When was the last time you took some pre-planned, extended time to stop and think?
How often do you pause to take a ‘big-picture’ view of your youth or children’s ministry? How frequently do you reflect on your practice and consider how you could innovate to make it better? And how regularly do you take time out of your usual routine to create space for God to speak to you? If your answer is: “not often” you could be in the danger zone.
Danger one: spiritual deficit
When you don’t have enough time with God to sustain your doing for God, you begin to operate out of a spiritual deficit. Giving out more than you are taking in results in a loss of joy, diminishes passion and causes you to lack ideas. This leads to stress, frustration, cynicism, apathy and, in extreme cases, burnout. Don’t forget that the primary thing you pass on to your children and young people is who you are, and you cannot give what you do not possess.
Danger two: lack of revelation
If you are not taking time to pause and reflect, you are robbing the children and young people you lead of the thing they need most from you: a revelation of Jesus. You are “the blind leading the blind” and you will inevitably end up in a pit. God does not speak in the busyness, he speaks in the stillness; not in the noise, but in the whisper. Are you in danger of making plans for God without actually listening to God? There is no shortcut to hearing from God that bypasses time in his presence.
Danger three: busy, not fruitful
We end up filling our time with good ideas, and missing out on God ideas. In other words, you become busy, but not fruitful. And make no mistake, busyness and fruitfulness are not the same thing. Busyness comes from multiplying activity, while fruitfulness comes from being connected to the vine.
Danger four: plateau
We carry on doing what we’ve always done, just because we’ve always done it. But what if how we’ve always done it is no longer the best way? To paraphrase US pastor and author Andy Stanley: “Experience doesn’t make you better; evaluated experience does.” Without time to pause, reflect and innovate, we stop getting better and our ministries plateau.
But there is good news! With a bit of intentionality and discipline, the year ahead could look very different for you. I want to encourage you to find a new annual, monthly, weekly and daily rhythm, creating fresh spaces to pause, reflect and innovate.
At the start of each year, I am intentional about taking two full days away from the regular routines, locations and – most importantly – technologies of life. This is a time to shut down my email account and take extended time out to pray, walk, study, think, dream and plan. I have found this an invaluable practice that sets me up for the year to come. It enables me to attack the year with renewed energy and fresh ideas. Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective!
Consider building a monthly rhythm of fasting into your schedule: one day each month to give up food (or, if this is not possible for health reasons, something else, like technology), and use the time you would normally be eating to pray. This is a frequently forgotten spiritual discipline, but we would do well to remember that Jesus said “when you fast,” not “if you fast” (Matthew 6:16). Fasting should be an integral part of our discipleship, not an optional add-on for extra credit.
I’ve tried to build a couple of hours into my schedule each week to hit a coffee shop with my journal to pause, reflect and innovate. This allows me to review what we’re doing at Limitless from a different angle. Some of my best ideas and biggest dreams have come out of these times. I must confess that it’s easy to let this space in my week go for something more urgent, but let’s not allow what is most immediate to deter us from what is most important.
“God does not speak in the busyness, he speaks in the stillness; not in the noise, but in the whisper. Are you in danger of making plans for God without actually listening to God?”
The daily pause should be less analytical and more devotional. The single most important thing you will do today is spend some time with Jesus. The same goes for tomorrow. When we regularly stop to pray and open our Bibles (and not just to prepare for our next session!), we open ourselves up to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are stronger in our battles against sin, fresher in our revelation, and more sensitive to the leadings of the Spirit. Our faith seems deeper, our ideas fresher, our courage greater, our leadership stronger and our passion more contagious. I honestly believe that the best gift you can give your young people is a fully fired-up you.
So if you don’t have a strategic, intentional and regular discipline of taking time to pause, reflect and innovate, put down this mag, pick up your diary (or calendar app), get this into your schedule and stick to it! I am totally confident this practice will transform your life and youth ministry. So what are you waiting for?