Building a Meaningful Schedule

Scheduling events: you either love it or hate it. I have been on both sides during my time in ministry. Some ministries had schedules that were fluid and never held to, and others that held so strongly to them that everything was figured out to within a minute.

Regardless of whether you like schedules or not, they are important. Our lives outside of ministry are often run by schedules, and students and parents value schedules, consistency, and structure. I have learned over the years that having a schedule not only helps to provide structure and support to students and families, but it also helps your leaders to know your plans, have buy-in, and see that you are someone who keeps their word.

Building a schedule can seem overwhelming or difficult, so as we move into a new year, I would like to do two things to help with that: give you some steps to follow in making a schedule and also provide you with two that I use.

Shape it around the priorities.

In order to have a proper schedule, you must shape it around the priorities of your ministry. The reason schedules often fail is because the priorities aren’t driving it and therefore the priorities become muddied and devalued.

So step back, look at your ministry, identify the areas you are passionate about, focus your time-frame around them, and build outward. If you value games and community they should hold the majority of your ministry time. If you see small groups as being the most important, show that through the time you allot. Shape the ministry around the priorities.

Assign appropriate amounts of time.

One area I see churches as whole struggle with is assigning appropriate amounts of time to different aspects of their schedules. Whether it is giving offering too little time in Planning Center, or not allowing the time it takes to calm students down after an amazing game that “didn’t involve eating marshmallows,” you must allow for the appropriate time for each activity or portion of your schedule. In fact I would encourage you to overestimate on time, which will give you a little buffer. If you know you tend to run long in teaching, give your teaching time an extra five minutes, which will allow you to better shape the rest of your schedule.

Allow time for transition.

This is usually something that we miss in crafting schedules, and honestly one I didn’t see until a leader brought it to my attention. When you are managing a youth group, you know that in transitioning from games to teaching or teaching to small groups, there is always some time lost. When I stepped back and saw what my leader was sharing I began to adapt my schedule to reflect the transition times. That of course meant I lost time elsewhere, but it allowed for me to focus on the priorities and trim areas that could be trimmed without compromising the mission and vision of the program.

Know the space.

This may seem like an obvious statement, but when you are building your schedule, knowing your space is key. If you are using an unfamiliar space for an outreach or special event, you have to acknowledge that there will be timing issues due to the unfamiliarity. So build in a buffer for those moments.

Be willing to be flexible.

I know after talking about scheduling and making sure the timing works, saying “be flexible” almost seems counter-intuitive. But we all know that rarely do schedules go perfectly. Be willing to allow for flexibility and to go with the flow to some extent. If your teaching time is delayed because you’re engaged with a student in a heart-to-heart conversation, allow the Spirit to work and be flexible. If a student gets injured during a game, acknowledge timing for the evening will be off and that is okay. If your teaching is shorter than planned, give more time to small groups. Flexibility within a schedule is key and will allow for a more relational component to what you are doing.

Allow for God to move.

Have you ever felt that your best laid plans fell through? Has your message ever gone too long or too short? Have you ever felt like people didn’t get the point? Me too! But so often that is where I see and hear of God moments. These are moments where in spite of our best planning and humanity God moves in ways we would have never seen coming. That doesn’t give us the freedom to not have a schedule or to constantly change it, but to understand there are moments when God steps in and that is good. It isn’t an excuse but an acknowledgement of God working in and through us.

Consider using scheduling software.

Our church uses Planning Center for scheduling and it is a lifesaver. It lets you schedule people to specific roles, allows them to confirm or decline their roles, allows you to create templates, and to build in pre- and post-service needs like setup and tear-down. Most planning software does cost money, but if your church uses it elsewhere, like for Sunday services for example, then they should be able to create a user account for you as well at no added cost.

Bring your leaders into the process.

Cast the vision for what you are doing and share your heart for the way you are shaping the schedule. Allow your leaders to offer insight and critique in order to build the best schedule for your group. This not only allows your leaders to have a voice but now they share your vision and passion. This creates a unified front, you will have multiple people who are helping to craft your programming, and they understand flexibility and the purpose behind what is happening.

So what does this look like practically? Below are our high school schedules for Sunday morning, which is more focused on Christian education, and Wednesday night, which is our main youth group evening.

