In my early years of youth ministry I did some stupid things. Looking back now I smile at one in particular and shake my head in wonder at my naiveté. And I wanted to share it with you because I’m hoping that the lesson it’s taught me is something that will help you in your particular context.
You see, our youth ministry’s name was Tidal Wave. The whole church was water-themed and with “Tidal Wave” as our name, it gave us the water feel as well as a beachy/boardwalk feel. So I got it in my head to do something creative.
Nearly every youth ministry has some way of signing their students in and getting information on new people who show up. We had info cards that covered the basics of name, age, contact info, and a bit more. New students would fill them out and in 3-5 minutes they’d be back in our hands for record keeping purposes. This is where my bright idea comes in.
I decided to go the extra step and make these cards really neat looking. I got them designed to look real sharp when they were printed out (probably spending a few hours on that). Then after cutting them down to size I got a candle and seared the edges of the paper so it’d have a slight burnt-edge look. Then after that I made up some tea and tea stained the paper so it would look like washed up paper you’d find along a beach.
Looking back now I can only shake my head at what a marvelous waste of time and effort this all was.
These papers were in their hands for maybe 5 minutes max. They didn’t really care what they looked like. It was just a sheet of paper asking for contact info. Sometimes they wouldn’t even want to give that. And here I had spent hours – HOURS! – on them.
This gets me to the point: In order to win in youth ministry (or any ministry or endeavor really) you need to have the ability to discern what needs your A-level work and what gets C-level work.
My personality is such that I just love to go above and beyond. I love to exceed people’s expectations and to achieve the “wow” factor. That’s why this story even exists. However, you can’t always do A-level work on everything. You will have to pick and choose what gets your biggest focus. And know this, that when you choose to do above and beyond on one thing you are automatically tipping the scale so that something else isn’t getting as much attention and effort.
So I believe there are 3 wise questions you and I can ask before working on something that will help us to determine whether it should have us going for gold or aiming for bronze:
Is this going to matter to anyone tomorrow?
If neither you nor the recipient(s) is really likely to remember the effort tomorrow, there’s a good chance it doesn’t deserve the main focus of your time and energy. Do the job well, but don’t go overboard in this area. Failing at this kind of task may be notable and memorable, but overachieving here is likely to be wasted effort.
Is this the best use of my “gold level” effort?
Please know that I’m not arguing for doing mediocre work!! I’m just arguing that we have limited amounts of time, limited amounts of energy, and more than enough places to spend that time and energy. So we need to be wise on what we choose to spend our “gold level” energy on.
So what matters most in what you’re setting out to do? What’s the big idea? What’s the best thing you can do to accomplish your mission? What tasks are directly connected to that? THAT is what should get the “gold level” work. Without that kind of focus it’s like an artist who chooses to spend hours painting on Charmin 2-ply!
Is this something I even have to be the one doing?
Because I’m such a proponent of doing things excellently, let me just give one more idea and a question that fights for the best result but still calls for the best use of your time. Sometimes you shouldn’t go all out on a particular task. It’s not the best use of your time. However, maybe there’s somebody you’re training or working with and it would actually be a good use of their time. I’ve used interns and their incredible offer of time and talent to do 1% changes in our youth ministry that I couldn’t really take the time to do, but that made a HUGE difference when they did it. I couldn’t thank them enough! This is one of the great benefits of teamwork.
Do everything you do as unto the Lord (see Col. 3:23-24). Work well. Produce great stuff. Give it your all. But your “all” doesn’t spread as thick over everything as you and I would both like. So what is going to be done to a satisfactory level and then left be? And then what is it that should get your absolute best effort? Go win the gold in that!