I will admit when I first looked at our 12-month calendar, the gap made me nervous. In Summer, we had mission trips, choir tour, Camp Barnabas, vacation bible school, mission day camp, senior trip. In Fall, we had kick-off, high school retreat, middle school lock-in (ugh), and Halloween carnival. We quickly transitioned into advent with Christmas parties, caroling, and pushed right through to our biggest event of the year, a 3-day retreat over MLK weekend in January. And then that was it.
No spring break trip, no ski trips, no camping trip, no day trips to amusement parks or games. Outside of our normal weekly and monthly programming, we had no “events” on the schedule between January 16th and end-of-school-year festivities in May.
The empty spaces on the perimeter of my calendar, on those spaces marked Friday, Saturday, Sunday that make up the border, made me anxious. Shouldn’t I be filling them with something? Shouldn’t we have service events or special outings or retreats or something? If we leave those spaces empty won’t….
Won’t what? What was I afraid of happening if we didn’t schedule something? Was I afraid that people wouldn’t believe I was doing my job? Was I afraid that my youth would mutiny? Or was I more afraid that they wouldn’t care at all? Was my fear of disapproval, or just of irrelevance?
Self-Restraint in Programming
I believe the programming of youth ministry is good and helpful and life-giving. I also believe that there is something just as good and helpful and life-giving in self-restraint. It is no shocking statement to anyone reading this blog that teenagers are often over-programmed, overcommitted, and overstressed. A five-minute conversation with someone in youth ministry inevitably produces the lamentation of how could we possibly compete with all the other demands on teenagers’ time. As we move into the hustle of Spring, our solution has been a frightening and simple one: don’t.
What if, for this one season a year, we just didn’t? We still have our normal couple of hours of programming a week, but what if we actually take time to let that be enough? What if we just let things be routine and normal for a couple months? Are our youths’ loyalties so fleeting? Or, just maybe, is constant, normal, unrushed, just what they need?
Embracing Low Seasons in Youth Ministry Programming
Every other profession in the world has high and low seasons. Retailers focus on Christmas, schools are closed in summer, accountants have a lull after April. Is it so crazy to have a month or two, (or even four) that are not vacation, but just aren’t a high season?
In our ministry context and many others, our attendance dips in Spring semester because our youth’s schedules become overloaded.
Instead of entering the fray, maybe the best way to support our teenagers in that season, to be Jesus to them, is to not make ourselves another demand on their schedule.
What if we could actually just be a place of rest and filling up, of normalcy and steadiness, instead of just something else they feel guilty they can’t fit in their schedule? Instead of fighting teenagers through the season of lower attendance and engagement, what if we could love them through it? Even if that meant letting our programming fade into the background for a while.
I know our ministries are plagued by programmatic golden calves in a variety of forms (but usually ski trips) and killing them is no small task. But I would like to offer that it may be a worthy one, not just for our teenagers, but for us as youth pastors.
Using the Low Season as a Season for Planning
This is what we’ve decided to try: to let our teenagers rest into a normal rhythm with us during this Spring, and while they do, for us in ministry to focus on what’s ahead. In this season, where we aren’t juggling calendars and planning retreats, my team and I are going to focus on the summer and vision for the fall. We’re looking at children’s ministry data so we can project future needs. We’re working with the contemporary worship team to think over how to get our teenagers plugged into a larger worshipping community. We are writing and polishing our curriculum, and we are actually taking a second to stop, breathe and look around. We are doing all of those things that youth ministers always wish they could do if only they had time. We’ve decided to invest in making our normal weekly programming more worthwhile, and crazy as it sounds, to have the self-restraint to just do less.Maybe those blank borders on my calendar should feel less like an unmet obligation and more like breathing room. Click To Tweet
Maybe those blank borders on my calendar should feel less like an unmet obligation and more like breathing room. Maybe the best way to model the Christ-centered, holy life that doesn’t live up to the world’s demands, the life we want for our teenagers, is to try to live it ourselves.
Kat Bair is the Associate Director of Youth Ministries at First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth, Texas. She is pursuing her Masters of Arts in Youth Ministries at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary as a Graduate Resident in the Center for Youth Ministry Training. You can follow her blog at davieskatharinea.wordpress.com or on Instagram at @kat_bair