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Tag Archives | planning

What to do when life happens

I’m supposed to blog three times a week here. In the last few weeks, I’ve managed that once, maybe twice. You know why? Because life happened.

I’m very organized, structured and I love to plan ahead. But you can plan all you want, when life happens you can throw your well made plans out the window.

Like last week, when my son became very ill with high fever. Or this week, when I myself developed a nasty case of strep throat. Or the last few months in general, because we moved from Germany to the US and administrative and practical stuff kept taking priority over blogging.

You can plan all you want, and you should, but you also need to remember that life is more important than your plans. That’s a reality I’ve had some trouble accepting in the past. On more than once occasion, I’ve gotten quite frustrated that I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to do, what I had planned to do.

But I’m getting better at it. What has helped me, is to consciously see the positive sides in the new situation.

I didn’t get to blog when my son was so ill, but I did get to spend a lot of time with him, snuggle with him and read to him. I didn’t get to blog when I myself was ill, but I did get to read a lot and I’ve read some amazing books. I didn’t get much work done in the last months during our move, but my husband did and I’m proud to be a wife who enables her husband to work.

In youth ministry, life often gets in the way of our best laid plans. We plan the perfect retreat and then weather happens. We plan to finally get our sermon done and then that crisis happens. We plan to catch up on our email and then our power goes down. It happens, life happens.

Life happens and there’s no sense in getting frustrated (believe me, I’ve tried – doesn’t help!). There are lots of situations that are outside your control. But how you respond to them, your mental attitude, that is something you can control.

So choose to see the positive. Choose to see what you can do, what you did do.

I could close off with something about when life gives you lemons, but I’ve never really cared for lemonade…I do love a slice of lemon in my Coke though :)


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I Got Nothing

I got nothing.

I’m dried up.

My brain hurts.

I don’t know what to do.

I can’t think of anything.

I’m sure all of these things you have either thought or said to yourself in the last year. If you are anything like me, you want your ministry to run at its smoothest. You want all services, sermons, events and small groups to be the best they can possibly be because you care so much about your students that creating an experience for them that they get to know God more is something you are so passionate about. And because we want the best, we are constantly racking our brains for new ideas, better ideas, smoother ideas for how we run our ministries. That’s why you come on this site. That’s why I read other great youth ministry posts. It’s all good, I like that.


I think sometimes we (I’m included) get so caught up trying to look what others are doing so we can do it because we have not thought of that yet, and we lose focus on the One who has enabled us to be creative and innovative in the first place. It hit me the other week as I was trying to plan some creative stuff for our winter retreat coming up. I could not think of anything, nothing I was looking at from other blogs or ministries were giving me any ideas. I got quiet for a second and I feel like the Lord whispered, “I got some ideas. Try me.”

Sometimes we try to be so creative and create a movement that we overlook the ultimate Creator and the biggest movement of all. Sometimes we are backwards, God is our last option when we don’t have anything ourselves. I’m guilty of this. The moment I went to God in prayer with the direction of our winter retreat, the ideas started to flow like a river.

I just feel that I need to remind someone with this post (probably me), you can only do so much on your own. Give it God. Give your sermon to God first. Give your retreat to God first. Give your ministry to God first. Give your meeting to God first and be amazed at how much clearer you will begin to think.

Matthew 6:33 -  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

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How We Do Different For Winter Retreat


About this time of year around the country, youth groups are getting ready for and pastors are planning for winter retreats. They can be going this weekend or all the way up until March in some places. I know us at HSM, we are headed up in February for our Life Groups Winter Retreat. I just began laying out and planning this trip a few weeks ago and let me just say, I’m already really excited about it. As I have been doing so, I have been thinking about some of the reasons why we do a winter retreat and why we intentionally make it different than anything else we do on our weekend services or even our summer camp. I thought I would list a few thoughts below and why and how I am going about planning our winter retreat.

Life Group Required: We make it so you have to be in a life group to go. Why? Because we believe every student should be in one period. This trip is more a discipleship retreat and we do discipleship by doing life groups so we encourage our leaders to go and take their groups. If a student is not in a life group, they can sign up to be in one and they will be placed in a group at camp and they can finish out the year with them in that group. It’s also a great way for adding any students who are on the fence about joining. Who doesn’t like the mountains?

