Planning – A Volunteer Perspective

Yesterday I posted about how I plan our message and series for the year. I emphasized why it is so important to pray and plan well in advance. One of the reasons is to help my leaders and students be involved the process creatively as well as give our speaking team time to prep.

In my post, I mentioned one of my leaders ‘Sara’ who speaks regularly in our large group environments. Not only is Sara a great communicator, she is an authentic and effective youth leader who has been ministering to teens for nearly a decade now. However, she is a full time mom and wife, and has her own speaking and prayer ministry that keeps her very busy. Yesterday Sara commented to my post and gave her perspective of why planning well in advance is helpful to her as a volunteer.

PLEASE NOTE: I hesitated to post this since I did not want anyone to think I am giving myself a high five for what I do. I felt it is important for all of us who are in the trenches full time to consider the ripple effect we have on volunteers and their effectiveness when we plan well…

One of Phil’s greatest assets as a leader is his dedication and determination to plan in advance with an openness to have to change or fly by the seat of his pants if needed. As a volunteer, I cannot tell you what a blessing this is! I am not constantly given last minute projects, spontaneous times to teach, whirlwind ideas and unnecessary crises that could have been avoided if there was good advanced planning. In Youth ministry and in any ministry frankly, we have to throw down often enough for crises, last minute emergencies or changes and there are always fun, spontaneous moments. But, to be following a leader who doesn’t plan in advance eventually becomes draining, exhausting, frustrating and frankly a complete drag since their last minute plans now become your problem when everyone is expected to drop everything in their life to make it happen. People and families get burnt. Phil leads a great example in this area and guess what one of his biggest problems is? He has more leaders than he needs! People are drawn to those who are respectful of their time, talents and families!

Message Planning

It’s been a couple of weeks away from the blogosphere for me since the summer break began. In ministry I have slowed my pace a little,  I am getting some extra time with my family, and getting jobs around the house done before the birth of our second in a couple of weeks.

Today I got together with one of my key leaders to finalize our Fall message plans and talked about some changes in the way we do our messages in our large group environments. Here’s what we do:

1) What we Teach for the Year: As I look at the year I have found that I need to consider which foundational areas students need to know and apply by the time they get to end of the school year. I wish I could say that I have developed my own system to ensure we have balance and foundation to what we teach, but I have not. Instead, I have found that ‘The Seven Checkpoints’ by Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall is a great start to ensuring that what we teach throughout the year. The premise of Checkpoints is this: We are likely to get about 32 hours of teaching time per year in our large group environments. However, we cannot teach students everything that is in the Bible in that short time. Also, everything in the Bible, while being true, is not relevant to students.  Checkpoints helps us to ‘narrow our focus’ (an Andy Stanley term), and ensure that we are teaching students the most important and relevant topics. Through a typical year we hit 7 areas that we feel every student needs to know.

2) Team Teaching: Although I lead my ministry, I have found it to be important and neccesary to incorporate good communicators to teach God’s Word to students. I have to be able to admit that different students need to hear different personalities and perspectives. It is easy for students to tune out the guy who is on stage every week. I am very blessed to have one leader who has her own ministry as a speaker to teens, and I have two other leaders who I utilize often who do a great job too. Even though team teaching requires a lot time, meetings, and investment on my part, it is so worth it to see students being blessed. Even if you are a volunteer, consider who at your church might do a good job coming in to speak or lead one evening?

3) Planning Well in Advance: Planning well in advance is imperative since it allows me to ‘perculate’ ideas and themes over weeks and months. It also allows the other speakers to prepare well and be creative. They get the opportunities to draw in students and leaders into the creative process.

4) Leave Some Gaps: My experience has taught me to leave at least 4-8 weeks of teaching unplanned for the year. In other words, every Fall and Spring I try to leave an intentional gap in my series teaching so that as a ‘current need’ or topic with greater relevancy comes up, we can be flexible to teach about it.

5) Be Flexible: As well as having gaps, it’s important to be flexible. No matter how detailed we try to be, there are always variables and last minute changes to consider. Whether it is a change in the large church schedule that requires me to change, or a leader who cannot speak for me, there are always changes to be made. I have found it is important to create a great teaching plan, but remain flexible with it.

6) Pray: Finally, but most importantly, I am always trying to seek God’s Leading as I plan for the Fall and the rest of year. I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit works just as effectively a few months before as well as a few weeks before. Therefore, it’s imperative to be praying carefully before I start planning.

That’s what I do, hopefully this is some help to you as you plan what you teach. Feel free to comment or send me a message if you have any questions.

Phil <><

Helping Students do Great Things…

Today I watched this video on cnn.com (below), and I was amazed by one high school students dedication and passion to make a difference in the world. As I watched, I was struck by two major revelations. 