Sunday Schedule, 10:30-11:40 a.m.:

10:30-10:40

  • Community

10:40-10:45

  • Announcements

10:45-10:55

  • Game

10:55-11:40

  • Teaching and small groups

11:40    Dismiss

Wednesday Schedule, 6:45-8:45 p.m.:

5:30-6:30

  • Setup

6:30-6:45

  • Leaders meeting

6:45-7:00

  • Community

7:00-7:20

  • Organized games

7:20-7:25

  • Transition

7:25-7:30

  • Announcements

7:30-8:00

  • Teaching

8:00-8:05

  • Transition to small groups

8:05-8:45

  • Small groups

8:45

  • Dismissal

Setting Healthy Boundaries: Home and Church Life

When you work for a church or ministry you may have office hours, but you are also aware that you are never fully “off the clock.” Whether it’s answering an urgent text from a student who is in crisis, dealing with a “when was the camp signup” question from a parent, or attempting to finish something at home, we all know the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it.

However, it isn’t healthy to go at top speed at all points in our lives. If this is how we continue to go we will experience burnout, bitterness, and hurt from all that we continue to do. I say this not to make you feel badly over all you have been doing, but as someone who has been there and experienced this in my own life. We must have healthy boundaries in place to protect ourselves, our families, and the ministries we serve. I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how I’ve managed to set and protect certain boundaries in order to preserve myself, my family, and my ministry.

Make sure time off is time off.

So often we see our work as necessary and kingdom focused (which it is) but so is our ministry to our spouse and family, and to ourselves. Let me encourage you to allow your time off to be time off. Try to not do work during those moments, fully engage with your family, and rely on God when the doubts and fears creep in that tell you that you are failing because you aren’t going 100 miles per hour. Having healthy time off will allow for you to be a better minister because you will be filled and whole rather than tired and fractured.

Be on the same page with superiors.

When I started at my new job I told my superiors that date night was on Fridays and I wanted to honor that with Elise. I also asked about hours and weekend commitments because I’ve been in positions before that required more hours than what I was paid for. My superiors explained that days off were for just that and my work hours over forty were extra hours that could be applied to time off. There are special circumstances of course, but the church and I were on the same page, so when I share with people I am off the clock I know I have a team who has my back.

I am also aware that I am blessed with church leadership who care and honor the right priorities in the right order, but others of you may not have that same experience. I would encourage you to first talk to those in leadership over you and see if perhaps the priorities align but simply haven’t been stated. Regardless of how that conversation goes, you can begin to set the tone within your own ministry setting and lead out to your people and students. Use the options you have and look to protect your time as best you can. You may not always have the support you would like, but you can still lead out and set healthy boundaries and parameters within your context while still honoring your superiors.

Don’t let work take the place of family.

When was the last time you took a work call or text, or answered an email at home or during family time? When was the last time you did the reverse? We are prone to allow work to become the number one priority in our lives, but the order of our priorities should be our relationship with God, our relationship with our family, and then our ministry. God called you first to Himself, then to your spouse and family, and finally as a shepherd to His flock.

That means we must not allow work to displace our family time, and our families must be given the attention and love they deserve. This is hard to do and yes there are always extenuating circumstances, but our families should never be second tier to the church. And honestly, if your church doesn’t affirm this, I would consider going to your superiors and asking hard questions about this topic in a Christ-honoring way. You have to make sure you are caring for your health and the health of your family.

Be transparent about time off.

I love to talk about date night in front of students and our church when I preach. Why you may ask? Because I want everyone to know I love my wife and time with her, but also to set the precedent that we want and deserve time together just like everyone else. It has been refreshing to hear church members who we bump into on Fridays want to honor our date night time, but also I’ve had countless people say they have learned they need to be better about dating and protecting their spouse. When you are open about who you are and where your priorities are, people are welcomed in and more apt to respect them.

Make sure your actions and words match.

This should be true in the church and the home. If you say date night is a priority to the church, make sure you honor that at home. If you ever wonder if your words and deeds match, consider asking your spouse and kids. They will be honest with you and allow for you to grow and become even better by working as a team. We can’t say family time is a priority but postpone it for “work stuff.” What our church and our families see should match. Our spouse and children should hear what we say and see it acted upon at home and in our relationships with them.

