The Church at the Short End of the Stick

In the thick of a busy summer, I’m reminded of a post I shared at my church a couple months ago. Whether a student pastor or parent, this post will help you think through balancing a busy life with church involvement. I welcome your feedback.

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calendar

Quick: What is the most important priority in your life?

If youʼre like most church goers, you instinctively and enthusiastically respond with “God!” Or you might honestly respond “my family,” “my job,” or some other precious relationship–all good things that eat up a lot of time and command a huge amount of emotion, attention, and energy.

Next questions: Where should “church” sit on the list?

Do you ever feel guilty putting church off to do something else? In your mountain of to-doʼs (not to mention your kidsʼ to-doʼs) do you ever just surrender to the powers-at-be and let your commitment to church activities slide?

When I was growing up I played basketball. In fact, I played basketball pretty much year round from third grade until after my junior year of college. It demanded a lot of time. At 15, I was on the cusp of realizing all my basketball dreams. Our team was talented, and the next two years (some expected) would possibly be the most successful in our schoolʼs history. We were all scheduled to go to a team camp. Unfortunately for me, the team camp conflicted with a week of church camp. To attend, I would have to leave church camp after just a couple days, head home, and turn around and leave for basketball camp.

I got home after being at church camp for about 48 hours and immediately felt pretty guilty. Sure, basketball was important. And I did have a commitment to my team. Iʼd even paid for it already. But the thought would not go away that God was more important. Could I go to basketball camp and remain a Christian? Of course! If I stayed home from basketball camp and went back to the week of church camp, would God be honored? Certainly.

I picked up the phone and called my coach, telling him that he may not understand but I was sorry, I was not going to be able to attend that week of basketball camp. He said he understood. I went back to church camp. The whole next season I mostly rode the bench while other kids played. Two things stick out to me about that decision:

1. If I was that good, they wouldʼve played me anyway, because they would not have been able to afford not to. I was a good player, but I wasnʼt a star. So they sent a message.

2. I have never regretted that decision once in my life.

Was I ever mad that I didnʼt get to play that much? Absolutely. But I never wished I hadnʼt done what I did.

If youʼre like most families, youʼre to-do list includes several of the following:

  • Full-time working dad
  • Full-time working mom
  • Football
  • Baseball
  • Volleyball
  • Basketball
  • Soccer
  • Cheerleading
  • Band
  • Tee-Ball
  • Girl Scouts
  • Boy Scouts
  • FFA
  • Church
  • Choir
  • Band
  • Cross Country
  • Track and Field
  • Drama Club
  • Student Government
  • Youth Group
  • Small Group
  • HOA Meeting
  • PTA
  • What did I forget?

I just listed 24 things, and Iʼm confident I didnʼt hit on all of them. You start adding multiple kids, or you take one parent out of the equation, or you add a flat tire or a car in the shop or a dental appointment or a trip to the emergency room or an illness–how do we do this? Why do we do this?

how-to-lose-weight-on-a-busy-schedule

For crying out loud–how can anyone fit that into 7 days of the week? The tension comes when a church thing conflicts with another thing. What do you do?

  • Church is free. Youʼve paid hundreds of dollars to be on the select team.
  • Churches donʼt yell at me. Coaches do.
  • The school district said attendance is mandatory. Going to a weekend conference is not mandatory to get into heaven.

These are the arguments that go on in our head. How do you walk the tight rope of activities without falling off?

As the student pastor, Iʼd like to suggest a few things to think about when there is a conflict and youʼre not sure what to do.

1. We donʼt plan that much.

We have a simple planning methodology at my church.

Our most important stuff happens on Sunday mornings, every week. We have 1-2 retreat-type events per year for Jr. High and High School. These are crucial to the discipleship process and serve as programmatic anchors on our calendar.

We do an outreach event every 6 weeks during the school year aimed at inviting the unchurched. We do service projects locally on a quarterly basis which help us open student’s eyes to needs all over the world and in our own back yard.

When it gets down to it, not counting Sundays, there might be 6-8 dates each year that our parents and students need to set aside. What we plan is high-impact and builds on each other, so it’s better for them not to miss. But because we know folks aren’t just sitting around twiddling their thumbs, we donʼt plan a bunch of extra stuff just to do it.

2. We give advanced notice, especially on the important stuff

In January 2013, we outlined the entire yearʼs schedule at our annual parent meeting. Since we knew not everyone would be able to attend that Sunday lunch, we released the calendars in print and posted them on the website as well.

On that calendar we listed every big event for the entire year: camps, conferences, missions trips, and service projects. We listed what Sundays we would NOT meet as a Student Ministry, and we listed when weʼd be doing small groups versus large groups. We put the three ways that parents can easily stay in touch on the calendar so people could ask questions if needed and get a prompt reply.

We did this because we know families are busy. We know parents are planning ahead. We know that they’re thinking summer vacation in January, and we wanted camp and conferences to be in the plans. We release dates as soon as we get them because we know that itʼs helpful.

3. Prioritize events based on spiritual impact

But sometimes, scheduling conflicts still happen. Itʼs unavoidable in our fast-paced lifestyle.

A lot of people are overly concerned with grades, extra-curricular activities, and rewards issued by school districts, teams, etc. Because the church does not call or kick someone out because they miss a Sunday or a special event, we often let those things fall by the wayside.

Last school year, we went on a weekend conference with Jr. High students. It necessitated us leaving on Friday morning, and missing school was necessary. We took a great group and had a great weekend. The trip was a ton of fun and the powerful presentation of the Gospel and the challenge that came to the students through preaching, worship, and small group discussion was top-notch.

Unfortunately, we had a bunch of kids miss because they “couldnʼt miss school.” There were some practice exams going on that day, and some families thought it was unwise to be absent.

In my 13 years, Iʼve talked to numerous students who have been deeply moved on retreats, at camps, and at conferences. I can point to camp as a HUGE moment in my own walk with Jesus. My wife had a life-changing experience at a week of Christ in Youth summer conference. I have stood dumbfounded as hundreds of students at a camp committed their lives to full- time ministry. There are missionaries in foreign lands because of weeks like that. I am the student pastor because of how God worked in those events.

I have never once heard a kids say that a test, a practice, a game, a meet, or a concert changed their lives. Not once.

Listen, I am all for fulfilling our responsibilities. But when you have a choice between meeting an obligation and meeting the God of the Universe in a unique way, that decision should take about 2 seconds to make.

Conclusion

Life is about choices.

I have long said that we as student ministers seek to minister with parents and not around them. If you’re a parent, realize that you have choices. Choices to not be so busy. Choices to say no to things other than church activities. Choices to put first things first. Choices not to always give the church the short end of the stick.

As a student pastor, don’t react angrily or condescending, but also challenge families to consider (or, in some cases, reconsider) their choices. While they are theirs to make, we exist to walk alongside them and help them disciple their students. We shouldn’t shrink back from the tough conversations just because they’re…you know…tough.

We’re all on the same team. But every team needs to huddle every now and then and get on the same page. I hope thinking through this tension allows you to do just that with your staff team, parents, volunteers, and students.

 

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