If you’re like me, you had big plans for your summer. May arrived and with it all of my big plans for getting ahead and preparing to amp up my ministry game for the coming year. I was finally going to organize the YM closet, I mean, office, and move out all those random supplies so I could locate my desk once more. I was going to work my way through tons of reading with the hopes of improving my relational ministry and becoming an expert on the psychology of teenagers. All of my teens were going to get hand-written birthday cards and personal invitations to summer events. My Core Team was going to double in size and each new member was going to be adequately equipped for the fall semester. My plans were HUGE.
Now, September is here, almost over in fact, and I am proud to say that I accomplished everything on my to-do list.
Wait. That’s not exactly right. Surely I must have completed some of those tasks. Actually, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I finished exactly zero of those tasks. I read all of two chapters in a single book about youth culture. Somehow I have even more items in my shoebox office. I think I will need a hazmat suit to enter there soon. I sent no birthday cards and the same number of personal invitations this summer.
There’s always next summer though, right? And winter break! That’s when everybody accomplishes big things. I mean, come on. If Mary could travel the desert nine months pregnant in the dead of winter without a cell phone or bottled water, I can write a few birthday cards.
What I have come to discover is when I get so wrapped up in my to-do list and start measuring the success of my program based on the number of tasks I crossed off this week, I start to feel a little burned out. There is always more to do. That list will never be complete. So how do I stay afloat in a drowning sea of to-dos?
Re-prioritize: Put God First.
How often in my day-to-day do I refer to what I do as “my ministry”? It isn’t mine in any sense of the word. The work I do belongs to God. Youth ministry is about providing teens with an opportunity to experience the love of Christ. I cannot make teens encounter God. I can merely free up some space for them to escape their distractions and give some time to Him. He does all the real work. It is important to keep in mind that I am a steward of God’s time allotted to me. I have a responsibility to manage that time well, which leads me to step 2.
Pray (The action of putting God first).
The first item on my to-do list every single day should be to pray. I don’t mean to trivialize my personal time with God by writing it down as an obligation. Quite the opposite is true. If I don’t put God first, I am prone to making ministry self-serving. I am feeding my ego instead of giving all glory to God for the work I am privileged to do. Additionally, if I ask Him what should go on my to-do list each day, He will tell me where my priorities should lie. I have discovered that He always gives me enough time to do His Will. The things I want are the ones that keep me bustling around frantically without actually completing anything. I find peace through doing the things He lays before me.
Most importantly, I find that there is always an excuse not to begin my work day with prayer. The excuse usually has something to do with my to-do list. Praying before I do anything else reminds me to trust in God. He wants great things for my teens. What He wants and has planned for their hearts far exceeds my wildest dreams for them. How can my hopes even compare to what He has planned. Put God first, and…
Put people second.
This is where the rubber meets the road. All the planning in the world is useless if I am not engaging in relational ministry. Teens are not brought to the Lord by throwing great kick-offs or playing the best games. They can play games anywhere. They come to Youth Group for something greater. Perhaps they can’t even put a name to what it is they are looking for, but the longing for more is present in their hearts. St. Augustine said “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Give them an opportunity to find rest, through small groups where their voices are heard, through Adoration where Christ whispers to them personally, through a smile and a genuine conversation about what is happening in their lives.
There. Now you have all the answers to a grand ministry program. Just kidding. I don’t have all that. Summer is over. It feels like I accomplished next to nothing and now I am right back in the thick of the new semester. The only way to keep from drowning is to place my heart in His hands. Please pray for me this year. Let me know how I can pray for you and your teens. Have a great year!