And the same should be true for our work. If we tell people we want to prioritize our families but continue to come to work while sacrificing family time, it shows that our word and deeds don’t match. If that is how we are governing our lives, it points toward a heart issue: “who/what are you working for.” Too often a workaholic mentality tends to point toward a pride issue or a desire to please man over God, and we need to look at our heart to make sure our actions and words match as we seek to honor God in all aspects.

Utilize your “do not disturb” option.

I’ll be honest: I struggle with not using my phone for work when I’m at home with Elise. I’ve been practicing something new this week and have been putting my phone on do not disturb. I began to realize how I was worrying about texts, calls, or emails and with “do not disturb” turned on, it has helped me so much in not worrying and making Elise more of a priority. Try it out and see how it works. We preach freedom from technology now it’s time to put it into play in our lives.

Empower your team.

For each of us the word “team” may look different. It could be a student ministry staff team, your volunteer core, or just you and a couple of regular leaders. Whatever the context is for you, empower your team to lead in your place. We cannot allow ourselves to be the only person for our students and leaders. If that is what we do we will always be the on-call person. But if you encourage others to lead, direct students to small group leaders, and allow your team to fulfill their roles, you are then empowering others while allowing space for yourself to breathe and experience balance in your life.

How to Build a Ministry Schedule

I am often asked “how do you create a schedule?” And usually that is framed by questions like, “what exactly do you do” or “what should I do for my students” or “I think your schedule would work for my ministry.”

Finding and building a schedule for your youth ministry can seem overwhelming and difficult, but honestly it really isn’t. When you are building a youth ministry or reshaping how it functions, the reality of a schedule is rooted in the heart and passions of the ministry leader and the ministry participants.

Each ministry is going to be different, and their function and flow will be unique to their venue. Even within churches that have multiple campuses the flow will look different at each venue. No one church has the best schedule or philosophy for all the other ones. No single structural model can be replicated. And no one pastor is the right fit for every church or ministry. What I mean is this: don’t place other missions, visions, schedules, or leaders as the end-all, be-all for you and your ministry. Remember that you, your students and families, your location, and your ministry are all unique. Don’t try to replicate; rather, utilize resources, know your program and participants, and leverage your knowledge and vision to make the program a success.

So how do you actually do this? Let me give you a few suggestions that I believe help to achieve a proactive schedule.

Identify your priorities and vision

As the ministry leader, you must know what your priorities and vision are for your people. For instance, my priorities are discipleship, community, and the Gospel. For others maybe it is evangelism, games, music, or student leadership. The reality is that you must know your priorities and vision for your students so you can shape the ministry around them. When you know your passion and heart, then you can begin to shape the ministry in the appropriate way. This will show what the value and heartbeat of the ministry is to students and families.

Identify your philosophy of ministry

Your philosophy of ministry will identify your long-term goals and how you look to achieve them. In essence, you are stating how you are looking to accomplish your priorities and vision in a clear way for others to understand. Mine is designed to cultivate students, leaders, and families who can lead out and do what Jesus has shaped them to do–make disciples.

Identify the priorities and passions of your students 

I say this with a grain of salt, because we all know there are those students whose priorities aren’t the best or won’t match up. For instance, if they want to just play video games for all of youth group, that isn’t a good priority. But you can leverage that if your priority is community and encourage them to host a community gathering for their friends at church to come and play video games together. Perhaps they can even turn it into an evangelism tool. But in allowing students to share their passions and heart for the ministry, you are creating buy-in and people who will work with you as you bring them alongside.

Know and honor your time

So many student ministries communicate a start and stop time that is anything but solidified. We say we will end at 8 p.m., but really that means 8:30 because we talk too long. We say we start at 10:30 a.m. but that’s not true because we have told students to come earlier to hang out, or we show up late. By honoring your time and keeping it consistent, you will help parents and students to catch on to your vision, and they will know it is something they can rely on and trust. And by having a set time, you can now build a schedule that is clear, continual, and reliable.

