I first learned this lesson as a young pastor. But it applies to me today just the same.
In 2002 I left my job in Chicago, moved my family across the country, and started a job as the youth pastor in a small community in Northern California.
The first week was spent cleaning out my office, trying to figure out which key opened what, and a pile of introductory conversations with people from the church.
But the next Monday morning, with my first Sunday under my belt, I remember coming into the office early– before anyone else– and sitting behind my desk to reality: I had no idea what to do.
Literally, I didn’t know where to start. Outside of a Sunday school class and a roster of kids who had gone on the last mission trip, there wasn’t a program.
So I pulled out the job description.
It was full of ridiculous statements like, “Oversee an outreach program for teenagers in the community to begin a personal relationship with Jesus.” And, “Oversee the discipleship of teenagers in the church.” And, “Create opportunities for evangelism and discipleship among all students.”
I sat there, staring at this document, expecting it to magically tell me what to do.
Then I pulled out my Bible and read a bit. Then I pulled out the roster of mission trip kids, I spent some time praying for each of those students.
It wasn’t even 8:00 AM on my first real day in the office. I made coffee. And I began to doodle ideas on a piece of paper.
Coming from the business world… once the coffee sank in… I came up with a plan. I’ll spend the next 30 days doing an assessment of all the people, resources, identify opportunities, explore what opportunities for networking exist, and establish some baseline stuff that this youth ministry will do. (Regular meetings, events, etc.) I catalogued everything. I interviewed and met with everyone. I took lots of notes. And a month later I presented a report and plan to the elders…. which, of course, they hated.
A Common Problem
As time has gone on I’ve realized that I am not alone in this problem. Organizations hire highly trained, highly motivated, highly talented people. And then they leave them in an office with a job description, a budget, and offer very little supervision while heaping on ridiculous expectations.
Many leadership jobs are nebulous. The hopes and goals heaped on them are not realistic. You can’t hire a person from another culture, give them a $29,000 salary and a $6,000 budget and expect them to walk into an empty office and come up with a plan to reach 3,000 teenagers in less than a year.
But, when looking at the job description and listening to the leaders– that’s what is expected.
The problem is the job is too big. And the person trying to do these god-sized roles? They either quit, get fired, or burn out in a couple years.
The Solution is Shrinking the Job
What I learned over a painful season in 2002 has guided me to today. The fact of the matter is my job today is even more nebulous than that youth ministry job in 2002.
If you’re going to avoid burnout, if you’re going to sleep at night, if you’re going to know when your work day is done… you have two choices.
- Stop caring and just let it fly
- Shrink the job
I recommend option #2.
What isn’t the realistic goal?
Shrinking your job starts with setting realistic goals.
There was no way I was able to create a program to reach every teenager in my small town, but I could create a goal that every involved student in my ministry would be equipped to reach one of their friends. That’s something I can measure and that’s something I can find a resource to help me with.
There was no way I could disciple every teenager in our church. But I could assess and label every teenager who regularly attended the church. (My simple categories: Uninvolved, involved, core) And I could make sure that every involved teenager was paired with an adult who was trained to lead a small group. And I could make sure that every uninvolved teenager was invited to become more involved. That’s something realistic.
Likewise, we could assess the spiritual growth of each involved teenager by setting up some basic benchmarks. That was simple, measurable, and realistic.
What aren’t you measuring?
Once you’ve established some goals you get a good idea of what you can measure. More importantly, you know what not to measure.
Regularly, people would come to me with something they were hoping to see happen in our youth ministry. “Wouldn’t it be great if students helped with VBS?” Yeah, sure. But it wasn’t something I’d measure to mean anything. You didn’t have to be involved, uninvolved, or even a Christian to help lead games or be a warm-body at the craft table necessarily.
I find that if I don’t know what I’m supposed to measure I kind of either don’t measure anything or I try to measure too many things, putting weight on things that don’t really matter.
Today, I certainly have things that I measure and can judge the success or failure of something. But people ask me all the time for things that they think I ought to be measuring that I have no idea about. Why? Because I’m not measuring everything.
Everything is too big.
What’s outside of your control?
The last thing that helps me shrink my job is to define some things that are out of my control.
For instance, I can’t control someone’s response. I can control how I delivered the message. I can control what was delivered, when it was delivered, how many times a person has heard about it…. but I can’t make them respond.
To think I can manipulate a person’s response is idolatry.
The primary task of the youth worker is faithfulness, not response. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job and He doesn’t work for you on your agenda it’s the other way around.
The net effect is when I try to control what’s outside of my control, I get frustrated.
That’s why I can look at things, which other people might measure a failure, and see the win. I’m measuring things within my control and relinquishing responsibility for things outside of my control.
That shrinks my nebulous job into something more manageable and human.
Question: What are ways you’ve shrunk your job?