by Tim Scheidler
(Part one of a two-part series)
Three words: best idea ever. That is exactly what I was thinking about an event I was planning for our families on a cool February evening a few years ago. Nothing could deter my passion for this idea. It was going to be great. No, not great…it was going to be amazing!
After the idea was firmly implanted in my brain, I set out to begin making to-do lists, drawing diagrams and filling in the details. The food would need to come from ‘x,’ the t-shirts would come from ‘y,’ the craft would be located here, the game area would be located there. Oh! And the video, cannot forget the video. All we need to do is write it, film it, edit it, burn a DVD and we are done!
This is going to be amazing!
How much time do we have? Ten days? Easy…ish. Oh, we still have to make sure ministry is covered for this weekend and the weekend immediately after. Why do amazing ideas come so late? Ok, no matter. Not as easy as I first thought but…amazing ideas are worth a little extra hard work, right?
Ministry on the first weekend came and went without a hitch, everything was covered and everything went smoothly. Time, however, was beginning to run out. As time ran out, the idea began to fall apart and I decided to sacrifice more and more to make sure…what wasamazing in my head would be amazing in the real world.
First on the chopping block: the day off. Who needs it? Not me! So I worked all through my day off. Yes, that is normally the day that is devoted to my family and resting; but they were clearly less important than lining up craft materials and working on the all-important video. Besides, I am sure they would understand. After all…they know just how amazing my ideas are.
Next, I would need to cut a few corners on prep for the weekend immediately after the event. It would be ok right? I could come in extra early Sunday morning to get everything together and all would be fine. Besides…the kids are going to be so blown away by myamazing idea, I am sure that is all they will want to talk about.
The day of the event came and the amazing-ness of my idea had started to become a little tarnished. The t-shirts still had to be picked up; the food still needed to be picked up, the craft supplies needed to be arranged, the games needed to be setup and the video was not quite done. Even after all the extra hours I had put in, unforeseen complications had kept things from happening in a timely manner.
Things were looking less amazing and more stressful.
The event finally came. The crafts were good, the games were not bad and the food (when it showed up) was cold but a hit. The video, the centerpiece to the whole evening, the thing I had spent most of my time on that week, the thing that I had lost sleep worrying about, the thing that had caused me to be short with friends, family and co-workers was… forgettable. No one seemed anywhere near as interested or excited for it as I was certain they were going to be. After the video played and we still had an hour to fill up, I realized that I was out of gas.
My amazing bubble had just burst.
I had used up all my energy in the frantic preparation for the event and had nothing left for the event itself. I was tired. I was frustrated that my amazing idea did not look anything like what was going on in the room and in my stressed out state of mind I had forgotten to eat.
My colleagues could see that I was crashing and came to my rescue. We gathered, sorted out the rest of the evening, ate a slice of cold pizza, came up with a plan and set to work. The rest of the night was tiring but good. The families had a great time; they loved the second half better than the first and by the end of the night we were all smiling, ready for bed and grateful we had survived another one of my amazing ideas.
I wish I could tell you this was a one-time event after which I learned my lesson. You have probably already sorted out in your own mind where I went wrong and how I could have avoided the stress, the frustration, the pain to my family and the injury to my co-workers. The truth is we did too. We knew exactly what went wrong, but we could not stop. It was a way of life for us in ministry. Anything that happened outside of the weekend required every ounce of our time and energy and everything must be sacrificed in order to see the idea come to life. The truth is we did not know how to do it any other way. It was literally all or nothing.
There is a better way. If you are like I was, then hopefully you have already identified the destructive pattern of planning events that suck you dry and hopefully you are on the road to recovery. If you know you need help but cannot seem to figure out how to do things differently here are some steps to getting back on the right path:
Step 1: Ask the tough questions.
I love to dream, to imagine, to think big about all the wonderful things the church could do for our families. It is fun, it is inspiring and it is motivating. Sometimes the dreaming conversations are what got me out of bed in the morning.
Do not keep yourself from dreaming.
