My team was tired. And I couldn’t blame them, even though the fruits we saw from our ministry efforts were undeniably profound.
We’d just marched through a packed calendar of amazing, bridge-building events that attracted new teenagers to our ministry and a Bible study series that deepened the faith of our student leaders. Jesus must be pleased with the outcomes, and all our seed-planting efforts… right?
Yet all those gains created losses on my team. Our “do it all” schedule strained them individually within their families. So we met to talk about what went wrong. We revisited our mission, our humanity, and our intentions. Out of those intense conversations, these truths surfaced:
1. Over-busyness is often rooted in good intentions. Some things just “work” in your ministry. A certain retreat or annual outreach event. A specific and time-honored “twist” in your program. A teaching series that always delivers.
But as time goes on, we make the assumption that what always works should always be done again, over and over. Soon you’re locked into a rutted routine, closed to new vision. When we try to find a “seat on the bus” for a new idea, we discover all the seats are already filled. That meant we had to over-fill the seats to try anything new, because we refused to kick “old passengers” off the bus. That’s a recipe for wearing out your ministry team.
2. Editing your calendar is painful, and feels personal. In the writing world, there’s an old maxim for producing great work: “Murder your darlings.” It means you have to cut lines or phrases or paragraphs or even chapters that you love, for the sake of the whole. Self-editing feels like you’re killing a loved one. But we have to do it anyway—ouch. But otherwise, there’s too much bulk and not enough bite in our schedule. If you’re going to add something, you have to be willing to subtract something, or else you’ll lose everyone.
3. Relationships grow when we give space for them to grow. Youth ministry at its core is all about relationships—an all-in Jesus, working through all-in adults, who love teenagers into an all-in faith. And that progression can’t happen if your core team’s relationships are strained because the calendar demands are too great.
Once you sort through your own over-busy habit patterns, you can review and reboot your calendar…
- Start from scratch: Print an empty 12-month calendar. That’s right—EMPTY. Don’t load it with your annual mission trip or usual summer series. Stare at the blank pages and tell yourself, over and over: “It’s okay to not assume what we did last year has to happen again this year.”
- Block off Sabbath and family: Make sure your calendar reflects at least one day off each week for you and your team members. Also note any known family things such as birthdays, vacations, and extracurricular events. Add at least one flexible day a month—a time where you each go away from the office to be creative, grow in your relationship with Jesus, or whatever is is life-giving to you.
- Write down the bare bones black-and-white stuff: List weekly gatherings and other events you were specifically hired or asked to do/oversee. Next to each one, write who will be the point person for that activity or program. Create a rhythm to cycle through key leaders—such as “Six On, One Off” or bi-weekly.
- Revisit your values: The mission of God never changes, but certain values emerge more than others each year. For example, you may need to focus on creating a small group of student leaders who will be launching a new outreach at local schools. As a team, clarify any emerging values that will define the upcoming year.
- Add events sparingly: Aim for one big event a quarter. Write them down, stare at them, and then discern if you could/should add another event in that same season. As part of that process, look for overlap on everything else you already have on the calendar so you don’t overburden everyone.
- Prune, and prune again: Make sure every idea makes sense in your overall ministry vision. Shorten meetings if you can. Once a month, skip what you do weekly just so everyone has that extra time to invest into others.
Obviously, the specifics of this will differ from ministry to ministry. What is universal is how easy it is to live out of your gut instead of a Jesus-centered plan. So take a cue from Him on this:
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it?” (Luke 14:28)