Limited Spots/Limited Time: This is not like winter camp where everyone gets to go. We want to intentionally make it smaller and more intimate. We take less than half of what summer camp takes. I also want this to be something that students are excited about and if they know spots are limited, the camp will fill up faster. It is also half the time of summer camp which means half the price as well. It’s 3 days and 2 nights of wintery awesomeness.

Discipleship Focused: Because our winter retreat is designed for life groups to come, it is intentionally different than our weekend services and our summer camp (which are for friends and designed for new or non-believers and are for our students to invite friends too). There are more teaching sessions and they are more challenging than we would normally do (because they are geared for students who are already believers and wanting to dive deeper into their faith), there are more and intense quiet times and times of reflecting, more times of response during the message and worship. Even worship is a different style. On the weekends and at summer camp, it’s a full band (and they are unreal) but at winter camp we do an acoustic setting and it makes it a little more intimate. We want to make it completely different experience than anything else we do.

Student Lead Workshops: One of the mornings, there will be a shorter session and teaching because we allow 6 workshops lead by some of our student leaders. These students are picked based on their leadership abilities and passion for serving and ministry and they get to lead a 20 minute workshop of their choosing (as long as it goes with the theme of the camp). The rest of the students will then be able to choose 3 of the 6 workshops and they will rotate throughout the morning.

Fun - We want fun. Fun breaks down walls. I think if you were to have awesome quiet times set up, plus being able to have fun with your group while playing in the show and playing dumb games before the sessions, it allows some pretty amazing conversations during the cabin times and times where students are in a place to talk to their leaders and peers around them. I mean it’s a camp, fun is a must!

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People Support What They Create…At Least Most of the Time

This week I have the chance to co-teach an intensive at YS National Youth Workers Convention with Brad Griffin on Sticky Faith. In the intensive, we’ll spent the first six hours talking about what needs to change to build long-term faith in teenagers.  Then we’ll spend the last hour discussing the harder question:  how can we make these changes in our youth ministries and in our churches?

I love sharing with churches that want to make change this leadership principle:  people tend to support what they create. 

As we’ve seen with over 100 churches who have walked through our Sticky Faith Cohort, when it comes to bringing about a new culture or a new program, we leaders make a mistake when we figure it out on our own and then present it to our students, parents, leaders, and supervisors.

We think they are going to be impressed by our ingenuity.

Instead they feel left out of the process and are more likely to resist the change.

So let me ask you a few questions:

  • What’s the next medium-sized or big change you need to make in your ministry?
  • Who do you MOST need to collaborate with you on that change?
  • How can you involve that person NOW in the planning process?

Not only will you learn from that person’s expertise and the questions they ask, you will be more likely to have a change advocate.


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How to Get Your Church Leadership to Increase the Youth Ministry Budget

Want to get more money in your youth ministry budget? Want to get a budget at all? To be honest, there is no simple, clear sure-fire way to get your deacon board to cough up cash to fund your next overnight. In fact, budgets are a fickle beast often times driven by political interests and tradition. But not all hope is lost! Here are a few ways to get your church leadership to help fund youth ministry at your church:

Show the leadership a plan
There’s a direct connection between planning and funding. If you’ve ever been denied funds, it is a strong possibility that there wasn’t enough of a plan there to warrant the green light. Perhaps a less important ministry (all of them except youth ministry hahahaha) showed up with a plan that got some attention and some funds. The next time there is money on the table, put a plan on it, too!

Be happy with whatever you get
Often times when I hear youth workers talk about money it is often followed by murmuring and grumbling. Shoot … I think I did the same thing myself when our fiscal year turned over, too! But a quick way to cut off funds is to be unhappy with what you’ve been given.

Be faithful in the small to demonstrate you’re ready for more
In Luke Jesus challeneged us to be faithful with whatever we have been given as a test to be given more. Are you being faithful with the budget you’ve been given? Are you a good steward of the tithe money of your church? A great way to get more is to have lots of show for what little you started with!


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A Reason For Everything

Summer is nearly half over for us here in Canada, students are still loving life at summer camp, and traveling to places near and far. While our students are sitting our basking in the son, many of us are hunched over our desks penciling in the next season of ministry. One parts of the planning process that should not be overlooked before starting this fall is a full evaluation of every element of your program, start to finish.  Being thoughtful about why an element is included or why not, is vital going into fall launch and here are a three reasons why you need to have a reason for everything.

