Summer was in full swing. Katie was seven months pregnant—due the second week in August. And me? I was “pregnant” with three camps, a mission trip, a fall planning retreat, and our annual VBS week. All packed back-to-back through June and July, leading right up to Katie’s due date. Somewhere toward the end of June, I got a call while we were on the mission trip.
“I’m at the hospital in labor. They’re trying to stop it.”
“You can’t be in labor. I’m not done yet.”
Yep—not one of my finer moments as a husband. I still delivered all my “babies” that summer, and (fortunately) Katie’s labor went into remission! She still delivered a few weeks early, but everyone came out of it well and healthy. Everyone but me…
With a third child under the age of four, a wife who was seriously unhappy about my lack of discipline, and a student ministry that was growing and thriving faster than I was, I was desperate for some re-assessment.
First, I apologized to Katie. She’d been holding down the fort for years—taking care of our two young boys with a third on the way while supporting our student ministry in a myriad of ways. She deserved more than I was giving her.
Next, I apologized to my pastor. God had blessed our ministry and it was exploding—and I was taking credit and creating a culture of more, more, more!
In the slipstream of that summer, I adopted three practices (with the support of my senior pastor) that changed everything—not just for summer, but my entire trajectory in youth ministry.
- Blackout Dates: Katie and I began scheduling blackout dates on our ministry and home calendars. I started taking a week of vacation during the summer because I realized I was spending more summer travel time with church members’ kids than my own kids! Other summer dates making the blackout list: Katie’s birthday, our anniversary, the birthday of our youngest, and “trip recovery days.”*
- Gray-out Dates: Whenever I returned from a summer ministry commitment, it was difficult to unplug during any planned post-trip blackout days because so much was waiting for me at the office. So the days flanking a blackout time became “gray” days on my calendar. I used them for ministry prep days, meetings, and other flexible activities. I stopped planning back-to-back trips, events, and ministry-intensive commitments.
- Whiteout Dates: Our new calendaring system was great at protecting time off, and sometimes that was enough. But sometimes my need for a ministry respite required more focus than taking a vacation could bring. So I started scheduling one day “out of the office” every month to truly experience Sabbath—rest that focused on my soul and the heart of Jesus.
Remarkably, after I implemented these changes our youth ministry didn’t fall apart! In fact, it grew healthier. I discovered that my spiritual health influences the health of my teenagers and leaders. And my family flourished in this new paradigm! Katie felt heard, supported, and loved. My kids found out that I was the best cannonball jumper our neighborhood pool had ever seen. And I re-learned that ministry is not dependent on me—it’s dependent on Jesus. When I’m leaning into that and not into the next strategy or the next event or the next goal, everything works better…
*Bonus: I know not every church leadership team believes in “trip recovery days.” Here are a few keys to help persuade them:
- Don’t ask for “day-for-a-day” time. It’s not about equity, it’s about margin. So, if you’re traveling for a week, ask for only a few days.
- Develop a strong volunteer network so the entire ministry doesn’t rise and fall on your shoulders. It makes it easier to grant time away when leadership can see other leaders helping.
- Always tie your respite time to the spiritual health of your ministry. Say: “The ministry does better when I’m practicing wholeness and soul care. I’m not asking for additional vacation. I’m asking for Sabbath so I can continue crushing it for you and Jesus.”
- Teenagers need to see healthy families—and yours is the primary one they’re studying. Fight for that, because your spouse and kids NEED you! And fight for it because there’s a teenager measuring their future based on your present. They need to see someone loving and sacrificing for their family.
- If you simply can’t get this time approved, be sure to schedule “gray days” upon the immediate return from trips. And don’t get bitter about it—no one TRULY understands the shoes we walk in unless they’ve worn out a pair themselves.