I have a confession to make. I used to be a Complex Youth Pastor. I was overloaded with my schedule and underloaded with things that could help me. I was becoming increasingly easily angered. I was not my laid back old self. I had no idea why.
I also was not spending enough time with my wife and son. Sometimes even the time I was spending with them lacked quality because I was so distracted by all the “important” stuff I should be doing. I was feeling guilty when ministry called me away from them. I was feeling guilty when they were calling me away from ministry. I was pretty much engulfed in guilt because I felt like I was not giving ministry or family my all.
I was trying to do a lot of ministry. I hoped that it would fulfill me and keep me motivated. I wanted to see our group grow both spiritually and numerically. I thought that maybe if we could keep up the pace, our students would grow because of the activity.
There wasn’t really much wrong with our ministry that you could see from the outside. Our events had decent numbers. We were seeing kids saved. Kids were making decisions to live a greater life for Christ. So it seemed.
Then I started to hear a still, small voice ask, “Is this for real”? I tried to ignore it but it kept coming back. So I started looking at our ministry with a more critical eye. Yes, students were coming to know Christ. There was no doubt about it. But I did notice that our discipleship program was built from one big event to the next. So many of our students were feeling a movement of God at these events but would walk away from their commitments soon afterwards.
I realized that we were doing a lot of filling the calendar and not a lot of filling lives. I realized that the problem started with me. I devoted a lot of time to working in ministry but I wasn’t doing a lot to let God work in me. Soon the still, small voice was asking, “Are you for real?”
I started examining myself. I took a hard look at why I was beginning to act the way I was. I realized I was doing ministry without letting God fill me up. I was running on empty just trying to be the ringmaster to our many programs. I repented of that. I returned to a regimen of time in God’s Word that was not all about studying for a message. I set aside more time to pray. I committed to a new accountability partner. In reality, I was once again doing what I tell students they need to do everyday. I was leaving hypocrisy behind and investing time in my own growth. The bonus was, very soon after, the angry guy left and the real me was coming back.
Then I looked at our programs. I took a deep breath and went to our student ministry leadership and said that I thought we should cut out some of the fat. I was floored when our team (of adults and students) immediately agreed. They were all tired of the complex ministry schedule we were keeping as well. How could we move from complex to simple?
We sat and discussed what we wanted students graduating from our ministry to look like spiritually. We didn’t start with how they would look in their senior year, we took the conversation farther. We asked what we would want them to look like as sophomores in college. We wanted to know what we would like to see after they had lived a year on their own away from the safe cradle of our student ministry.
We made a detailed list. We then broke it down to the most basic things. We took out phrases that were repetitive or unclear. Then we used those ideas to rephrase our purpose. We agreed on a three-word statement that would define what we wanted to do. We chose Connect, Grow and Go. We wanted our students to connect to God and each other, grow in those relationships and go live the Christian life. We wanted to keep it simple.
Finally, we re-examined our programs and cut anything that could not be traced back to a specific statement in our purpose. Some of those cuts were easier than others. Still, we took a hard look and let some favorites be trimmed down or completely eliminated so that our simple purpose could be achieved. It was a tough process but the still small voice was now saying, “This just might work!”
We submitted a trimmed budget and calendar to the church. Then God moved. Students and leaders became more passionate about knowing God. They became more passionate about growing in their relationship with him. They became more passionate about serving him. By simplifying my spiritual life, I was able to genuinely lead others in the same. Taking care of me meant trimming the fat and letting God build muscle in my spiritual life again. I am glad he did.