I’m a sucker for inspirational speeches in movies…
Mikey speaking up at the bottom of the well in The Goonies.
Aragorn telling an army that courage can fail, but “not this day” in Return of the King.
Woody explaining to Buzz that there’s nothing like being a toy in Toy Story.
(Alright, I digressed on that last one.)
This fascination made me think a youth ministry calendar is about the next big thing I give a big speech about in order to drum up big attendance. You may feel that temptation as you stare into the year ahead and wonder what you can do to better reach students and families. You may also experience it when you’re not sure if your efforts this past year made a difference.
Here’s what I mean:
- Who: Dream with Jesus—What would it be like to invite Jesus to give you specific mental pictures of who your students can ideally grow into? Try it right now by asking him, “When this hyper middle-school guy is stressed out in his college dorm room, or that shy high school girl is working retail to pay rent and her boyfriend suggests moving in with him, who could they be on the inside then because of a Jesus-centered investment we make this year?” Knowing the big picture of “who” students can become allows you to identify whether your calendar is a to-do list or a must-do list.
- What: A big-picture theme—Let every message you teach and every event you plan hit at a particular growth point. This develops out of your own time with Jesus. Eventually you’ll sense him saying, “That’s the next hill I’d like to climb with you.” Then you can sum this up for others; for example, “This year we’re aiming to become peacemakers in our community in the name of Jesus,” or “By the end of December, we’ll have memorized Bible verses we can use to lead other people to Jesus.” A larger calendar theme from Jesus will expose students to Jesus.
- When: Serve and Sabbath—Psalm 127:1 reminds us that “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Although you have some sweat and skill to offer for the tasks ahead, you also have some things not to do. As you plan, consider when you’re to step up and when you’re to take time off and let others step in. It’s up to you to be sure it’s not all up to you.
- Where: Go somewhere new—I’m tempted to speak on certain topics more than others or to return to camps we’ve enjoyed in the past. Tradition and routine have value, but not at the expense of fresh perspective. Every couple of months, teach on a tough topic you’ve never addressed, or try a new activity that no student has a reference point for. A predictable youth group makes kids think Jesus can be tamed.
- Why: Spend time outside—It’s easy to conduct youth ministry completely inside your church walls and forget why it’s even needed. How about doing some strategic calendar-planning in a place where teenagers gather, such as a school, restaurant, mall, park, or rec center? Sitting where you can see teenagers who don’t know Jesus is a first step in letting him give you a deep love for them. Jesus will start a process that makes you more than a youth worker; he’ll make you a youth lover. That’s just the kind of person he can use to change a generation.
- How: Collaborate with others—At some point, you’ll share with other people what Jesus has shared with you. This is a great window for brainstorming the calendar because you’ll be guided by larger values rather than nostalgia or emotional whims. Let everyone speak, but task a certain group of leaders with finalizing the decisions. (This involves making sure your plans don’t conflict with the church, school, or community calendars.)
As you head into the next ministry season, may everything you do have timely impact that’s felt for years to come.
Thank you for loving students!
– Tony / @TonyMyles