For God:  Our first job is to point young people to Jesus and create mission/vision/value around that. If you don’t know why you are doing it, it needs to go and if some element does not point back to the mission of your ministry then why do you do it? First and for most we are accountable to God for what we do, and doing something “just because” is not good enough if you ask me.

For Students: Modelling for students that every facet of our lives matters to God is important and the same should be true of youth nights. We are not shy about explaining why we do what we do at Journey and I think it is a great teachable moment when students ask about our rationale behind a decision.  Our student’s time is valuable; and when we have them, we will always try and make the most of it and from start to finish our goal is create space for students to encounter God, to connect with a caring leader, to learn about Jesus and to Worship Him. Having a clear purpose of your youth ministry will benefit the spiritual growth of your students.

For Parents: Parents have been known to be critical of youth programs (hard to believe I know)  sometimes because the one they were a part of 30 years ago was not like “this”. For those parents it is wise to be prepared when they start asking questions such as:

-Why is the Worship so loud?

-Why do you allow secular music to be played in the Church?

- Do you know what the Harlem Shake is really about? 

-Why do you allow saved and unsaved students in the same small groups? (Actual question)

-We never had small groups on the same night when I was in youth!

-Why don’t you play more games? My kid just wants to have fun. 

- Are V-Necks that deep even legal? 

It is pretty easy to disarm a concerned parent when you have an articulated thought out reason for doing what you do.  If they question an element of your program and you don’t have a rationale for why you do it they way you do, watch out. Parents may not agree with you, but will respect that you have thought about their concern before hand.

For the sake of supporting the vision that God has given you for your ministry, and for making the most of every opportunity that you have when your students are in the building, its vital that you have a reason for every element of your youth night from the time the first student arrives until the last one gets picked up.

-Geoff Stewart @geoffcstewart 

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MINISTRY & MARRIAGE: Calendar veto power

I’m very aware of how difficult it is for a marriage to be vibrant and growing and intimate. Putting it lightly, a healthy marriage requires work! Then, when you add marriage to the constant demands and emotions of ministry, you’ve got a mixture that is difficult to figure out.

Today, Cathy and I celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary and I’m beyond blessed for the incredible friend, partner, and marriage that I have. We’ve haven’t had a problem-free marriage, but we’ve sure worked really hard to figure out how to make marriage and ministry work in a way that seems rare amongst ministry couples.

While there are many intentional actions we’ve taken, I’m going to share three simple ones over the next few days that are transferable and can become transformational.

Early in our marriage Cathy would get frustrated to learn of some of our ministry events thru a mailing or because people would just start showing up at our house for a volunteer leader meeting that I forgot to tell her about. For a few years we went thru calendar gymnastics in an attempt to try to figure out the best plan and rhythm that would work for our marriage and ministry.

I can’t believe we didn’t think of it earlier, but what ultimately worked for us was deciding that nothing would go on our official youth ministry calendar without Cathy’s approval. Basically, she had veto power of the events for our ministry. I might make plans at church, but everything became “tentative” until she filtered them thru the family calendar (which I wasn’t good at thinking about while working on the church calendar).

Once Cathy signed-off on specific activities (and they went on the church calendar) she was much more supportive when I was away at those events. On the other hand, when she was surprised by an event, it was understandably more difficult for her to be supportive. Giving her the veto power over calendar was a great move for our marriage.

This same principle has applied for our lives over the last 18 months even though I’m no longer on a church staff. For example, today I’m speaking in Indiana and Ohio and Cathy actually encouraged me to take these two speaking/paying events 10 months ago knowing they would fall on our anniversary (it made it easier since our 25th anniversary was spent in Tahiti–so she knows we’re still working to try to pay off the trip).
Ministry calendar can create so much conflict…but, it doesn’t have to. How do you do calendar? Or, what questions does this post create?

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HANG UP THE PHONE…it's time to get something done!

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about how people use their phone these days and I’m looking forward to writing about some of the things in the future. I wish I could simply say I’m bothered by the way teenagers tether themselves to their mobile device, but I’m just as concerned about adults and the relational behaviors that have become both common and accepted. It’s simply amazing (and by “amazing” I mean obnoxious)!

