“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”
For those of us whose work involves talking in front of groups, brevity is the hardest thing. I used to think the opposite, that the hour-long keynote and the 45 minute sermon were products of weeks filled with grueling preparation by an expansive mind. But I find now that talking for a long time makes me less nervous than talking for a short time.
A short address requires many, many more decisions by the speaker than a long one, which might make it a very useful appraisal of leadership. After all, that’s what we asked you here to do: make decisions.
Daughter got it in her head to try competitive cheer last summer, an inclination her mother and I readily allowed, especially after she so easily agreed to trading this new activity for the one she’d been spending four hours a week on for nearly two years, gymnastics. Nothing against gymnastics, but that choice indicated her seriousness.
You just don’t know the things your kids are going to be into, and Daughter is forging new family territory at the gym. Her mom was a gymnast, at least, which is more relatable by degrees than her father’s baseball, which seems dull by comparison, but neither of her parents have any first hand experience of all-day cheer meets. So while Daughter is learning pyramids and leapfrogs, we’re learning meet schedules and makeup. Oh, and there have been makeup tutorials. Makeup. Tutorials.
I’m warming up to it. For the first few months, whenever I spoke of competitive cheer I quickly added that it wasn’t my choice and that it’s a completely foreign subculture for me. Like I needed to apologize for my daughter’s preferred leisure pursuit because it’s not soccer or dance or basketball. That hangup died last week as I watched her and her team pant their way over and over again through a program of running, lifting, rolling, and jumping that is more rigorous than anything I could have been talked into at 10 years old. And, yeah, they do it in makeup.
So now I rock a “Cheer Dad” T-shirt I got for Christmas and write blog posts from the parent room in the gym at 9:00, because practice ended an hour ago but my leotarded 10 year-old can’t be dragged from the trampoline.
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.
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.
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?
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 bit.ly 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.
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.
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.
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.