Summers in the youth ministry world are hard. No matter how great your programming was for the Fall and Spring, students with extra time, the break from school activities, and family summer vacations demand a big change in your ministry programming. In my ministry context, a transition to summer means the loss of our college small group leaders, the halting of our children’s ministry midweek program, and students going in and out of town.
My first summer as a youth pastor was a rough one. I planned way too many events, tried a lot of things for the first time, and ended up being away from my family for a third of the summer. When I got back from the last trip of the summer in mid-August, I remember feeling overwhelmed and in desperate need for a break. Unfortunately, that was nowhere in sight as our fall programming kicked off in just a couple days. Later, I sat down evaluating the summer with the Executive Pastor and as I shook my head, I said, “I just don’t want to do that again.” I had not found the youth ministry summer sweet spot.
The “summer sweet spot” is a made-up phrase that describes the importance of finding a summer schedule that works for your family AND the church family. The summer season will not be an opportunity for effective ministry until you are able to balance the needs of your family (this includes your personal needs) and the needs of the church families by finding your summer sweet spot.
I want to help you find your youth ministry summer sweet spot simply because I don’t want you to be sitting down evaluating a summer that ignited your burn out. Here are three simple frameworks to help you develop a summer of ministry in the summer sweet spot:
BE REALISTIC with Your Time
I love the question, “If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” My superpower has varied through the years. The ability to see smells, touch a book and have it memorized, to know the internet, and most recently to not need sleep. These superpowers probably say more about me than I should be comfortable with, but my most recent answer not needing sleep should tell you something. Namely, that I find it hard to fulfill all of my needs with the amount of hours I am given. I need to hang out with students, I need to spend time with my wife, and I need to prepare that message. If only I had a few more hours.
Well, as of now, I still need sleep, and that limits to what I can do in a given season. My first summer, I tried to ignore these limits, but through the years I have realized that when I respect my limits, I end up with more effective ministry. At the beginning of the summer, prioritize the needs in front of you and ask yourself:
Where should I spend my time this summer?
Your most precious resource this summer is your time. Be realistic in counting the cost of doing camps, conferences, and events by prayerfully asking yourself, where should I spend my time this summer (Luke 14:28-30)?
BE INTENTIONAL about Purpose
How do you pick the places you go and the things you do in the summer? Maybe the students are begging you to take them to the theme park again, so you put that on the list. You see the church down the road went to Mexico last year, so you plan a trip to Nicaragua. How do you determine what makes the cut on your calendar? Let me offer the greatest question anyone has ever asked:
What’s the purpose?
There are a million good ideas out there, but when someone presents one of these good ideas to you, ask them, “What’s the purpose of doing _______?” Even if you have been to that camp or organized that event for three years, ask them to tell you the purpose. The harder part of this framework is asking yourself this question.
We all have our ideas that we love, but I challenge you to ask yourself the question, “What’s the purpose?” When you determine its purpose, make it run this gauntlet of questions:
Does this purpose fit the goals of the summer?
Is this purpose repeated in other events?
Is there another event, program, or camp that can fill this purpose better?
When you find the purpose, you find the value. What do you want to value this summer?
No event, no message, no meeting, and no season is finished until it has been evaluated. Answer this question: Do you want to get better? If you answered yes, which I really hope you did, then experience alone won’t make you better. Be diligent in taking a step back and looking at how you can get better. The questions we use during evaluations are:
What was great? Good? Bad? Ugly?
Great = “We have to do this next year!”
Good = “How can we make this better?”
Bad = “What can we do different next year that accomplishes this same purpose?”
Ugly = “Burn the shirt and erase the pictures, let’s act like this ever happened.”
This method of evaluation helps us to not focus just on what went wrong, but weigh them all together and figure out how to get better as a ministry. Evaluation is key to this whole process, because your sweet spot will vary from summer to summer. Your students change, your group grows, your family shifts, and you will have to consistently balance life and ministry as you pursue your summer sweet spot.
Have another framework to add to the list? Add it to the comments below!