Below is a copy of my vision, purpose for programming, philosophy of ministry, and a schedule for both a Sunday morning program and a Wednesday evening program. I hope they serve as a resource and framework to help you craft you own, and I would love to talk through your questions or schedules.

Vision: To embody the “Live, Love, Lead” mission of our church by cultivating disciples who make disciples and reach their spheres of influence.

  • Purpose of Sunday: Community, discipleship, and fun. This is our Christian education piece.
  • Purpose of Wednesday: Fun, outreach, community. This is the part of our program where anyone, regardless of spiritual understanding, can come and participate.

Philosophy of Ministry:

  • Revolves around student leadership and ownership
  • Developing of leaders
  • Developing of parents and families
  • The Gospel is the key to all we do

Sunday morning schedule (1.25 hours):

10 minutes of community and fellowship

5 minutes of announcements

10 minutes of game time

20-25 minutes of teaching

15-25 minutes of round table discussion

Wednesday evening schedule (2 hours):

15 minutes before the evening for a leader meeting

15 minutes of community and fellowship

20 minutes of game time

5 minutes to move to teaching location

5 minutes of announcements

20-30 minutes of teaching

40-45  minutes of small group time

9 Ministry Time Management Tricks

Too often it seems like a day, then a week, then a month, flies by. If you are like me and serving in ministry, it can seem as if there are not enough hours in a day to figure out how to get everything done and still have time for yourself.

I am not a time management specialist and I am still learning how to do this effectively. But along the way I have picked up some tools and resources that have greatly benefited me, my relationships, my marriage, the ministry I work in, and ultimately my relationship with God. Some of these ideas have been around for a while, some have been given to me by men and women who have served decades longer than I, and others are my own thoughts.

Take these as you will, knowing that all do not have to apply to your life, that they aren’t a magical fix-all, but they are here to be shared and utilized as an encouragement.

1. Make time for Jesus 

This should seem like a non-issue for those of us serving in ministry. We espouse this principle on a weekly basis to those we minister too, but let’s be honest, sometimes that snooze button is all too handy. Some weeks it is easy to say “I study the Word… I prepared my lesson.” Other times we just get distracted. But how can we effectively manage our lives if we have no guiding principles or truth.

Christ offers many examples of time management and shows us what is important, but if we do not readily and daily engage with the Word, our time will be for naught.

2. Be protective of your time

This is something I learned very quickly in ministry. I started off serving in a small church in a small town (a mile and a half squared) as the only pastor. Being young and full of energy I began to do whatever I could to serve the church. I was regularly putting in 40-50 hours a week meeting with people, crafting Bible studies, creating new member classes, counseling parishioners, engaging in local outreaches, meeting with pastors, oh and did I mention I was only part time and held a full time job down as well? This lasted for about a year until I went to the elders and explained I needed help, that I couldn’t do it all. Their response: Why didn’t you say so sooner?

The reality is that we cannot do everything on our own, and we must be protective of our time. Take time to relax, decompress, process, and enjoy life. If we don’t we will burn out, become bitter and resentful, and maybe walk away from ministry. It took me a year of healing and recharging from my first church before I even considered ministry again.

3. Have regular office hours

For some this is a no-brainer because your church requires it, for others your hours may be more flexible. But having set hours in the office allows for meetings to happen, parishioners to drop by, purposeful planning to take place, and for your congregants to see you at work. Sure the local coffee shop is a better place for you to get work done for so many reasons (like your pastoral discount, or the wi-fi that actually works) but being at your place of employment is huge because this is where people expect you to be. Our team has a monthly whiteboard calendar that we all put our hours on and mark where we will be. This has helped so much in keeping us all on the same page and knowing where we can find people if needed.

4. Be protective of your family

This is one I have to be constantly reminded of. So often on date night my phone will buzz with a text from someone, and I am ready to respond at the drop of the hat. But my wife will often remind me that “It is date night, I am your priority.” It’s true. Date night is our time. It isn’t to be interrupted or removed. Rather it is to be protected and revered, because our marriage comes before our ministry. Our families come before our ministries. Because these are to be a representation to our ministries of what God is doing in our lives. If we cannot be protective of the things God has given us charge of, how then can we lead a church or ministry?