However, after you have dreamed up yet another amazing idea and you are convinced that it is too good not to do, ask yourself these questions:
- Why are we doing this event?
- Is this event life-giving for both my families and me?
- If doing this event means we are adding something, what are going to stop doing?
If the answers to these questions are: “I am not sure,” “Maybe” and “I cannot stop doing anything right now.” Than you need to stop. Put that idea on hold until you know exactly why you are doing it, you are certain it will be a life-giving experience and you are not just adding one more thing to an already over-crowded calendar.
If you are not sure what a life-giving event might be ask yourself this: Is this a ‘non-event’ event or an ‘event’ event? That is to say: is the act of putting on this event an event in itself? If the answer is yes, you may want to reconsider. This has become our go-to idea assessor: “That sounds like it is an event-event, is there anyway to make that into a non-event event?” Try it. It works wonders.
Step 2: Plan within your means.
I am 100% certain there is no end to the needs that you see in your ministry context, your passion for meeting those needs or your creativity in figuring out new ways to meet those needs.
Remember: Needs do not equal Ministry.
In order to effectively minister to your families and meet the needs you see around you, you must also have resources. Resources include: time, energy, passion, people, materials, funding, venues, etc. Do not jump into doing something simply because you see a need. This will only lead to a severe drain on you as well as the other programs you are involved with.
Remember: Needs plus Resources equal Ministry.
These are not resources that you wish you had or you think you have. These are resources currently at your disposal. If you do not have the time, energy, passion, etc. to meet a particular need or put on a particular event than you must stop and wait until you have resources in place or rethink your approach in order to utilize what you have.
Step 3: Do not do it alone.
Have you looked at the statistics on pastors lately? They paint a pretty sobering picture¹:
- 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.
- 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
- 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
Your spiritual, emotional and physical health is more important than any one event. The best way to ensure that you are not putting yourself, your ministry or your marriage or family at risk is to be sure you have a team around you that is willing to speak the truth in love. Sometimes you will have no idea that you are doing too much. You need to bring people around you who can help you determine what events to do, why you are doing them and how you are going to make them happen. Yes, this may mean that someamazing ideas remain ideas instead of becoming amazing events. It is far better to miss out on an opportunity to implement an amazing idea than to burn yourself out.
Step 4: Remember it is a marathon not a sprint.
A couple years ago, I decided to start exercising more. Actually what I should say is: a couple of years ago my wife begged me to exercise with her. I gave in and we began attending an outdoor boot camp program she had discovered a couple months prior. One of the ways our instructor determined our general level of fitness was the one-mile time trial. Basically, you run a mile, time how long it takes you and then, after a couple of weeks of the program, do it again. The idea is that over time your overall fitness will improve and you will get faster.
And so I did.
After the first six weeks I was much faster than I had been at the beginning. I kept up with the program and met with a lot of success. I was faster than I had ever been and I was still improving! Then came the day when I was not getting any faster. After a few failed attempts at improving the instructor pulled me aside and showed me something. My time for the first lap was hugely fast but my time for the other three laps was much, much slower. In fact, with each passing lap I got slower and slower. That is when he told me something that did not make a whole lot of sense: “You need to go slower so that you can go faster.” The idea is that if you slow down on your first lap than you will have more energy for the subsequent laps. Yes, you may lose a few seconds off that first lap but you will gain much more with each pass.
I have thought how this same idea applies in the context of ministry. If we charge out of the gate into ministry at a dead sprint we will end up moving slower and slower with each passing event, each passing Sunday until we are too exhausted to keep going.
Ministering to the families at your church is not a problem that can be solved. We do not fix people, we care for them and this is a process not a product. It is not realized by moving faster and doing more but rather by understanding what your families needs really are, keeping your spiritual, physical and emotional health a priority and by planning events that don’t suck the life out of you.
¹Dr. Richard J. Krejcir, Statistics on Pastors, Into Thy Word,http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=36562&columnid=3958(accessed August 11, 2010).