First, I can’t underestimate how God will use me to challenge students to do something great. In this video, Emily Blake shares of how a speaker at a camp challenged her and others to, “not just be good students, but to do great things for God”… As I paused to consider this today, it made me wonder whether or not I am always expectant that God will do grand things with the words HE gives me? How about you? Are you expecting students to respond, or are you hoping they will? There’s a difference isn’t there? As speaker and teacher of God’s Word, I need to be reminded that there is power in His Word and promises. When I teach, I should expect God to do great things…

Second, it was a good reminder to me that students will often approach me with grand plans to change the world and make a difference… it’s means everything in how I respond. As adults in their lives, it is often easy to simply explain away an idea with a dose of reality from the ‘been there seen that – it won’t work’ reaction. However, her parents and Compassion International did more than simply give her a chance with an idea. Not only did they believe in her, they saw fit to come alongside her and help her navigate the steps she needed to take. It reminded me that I must not only encourage, I must also equip and empower.

 

Let’s face it, will all our students attain what Emily Blake did? Who knows? On average, probably not. However, I believe it means so much to students when we challenge them to raise the bar and do something amazing. It is also imperative that we support them as they try ideas in a safe environment. The steps (and how we support them in these steps), are crucial in this cynical world that always seems to have a way to dispel dreams. They may not be world changers today… but what they experience and how they are equipped and encouraged today means everything for what they attain tomorrow…

Celebrating Marriage (and Ministry)

gods_design_for_marriage_umjrMonday was our 7th wedding anniversary for Lisa and I. Apparently the 7th year can be the most challenging year of marriage. With kids, financial pressures and ministry, I can see why so many couples struggle. It has not been plain sailing for us at times.  However, in the last year I feel Lisa and I have taken some good steps as we look in the mirror of our marriage and we have realized what we need to do to be healthier as a couple and what we need to protect. 

I wish I could say we have figured it all out, but we haven’t! There are some things we have been learning and some good things that I believe will keep my marriage and (ultimately) my ministry, healthy. Bottom line, we can’t expect our ministry to be healthy if our families and marriages are not…

Things I do (and should do more often) to keep my marriage fresh. 

ABC Dates – This is an idea that Lisa came up with a while back that I blogged about about (link). Every two weeks we go on a date that begins with the current letter of the alphabet we are on. It involves either an activity that begins with that letter or going to a restaurant beginning with that letter. We have played arcade games, bowled, been to corn mazes, watched hockey games and eaten at all kinds or weird places… Bottom line: Our marriage is more interesting and fullfilling when we do stuff outside the norm. ABC dates force us to do things outside the norm. 

Family Night – This works in two ways. Every Monday is my day off and our ‘planning night’. We sit down to dinner with our planners and look at our meal plan, Lisa’s schedule, my schedule, and plan one or two times to do fun stuff as a family that week. Later that week we go a ‘Family Night’ together: Bike rides, ice cream, the park etc…

Communicate My  Schedule – Not rocket science but is something I hear way too often from my ministry friends as a stumbling block for ministry marriages. Today I just printed off my whole summer schedule for my wife. However, none of it was planned until she gave her approval. (Do you shudder at that thought of your spouse giving approval? If so, ask yourself why? Jim Burns from Homeword.com once told me that he gives his wife veto power over his whole schedule)… 

Planning Quality Getaways: Ministry is crazy enough for all us and we know that our spouses can often get shorted for time on a regular basis. Therefore, I make it a priority to plan in advance our vacations and daytrips away. Right now we have planned daytrips this summer, (we are expecting a baby soon and this does not allow for vacations so much :o). We also have a late Fall getaway and late winter getaway already on the calendar. Might sound like ‘over-planning’, but my experience tells me that if my getaways and vacations don’t make it on the calendar, other stuff will.

Here’s what I do to protect my marriage and family: 

Healthy Hours: Not working more than 50 hours a week – I actually schedule for 40 and with all the ministry ‘add ons’ I usually end up at 50. My mentor told me that every hour over 50 is not likely to be very effective anyway. 

Turn my phone Off… We don’t need to be talking, texting, or emailing when we are at home and with our families etc. Is it neccesary to take calls or send texts at mealtimes? When we do these things we are ‘not all there’ with our families. Lisa once commented to me that she wished I would ‘be all here’ when I am at home. This was hard to take, but was true. Do you need to be ‘all there’ by turning your phone off? 

Leave Frustrations at Church: This is a tough one, but one I am learning is imperative. I must learn to filter my frustrations and learn to channel them through trustworthy friends outside of my church. When I bring frustrations home to Lisa, it is hard for her not to be hurt by people and circumstances. It is imperative that she is excited to be worshipping at church without a negative feeling toward people or circumstances. 

Take a Day Off – If I murdered someone, or stole, or committed adultery, no one would disagree that I had sinned. Why then is it that we often find it hard to keep a Sabbath? You and I must take a day to reflect, refresh and refocus. Even if your boss does not take a day off, that’s not your fault. Doug Fields once told of a pastor who told a young youthworker that he didn’t take a day off because, “the devil does not”. The reply, “I’m sorry pastor, the devil is not my role model”… Who are our role models? What are we modelling for our families and students? 

Well, there are some things I do. What about you? What are you doing to keep your marriage healthy and protect it in the process?

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