship services, but we make sure that they don’t dominate the playlist. This helps preserve our enjoyment of these songs, and makes them somewhat of a special occasion. They’re highlights because they’re allowed to stand out.
  • Not everything that is old, is vintage. Some stuff is just old. I call this the Pawn Stars factor. Just because an idea, event, program etc has been around forever, and a few people might like it, does not mean it has a high value. This one is tough because we tend to put sentimental value high up on the priorities list. Currently we don’t have any Sunday morning bible classes for anyone over 7, which might seem odd for folks from my church background. As great as a full palette of classes can be, we understand the drain and stress it creates on families, volunteers, and the staff. After much discussion we finally agreed that Sunday school was a great idea for another context, but did not have enough value for us to tax our congregation. I am in no way saying Sunday school has zero value, but in our culture with new family dynamics, it was an older tradition that we had to set aside.
  • Vintage needs to fit the context. Going back to baseball, Fenway Park would not work very well in San Diego. Fenway’s appeal is based on nostalgia and tradition in a town with a long storied history in our country. San Diego didn’t really boom until after WWII, and the Padres don’t exactly have a long storied past to draw from. Instead, Petco Park was designed to be extremely family friendly, with a lot of open spaces, and it’s  got a great view of the ocean. It even has a sandbox in the outfield bleachers for kids to play in during the games. It’s the perfect park for a city built on sprawling suburbs and a beach attitude. In church, new ideas have difficulty flourishing in places that value tradition over innovation. Likewise, it’s hard to expect a steady diet of old ideas to be successful in a culture that doe
  • Lastly, vintage works with the appropriate amount of patina (one of those words used constantly on Pawn Stars). If an item is 50 years old, it should look fifty years old. If it went through a war, it should show signs of war. But, for those vintage items to be valuable, they have to be in great shape considering what they’ve been through. And if something is new, faking the aging process looks, fake. In church, this means that old ideas need to find that balance of feeling traditional, but still have the ability to be a blessing. If an idea, or an event, becomes more of a burden than a blessing, the patina is taking away from the overall value. Likewise, if we try and attach sentimental value to a new idea to make it fit in with and old paradigm, it becomes an oddity, or a distraction, and is tough to be taken seriously.

Feel free to add any other ideas on how new and vintage ideas can work together succesfully.

One love, one heart.

Ministry Goal: Peace

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This past week I was blessed to preach at NVC on the subject of Peace, coming from Colossians 3. He are a few notes from the sermon that I’d like to share. You can check out the full sermon audio/ video at newvintagesd.org.

Godly peace is more than a moment or a destination. It is an active process, or discipline, that requires exercise to grow.
Peace is more than the absence of conflict. In fact, it’s during the most chaotic times that peace, especially Godly peace, tends to stand out the most.
The problem with narrowing peace down to a few moments of calm is that these moments tend to be few and far between, and they very rarely last as long as we’d like. Chasing after a narrow view of peace can be a frustrating and miserable journey.
True peace is a fruit of the spirit. It is a way of life that comes from allowing Christ to fill your heart, and a constant focus on things from above.

It doesn’t take much to look around see how much our culture celebrates  “life at war”. Many of our most popular tv shows thrive by cramming a group of twentysomethings into a house filled with everything but inhibition and letting the cameras catch all the ensuing drama. Even our political discourse often devolves into talking heads trying to ‘win’ an argument by yelling over each other. I’m reminded of something my dad told me once, “If you get into an argument you’ve already lost.”

In Colossians Paul writes that we are to put down our weapons of rage, anger, malice, lying and filthy language. These are a part of a life of war filled with immorality, lust and other evil desires. As Christians, we look at these weapons in the rear view mirror, a shadow of a former life.

We have a new fight. It is a fight for peace. And we arm ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We don’t fight for peace according to the world’s rules anymore. Instead, we model ourselves after a man who taught us to turn the other cheek, to forgive as we have been forgiven. A man who mended the ear of his attacker, and won an eternal victory for us all by dying on a cross. 

Practicing peace is a spiritual discipline, a constant process of growth that is driven by the Holy Spirit. It brings about new perspective of our world, and a maturity in our relationship with God. I think the more we practice peace the easier it is for us to understand that our victories have already been won. And with that, I leave you with the words of Paul:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

One love, one heart.