A good couple of things to do on date nights, family nights, or vacations:
– Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb.
– Set up auto-replies for your email and phone.
– Turn off your cellular devices.
– Don’t check your email or social media.

5. Find out what helps you to decompress

This may sound easy, but this is hard for some people. It is difficult to find what helps you process and think through the day or week. For me I like to cook, clean, write, make candles, or watch COPS. I know it is a weird conglomerate of things. But all of them help me to decompress. Cleaning, cooking, and COPS helps me to just zone out and relax because they are fairly mindless things for me to do or watch. Writing and candle making helps me to process and think.

Decompression is necessary in any job, but especially ministry. We need to think through what we are doing, why we did it, and not get caught up on the mistakes but rejoice in the victories and what God is doing.

6. Create a Google calendar

This sounds simple enough, but in the busyness of life sometimes we fail to communicate to those in our lives that we should be communicating with (like our families). I realized this roughly a year into my current ministry position when I proudly declared to my wife that I had to work all day on a Saturday for a ministry event the Thursday before. She was shocked and bewildered that she didn’t know and further that I hadn’t told her. So from that point on we created a shared calendar on Google where it has everything that is happening.

On my end I input all my meetings, work schedules, activities, vacations, retreats. You name it I put it there because I know I will forget. My wife inputs her work schedules and important dates like vacations, birthdays, trips, etc. The point is with us working together we don’t miss much anymore and we are both on the same page.

7. Have an unplugged night

Have you noticed how technology has taken away interpersonal communication? Just people watch the next time you’re at a restaurant or maybe even around your own dinner table. Count how many people are on their phones versus how many are having an actual conversation. Our current society dictates that the majority of our conversations happen through a cellular device and as such our ability to actually engage and maintain relationships is faltering.

My wife and I have started to run with the idea of what we call “unplugged nights.” Too often we found ourselves sitting around the television while eating dinner instead of communicating. And more often than not we would do so with our phones in our hands. So we said “enough is enough” and turned one day a week into an evening where we do not use our phones unless for an emergency, we don’t check email or social media, and we do not watch television or movies. Instead we read together, we play games, go for walks, or just have conversations. For some people this may be a once a week thing, or it could be monthly, but I would definitely encourage these times!

8. Take a recharge day

Recharge days were something I had never heard of until several years ago at a previous church. Once a month we were allowed to take a paid work day to physically, mentally, and spiritually recharge. We weren’t supposed to do office work or meet with people, instead we were to do whatever we need to be recharged.

Recharge days will look different for each person. In my case, I like to retreat to my favorite coffee shop and get a nice French Press and read different books or write. This helps me reconnect and strengthen my relationship with God. Other people recharge by spending time with their kids and spouse. Still others go and read ancient church history and theology books. All this in the name of recharging our lives to better serve the people God has called us to.

9. Prioritize

So often our days can seem to be overwhelming. The amount of work that must be completed is daunting. Many of us take work home after hours and on weekends. The truth is that this will mentality deflate you and will lead to burnout, stress, anxiety, and performance based self-worth. This is not healthy, so we must prioritize what is important.
I suggest making two lists, one of work priorities, and one of your life priorities. For the first, categorize what needs to be done soon and work that out and then focus on what is farther out. When it comes to the second list, prioritize what is important and what should have the majority of your time. Share this with your spouse, or someone close to you, and have them honestly answer if your life reflects this.

A lot of these suggestions can be dependent upon your workplace and those who are in leadership over you. You could try to make changes but ultimately they may rebuff your suggestions and attempts. So what then? Are we to simply exist in a burdensome world where work and the stress of life are destroying us? The answer is a resounding no!

We must always find our worth and value within the love and redemption of Christ. When work becomes too much to bear, when life gives you lemons, when you have had enough, hit the pause button. Step back, reassess where you are at, check your spiritual walk, and if need be, make a decision. Take a vacation, perhaps speak to your boss about what is going on, maybe look for a new job, make sure your heart is in the right place.
The long and short of this post: make sure you are being cared for spiritually, physically, and emotionally. When your priorities flow out your relationship with Jesus then you see what is important and what can be cut back, so that you can feel more at peace with life and all it throws at you.