I find that most ministers are some combination of 2-3 of the following: preacher, programmer, professional, or pastor.
The Preacher loves the teachable moment, loves to sermonize with fiery passion.
The Programmer loves to schedule activities, plan events, seasonal series, retreats, studies, groups, etc, etc, ad infinitum.
The Professional loves to dig deep into the institutional development of the church. Committee meetings are their comfort zone.
The Pastor has a much gentler touch than the rest. Even in the pulpit, the Pastor's word is healing, prayerful, contemplative.
I am not a Pastor. I try to be, especially because that's what many congregants need me to be.
But I like to spit fire from the pulpit, I like to dig deep into the institutional structure, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to create programming.
In fact, programming is my default. I think it is a product of my upbringing. I grew up in a town that was a "Type A" factory. Greenwich, CT just pumps out go-getters who have all the vocational drive in the world. We like to accomplish things. I also grew up in a church that was considered a "Programmatic" Church in size. 5-6 Youth Retreats a year, a couple different theatrical performances, Mission Trips like whoa, our calendars were so full it would make your eyes bleed trying to color coordinate everything. And that doesn't even take into consideration all the extracurriculars and the homework I had to keep up at school, AP Physics, band, soccer, PowerNap Club (yes, that's a thing), etc. etc.
I guess that's why I started this blog and wanted to tackle this question of church's place in the Sports Culture. I have sympathy for today's Youth. Their over-scheduled nature, and the endless pressure to succeed, and the hyper focus on college applications is so native to my heart.
I have always thrived best when over-scheduled most. I couldn't function unless I was over-functioning. While many of my colleagues suffer from churches that expect too much of them time-wise, I suffer from setting those expectations for myself.
This has been one of my greatest strengths, and one of my greatest weaknesses.
In my first 3-4 years, it was a huge asset that I was always looking to find the next best thing. I'd hear kids report, "All of our friends are jealous because our Youth Group does so much cool stuff all the time." And I'd respond, "Great! Invite your friends along," and I'd add on another bowling night.
As I've talked about in this blog before, that drive is part of how we grew from 8 kids on average, to 25-30, sometimes as many as 50 for special events. (#HumbleBrag)
But before I get too big of an ego, this year has been different. I finally hit critical mass. I have reached a point where my ministry has become too much about events, and not enough about ministry. And I had heard all the warnings, all the lectures, all the brilliant advice that ministry should be about building relationships not going skiing.
But for me, the way I've been trained my whole life, I only know how to build relationship through programming. I only know how to minister through events and systems.
And so my numbers are down this year, which again shouldn't be the measure of success or failure. But when the numbers are down and you know you could be doing better, it's hard not to take it as a sign. And so I've been trying to readjust. I've started cutting down on the number of events we hold per month. I've tried to remind myself that it's often better to do less whole-heartedly than to do more half-assed.
And this is the most important thing, the heart of ChurchVSports, the idea that there is no single answer or best approach, the belief that ministry should be an ever-evolving experiment, adapting to the times, fitting the program to the kids not the kids to the program.
Because in trying to combat the increasing demands of the Sports Culture, it is important that we not fall into the same trap of tyranny that Sports play on the lives of our congregants. It's always a fine balancing act between raising the bar just high enough that your kids have to reach for it, but not raising it so high that church becomes another anxiety-producer in their lives.
And one of the approaches that plagues churches the most is the inability to let go of something. If it works three years in a row, it's bound to last 30 years in a row, even 15 years after it stops working.
And so as I preach the need to schedule more daring adventures in order combat the monopoly of sports on our congregants' lives, that also comes with a word of caution, a note to continually self-reflect on when it's time to let things go. That is also a great act of self-care.
Work-Life balance is key. And often, work-life balance means dropping balls at work, a thing I am learning each week as I figure out how to be a minister and a dad to my 16-month-old baby.
I have told my colleagues and friends on multiple occasions, and I need to tell myself more often, that dropping balls at work is actually a good thing. It helps us discern what is actually a priority in our ministry. It helps us discern the difference between what we want to do and what we can do, and often we confuse what we want to do with what God wants us to do. But God's call often sits somewhere between want and can.
And so I cancelled most of our events last month. And while I'm still feeling a little blue that our numbers are down for our ski retreat in a couple of weeks, I try to remind myself that less kids mean I have more meaningful amounts of time to build better relationships and do better pastoral care with each kid on the trip. And I try to take heart that even with our numbers down, I still have 2 of my most devoted athletes skipping practices and games to come on the trip.
So as you kick yourself about your impossible schedule, as you carry the guilt for dropping the ball again, as you sit at your computer past midnight for the third time this week, think on this: if it doesn't get done because you don't have time to do it, maybe it shouldn't get done. Maybe it's God telling you, "Be still. And know that I am God." Maybe it's God telling you that doing less means you're doing better.
Maybe it's God telling you to be less of a Programmer and be more of a Pastor.