Proximity To Proximity To Greatness

My neighbor went to grad school with a famous actress who visits him at his home when she and her family are in town.

My friend plays tennis with an executive for a major league baseball team.

Someone at my church went to high school with the mom of a legitimate rock n’ roller.

Proximity to greatness is one thing. Proximity to proximity to greatness is another.


How Many Fundraisers Is Too Many?

A youth ministry fundraiser has to do more than collect money for the mission trip. It should also give supporters in the church who are not youths’ parents a chance to meet the students they’re supporting, to hear from them about why they’re going on the trip and their hopes for it.

Adding money to the budget is but one small function of a fundraiser.

That means it needs planned with and for student participation. An event planned and run by staff, both paid and volunteer, without leadership from youth, leaves a ton of opportunity on the table. But to plan it that way takes lots of lead time and more than one meeting.

So how many of these events can you realistically do in a given year? I’ve done as many as four, and that is way too many to do well. One, maybe two, is probably the max, if professional fundraiser is not to become your primary job responsibility.

There’s a bigger question underneath the best techniques for fundraising, and that’s the question of how we conceive of and pay for youth ministry, nay, all ministry. That’s not this post. This post only wants to say that one or two youth ministry fundraisers is better than a bunch.


Blogging For Future You

One of the unexpected benefits of blogging is that people sometimes quote you to you. You may not think a blog post worth much when you hit “publish,” but when you hear a piece of it on someone else’s lips months or even years later you may think quite differently about it.

Putting something out there for people to chew on day after day expands the pool of insight we all have to draw on over time. It’s generous, even to our future selves.


Does Ministry Divide Into Three Year Seasons?

Ministry work isn’t a straight line, is it? It’s not a consistent trajectory of growth or decline. Neither “We’ve always done it this way” or”This is a brand new experiment” tell the whole story of life in a context of ministry over the long haul.

February 1st will mark three years for me at my present call, and I’m wondering if a three year cycle isn’t a helpful construct for thinking about ministry, because there are things I took to be a trajectory in 2016 and 2017 and 2018 that are not shaping up to continue into 2019, and when I think back over my previous call (which lasted for eight years) it feels like dominant foci emerged and receded in roughly three year stretches.

If there’s any truth to this, then we should take a provisional view of whatever we’re working on right now. Is it growing and filled with excitement? Give it a few years. Is it on life support? It doesn’t have to live forever. The three year (or six year or nine year or . . . ) mark in a ministry or a call can be a useful moment to dream about the next trio of trips around the sun: what could start? What could end?


Information Is Not The End

I have measured my having-it-together these past three years in communication tools and procedures. If I can put all the information in the right place and send regular, snappy emails full of links pointing people to it, good things are happening, right? Changegrowthtransformationpow!

Pretty dopey. I see it now.

Clear communication of accessible and actionable information is critical to our work, but it’s not the work. It’ll be quite difficult to work well without it, and yet focusing on information for its own sake is a dead end.

The information is for the ministry, not the other way around.


I’m A Talker

Some of us need to talk to relax. For me, the moments before a worship service or a retreat talk or a presentation are filled with the worst kind of dread; my mind runs wild imagining all the things that could go wrong and obsessing over all the things I failed to prepare. But as soon as the my talking part is on and my mouth is free to move, my mind settles down and the knots in my stomach untangle.

For some people, the thought of talking in front of a group is terrifying. For others of us, though, talking is the only solace.


Scrubbing The Toilet While Thinking About The Wedding (And Officiating The Wedding Without Thinking About Scrubbing The Toilet)

I used to imagine that ministers spent all their time thinking spiritual thoughts and having meaningful interpersonal interactions about them, an imagination that caused me to experience great frustration, in my early 20’s, that the pastor of the church I attended wasn’t available to hang out with me and listen to my vocational discernment whenever I wanted. Dude had a family. Oh, and a job. Ministry is a job.