I typically carve away a little “planning time” every Sunday to think thru my week, responsibilities and appointments for the upcoming week. And, this week, I’m going to try to implement Donald Miller’s advice of limiting phone use. Because I’ve been living with my mom in the hospital and basically putting my life on hold the last 10 days, I’m way behind of what needs to get done. I desperately need to figure out some similar actions to what Donald suggested. His entire post is here, but here’s an [edited] summary of his main actions:

1. I wake up early… respond to e-mails and text messages… check the news…. Then, even before people can respond, I shut the phone off. This marks the beginning of my phone-free hours.

2. I… sit at the desk, and enjoy a few hours knowing it isn’t possible to be interrupted… There’s no question I’ll get more done in the next two hours than I will for the rest of the day.

3. When my brain is done writing… I turn my phone back on.

4. I respond to everything immediately. People have been waiting, so I get it all done at once. This work is normally completed in about ten minutes…. An entire morning of interruptions that would have derailed my work is taken care of in minutes.

5. I leave my phone on for the rest of the day, handling calls and text messages as they come in. The rest of the day I deal with side work, stuff like getting a package out, a letter written, a meeting with a lawyer or something like this.

So, what do you to try to be more productive and less distracted by your phone? I’m curious…I want to learn from you.

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getting organized

I hate to be unorganized…but it seems to be my natural state of being…so I have to actively beat back the dragon of disorganization. Since the complexity of my life is about to increase considerably (read about that here), I decided it was time to update a weekly task list I like to use.

In the past, I’ve really liked the stuff that David Seah creates (whichyou can find here: http://davidseah.com/productivity-tools/)

Earlier this week, I created my own weekly planner, which is based on his designs. I’m not nearly as fancy, but perhaps you will find them helpful. You can download the PDF here: weekly planner (PDF).  If you want to make edits: weekly planner (Adobe Illustrator) (please don’t ask me to send you the fonts…that would be illegal!).

Typically, I spend a little bit of time at the beginning of the week deciding what’s important and I put that on this form. Who do I decide what’s important? I start with my long range goals and projects to determine What Must Happen This Week to move everything forward. I like the word “imperative,” because it doesn’t leave a lot of room for ambiguity. I want to spend my time on the stuff that absolutely must happen … not on stuff that should maybe happen…

I like to do my weekly planning before I read any emails or jump into any tasks. I’ll keep this sheet with me all week long and add to it after meetings, programs, etc.

This isn’t where I keep a list of EVERYTHING I’m working on or want to work on … I keep that digitally either in Outlook or Omni focus. This form is the focus just for this week.

I like having this easily accessible during my quiet times … nothing can derail me quicker than thinking about the needs of the ministry. I’ve found that if I can write it down, then it’s gone from my mind and I can leave the distraction behind.

It’s hard to be organized! (well, for me it is….)

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when a future focus leads to failure

One Sunday afternoon, on our way to lunch, I said to Doug Fields,

“Just had a thought: Our life is going to be filled with weekend services. We’ll be running one thousand weekend services…every weekend for the rest of our lives. Do you ever see ministry as a long series of weekend programs?”

He looked at me like I was crazy. (He’s right. Who thinks like that? I was only a few months into my internship at Saddleback Church, so maybe that explains it.)

Seth Godin has a posted an blog this week in which he explored the problem that comes from looking too far down the road for too long.

We might give ourselves permission to do an average job on this week’s message because there will always be next week’s message. The certainty of the next can negate the excellence of what’s now. He suggests a different attitude: what if approached every important task as if it was the last time we’d get to do it?

After loosing The Big Game, there’s comfort in knowing, “there’s always next year.” How well would the team compete if they began the season with that attitude?

This kind of urgency is biblical (Mt. 25:1-13) and logical (today could be our last day on earth). This urgency must be tempered (or we’ll be too anxious), but it shouldn’t be tamed (or will be too passive). If we’re not careful, certainty leads to complacency.

Find Seth’s full article HERE.


“An ATHLETE can’t start a season thinking: There’sAlwaysNextYear. If we’re not careful, certainty can lead to complacency.”

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