The Dream You Can’t Get out of Your Head

My friend and fellow Permissionary at Ministry Incubators, Kenda Dean, asks, “Does the church have to be the place where great ideas go to die?”

Most people have at least one.

  • An idea.
  • A dream to change the world.
  • A brainchild to make the world “more awesome” (thanks Kid President).

But the vast majority of great ideas stay stuck in the heads of their dreamers.

You have had that experience, haven’t you?  You come across something in the store or on an infomercial, and you say, “That was MY idea!”  But it was an idea that never got out of your head into the world.

That’s why we created the Hatchathon experience.  You gather with dreamers like you who share one thing in common—an missional entrepreneurial dream, an idea that links a “change the world” mission to a sustainable revenue stream.

One of our clients is a food truck sponsored as a young adult mission of a local church.  Another is a “farminary,” essentially a seminary (you guessed it) on a farm.

You may have a dream of a coffee shop as a church, a film company that employs the homeless, or a side business to support a ministry or mission you love.

These are the kinds of ideas we’ve seen in our previous Hatchathons.  Our next one is scheduled for just 2 months from now, March 4-6 on the campus of Princeton Seminary.

To register, click here.  For more information, click here.

The Rules of One: Putting Email in its Place

I read recently that Mike Hyatt, one of the most prolific social networkers in the country and one of the busiest guys in the universe, clears out his email inbox every day.

Weirdo that I am, I was inspired.

If a guy as busy as Mike can do it, so can we youth workers, who tend to be (in)famous for irritating our bosses, our youth ministry stakeholders, and even our spouses with the way we handle email.  Let’s face it.  The all-too-normal youth worker has an all-too-normal day like this:

We step into our office, and the first thing we do is to fire up our email.  We scan through the 100 or so subject lines, delete the spam, read an urgent email or two, and then check the ESPN site.  We get a cup of coffee, come back, maybe even start a to do list.  And throughout the day, we check our email dozens of times, often spending an unexpected 30 minutes or so responding to a single message.  And we end the day feeling like we have accomplished next to nothing.

I for one am tired of having my email take over my day like kudzu.  If you are too, try out my three Rules of One:

Tend to email ONE HOUR a day.   Research is clear: Multi-taskers are actually less focused and less productive.  A single, focused hour each day will take less time than reading emails throughout the day.  An hour a day allows us to attack our email with gazelle-like intensity and avoid the kudzu effect.

Tend to email ONE TIME a day.  Our email doesn’t belong at our dinner tables, in staff meetings, or during our time with God.  Nothing will irritate a senior pastor (or a spouse) quite like our partial presence, while our face buried in our phones. So corral your email work into a single time slot each day.  Tomorrow you can deal with the emails that come in today.  I have yet to meet a spouse, a senior pastor, or a son or daughter who says, “I’m so glad my _____ is being extra productive by keeping up with their email every hour.”  Looking at our email dozens of times daily will cost us.  We won’t get ahead; we will stay distracted.

Develop ONE SYSTEM for managing your inbox.  We all need to create our own system for managing the daily barrage of emails.  Here are a few of mine:

  • If it can be dealt with in two minutes or less, I deal with it and delete it.
  • I try to touch snail mail and email just once, either trash it, act on it quickly, or defer it to a task list that I will focus on later.
  • I like to focus my subject lines so that even people who don’t open the email get the key element of the message (for example, instead of “Youth Ministry Update,” I like “Register Now for Fall Retreat, October 7-8”).
  • I want to make sure your email system gives you the ability to search deleted emails for those times when I need to recheck a detail.

Putting our email in its place allows us to practice that rule of focus: Wherever you are, be there.  We’ll spend less time on your email by giving more focus to it, and we’ll have more time for the things that matter most, for God, our families, and our ministries.

(First published in The Youth Ministry Consultant Column of Group Magazine,  Nov/Dec 2012)

Recipe for Distraction #1: I’ll Just Write It Myself

It was mid-summer and Jim, the church’s two year veteran youth pastor, still hadn’t finished recruiting his volunteers for the fall.  He hadn’t had time to make a personal connection with the new 7th graders and their families.  And he still had no clear youth ministry calendar for the coming year.

But one thing he wouldn’t give up: Writing all the curriculum to be used by his volunteers.  After all, he reasoned, all the curriculum resources out there are mediocre at best, and they all require leaders to spend far too much time making those resources useable.

Jim was right on at least one front: Youth ministry curriculum generally falls into one of two categories: Mediocre or Worse.

But on another front, Jim was forgetting a few foundational facts:

  • Even if the curriculum he writes is consistently better than what he would be able to purchase, Jim is living in fantasyland if he thinks his teachers will no longer need to spend the same amount of time making his curriculum their own.
  • Effective teaching is driven far more by well-equipped teachers than by an ideal curriculum.  Great teachers consistently do a great job with lousy curriculum.  Weak teachers won’t likely be helped by even the best curriculum.
  • Jim will have expended a great deal of sideways energy and make absolutely zero forward progress for the ministry.  And if we’re honest, it’s not just zero progress, it is actually more like “regress,” ministry in reverse, since the hours spent on the rabbit trail of curriculum creation take away from those that could be applied to managing first priorities (like those in the first paragraph above).

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not youth workers should never write their own curriculum.  But until the first foundational priorities are taken care of, spending time on sideways priorities (like writing curriculum) always hinder strategic progress.  C.S. Lewis was right (again):

[well]”You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. … What is the first thing? The only reply I can offer here is that if we do not know, then the first, and only practical thing, is to set about finding out.” — C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock[/well]

With this article, I’m beginning a new series called “Recipes for Distraction.”  In each article, I’ll try to keep youth ministers and youth ministry search teams away from the red herrings that can take their attention away from first-level priorities, in hopes of moving from erratic activity to deliberate progress.

First published in Group Magazine, Sept/Oct 2008