I recalled this frustration on Saturday as I was scrubbing the toilet in my bathroom. I was thinking of the wedding I was to officiate later that afternoon and wondering, “What would the bride and groom think to know that, hours before their wedding, the minister is up to his wrists in toilet bowl cleaner? Would it bother them to realize that their special day, for me, is bathroom cleaning day, and also the day to put away all the Christmas decorations and do the week’s grocery shopping? How would they feel to realize that their wedding is but one item on my list of things to do on The Biggest Day of Their Lives?”

Here’s where that thinking lands for me: the spiritual thoughts and meaningful interpersonal interactions I used to imagine pastors having all the time can either happen at the expense of all the other things that grown up life in the modern world involves (especially life with a family) or in the midst of them. For me it’s the latter; I’m choosing to think about the wedding–or the sermon or the Confirmation lesson or the committee meeting–as I’m cleaning the toilet, not instead of cleaning the toilet.

This means that the frame of mind I’m in at the wedding doesn’t feel very “spiritual” sometimes, and honestly I’m sure people see right through it. I’m fighting back thoughts about dinner preparations during the vows, and I’m sure everyone there can sense it. Doing good work like this demands the ability to be fully present to the significant ministry moment we’re leading even as we are experiencing the mental and emotional pull of responsibilities outside these walls.

Scrub the toilet while you’re thinking about the wedding. Do the wedding as if the toilet doesn’t need scrubbed. You can do both. You don’t have to choose.


New Year’s Resolutions

For all of my adult life I have scoffed at New Year’s Resolutions as things other people needed to use to effect change in their life. “Fine,” I’d say to myself, “If they need the artificial construct of a calendar start date for motivation, that’s fine for them. I don’t need that.”

The other thing I’ve spent my adult life doing is not making effective changes I have repeatedly wanted to make, things like exercising and journaling regularly and eating responsibly, consistently. So what if a January habit commences arbitrarily? All the authenticity I can muster has failed to create habits I know will improve my health and well being and make me a better person to be around.

So New Year’s Resolutions it is.


Christmas vs. Christmas Eve

A student said on Sunday that Christmas day is the worst, because once Christmas day arrives there’s nothing left to look forward to. From morning to night, December 25th is only a creeping letdown that advances by the minute, filling him with dread.

I get that. I live in a mental model that focuses on getting to and through the next thing for the sake of an imagined reward of leisure once its done. Christmas is the ultimate, then, especially for those of us who work in ministry, because it’s a ton of work and anxiety for the sake of a day, or even a few days, of rest and festivity.

But Sunday is still coming.

And then the ski retreat.

And then Sunday again.

And then, and then, and then.

It is obvious to me that the more mature, more fulfilling mental model is one that looks forward to Sunday, to all ministry work, as Christmas and not merely Christmas Eve.


Artful Administration

A great deal of ministry work is administration. There was a class for it in seminary, but it was an elective and I skipped it. That decision, like my decision to skip all the youth ministry courses and to devote hours each week to practicing intramural flag football, is all the evidence you need of my shortsightedness as a seminarian.

The instincts you need to cultivate and the habits you need to nurture to be an effective church administrator seem to me as artistic as they are technical. Good administration is an art. It resists rigid schemes of automation in favor of systems and processes that accentuate the human, both in the administrator and the things he is administering.

For instance, I have employed the checklist as a tool for administering the kinds of major events I have to lead like mission trips and retreats. Heck, in my context most Sundays are major events, so I have a checklist for that too. There are categories in these checklists: leadership (have I recruited the volunteer leaders I need? Have we background checked them?); communication (Have I publicized the details of the event, with a clear deadline and easy-to-follow instructions for signing up?); travel (have I booked the van(s) or the bus or the plane that will get us there?).

What’s dawning on me is that mechanically implementing these checklists doesn’t make for vibrant ministry or flourishing leaders. They’re best viewed as tools to be creatively employed by leaders who bring their full humanity and vision to ministry.

Church administration is an art. I need to level up my art.