One of the greatest productivity skills that I’ve learned in the last 10 years has been to put the “big rocks” into my weekly schedule first. Developed by Stephen Covey in his book, First Things First, the concept is that you need to put your most important activities into your weekly schedule first. These “big rocks” take up the most space, but also are large because they’re the most important functions you do.
And now it’s more important than ever to do this.
Most of us have read and heard Seth Godin talk about our work as ‘making art.’ To be honest, I am not sure I quite understood what he meant until recently when I heard Ryan Yazel speak. Ryan shared how in high school he used to ‘draw’ a house on his Texas Instruments TI-83 Plus Graphing Calculator. Classmates were amazed and asked, “How did you draw that?”
Ryan them compared his dot matrix creations to moments when we encounter true art. We don’t ask how they were created, we ask, “How did you think of that?” Art takes us somewhere beyond mechanistic manufacturing. We feel differently, we are challenged in new ways, and we for a moment in time see life differently.
I want you to look at the picture to the left for one minute.
Just stare at it. And imagine what it must have been like for those two men, the Wright brothers, in this moment.
I must confess: I love programming. No, I don’t mean computers. I mean I love creating the upfront program for a conference, a Wednesday night youth program, or even a retreat for adults. In college, I had the motto “Wherever there is a stage, I will be there” and I think that probably rings true at some level still today. In an age where ‘relational’ ministry gets all of the love and attention, I think it’s time to revisit excellence when it comes to programming in youth ministry.
Before ‘worship music’ took over as the almost singular way we do the pre-teaching of youth ministry programs, diverse elements pushed youth ministry leaders to think through what teens would do and learn through various activities. Now, many youth ministry nights look like a session from a retreat, which looks like a conference program, which looks like summer camp session: All use a set of worship songs and then a talk.
I have a list of movies that make me laugh, a list that features few, well none actually, academy award winners. But they are guaranteed to make me chuckle – and quote along. One of the highest ranking movies is The Three Amigos, a silly movie that featured Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Chevy Chase. Toward the end of the movie, these three silent film actors-turned-unlikely-heroes help a local village stand up to a local bandit, El Guapo, played by Alfsono Arau. Well, risking offense, here is the ‘speech’ scene:
Yesterday I shared research-based thoughts on boredom, a common complaint we who teach and lead here, even when we feel like we’ve been engaging and innovative. Today, I want to share some ways that we can work to make sure we’re not the cause for students’ boredom.
- Model it. Do you model for your students how to be a lifelong learner and have a positive outlook on life?” Do you model how to create variety from the “way we’ve always done it? ”
- Be a safe person. Do students possess the freedom to be themselves without fear of judgment around you? Do you draw them in through your patience, humility, and a sense of humor?
- Help students observe life around them. Coach empathy when the line is long and you receive rotten service at the ‘friendliest place in town’. What kind of treatment do you think that poor lady behind the counter has had? Initiate others-oriented observation on a trip or during a ‘boring’ sermon. If sitting and listening becomes too difficult, what could you learn from watching the surroundings, or the other people involved? Coach peripheral vision2 when the Jell-O for Jell-O-Rama melts before the games begin, and the staff save the day in traditionally unnoticed, or creative ways.
- Purposeful programming. Adolescents understand when activities are simply “time fillers” and have little purpose, but when an adult takes time to design a trip or event just for the benefit or enjoyment of their youth, it speaks volumes in love. Teenagers respond to that kind of care and attention. Sometimes it is beneficial to do fewer activities and do them very well.
- Vary your methods. We often excel with one or two main teaching methods (like lecture or discussion). Challenge yourself to integrate new methods of teaching and take note of the results. Experience the difference that simulation games, drama, small groups, or cooperative learning strategies provide in learning. Variety is the spice of life to a teen. One resource we’ve used with good results is Dennis Benson’s Creative Bible Studies from GROUP.
- Teach creatively. Research shows that predictability in instruction is a large culprit of learned boredom. Don’t just state the obvious; demonstrate ways to show it differently. Use stories and metaphors, or paint word pictures while you teach. The use of role-play, surprise, novelty, or duct tape can also enhance a lesson. Discover how taste, touch, smell, sight, or sound can be used to make an illustration. The goal isn’t to entertain, but to teach. Have you explored any of the more formal liturgical structures to engage your students’ thinking in new ways?
- Keep track of the time. Monitor the time structures in youth ministry programs. Television and technology, with the willing help of society, have accustomed our kids (especially young teens) to have very sensitive attitudes and perceptions of time. Be ruthless in evaluating time frames for the various programs that you lead. Always ask, “Will a student feel like it will never end?”4
As the five of us family members prayed together last night before heading to bed, we commented that each of us seemed to be in a transitional period. Our prayers for each other centered on the decisions that each of us had faced, or were facing. Our oldest is looking at colleges, Kel is wrapping up some volunteer work to move toward new volunteer opportunities, and I’m choosing to move toward a stronger teaching/mentoring presence at Bethel College while working on more writing projects. One of these projects connects with my own transition as I’ve had to evaluate what it is that I like to do – and what I feel God has gifted me to do. I felt like I stood at a crossroads with a few options before me and wanted to pick the right one. The problem is that I like to do a wide variety of activities and I’m the poster boy for the adage “jack of all trades, master of none.”
I have discovered (perhaps reluctantly) that creativity drives my life. I love to make/create things and then pass them off to others to manage, develop, or promote. So, taking our three acres of cornfield and turning it into a lush green tree-lined “secret garden” has been fun. Writing and producing my senior recital in college, producing books, developing college programs, conducting youth ministry meetings, and other forward- moving activities get me excited. I love to consult and step in to help organizations create new directions for their futures. And I think I’m gifted for that.