It's what I did for years; poured into the lives of students and families September through June. I was 'ON', almost all the time. Thinking, dreaming, eating, breathing, living student ministry. It was my calling; my life. And I loved it. I really did.
Nothing excited me more that our September kick-offs! We would welcome the students back with huge celebration. Then for the following 9 months it was game on. But when Memorial Day came, so did the rest. There is great advantage to the summer break. Advantages that lead to longer lasting, stronger youth ministries and youth workers. As I begin this summer, I have had to remind myself of some of these advantages. But first a little back story.
So we are in year three of our church. It's been another year of ups and downs, but we've seen some positive movement with our students. As we came to the end of April, we we're having a lot of fun. Our studies were good. Students were engaging. It was fun to teach and watch them grow. But we were coming to the end of our school year and that left a question; Do we push on and keep the momentum going or do we break for the summer?
Now in some larger churches, this question isn't even on a radar, anywhere. Most larger church run programming year round. But for the smaller church, summer is often a time off. As I considered the option for our little band of students, I thought that it might serve us well to go through the summer. So I started working on a summer calendar and teaching schedule. I lined up activities (tentatively), looked into purchasing and downloading the material for Groups', Jesus-Centered Life, from their LIVE curriculum, and started talking to leaders and students about going through the summer. But with only 2 weeks into our summer calendar I am remembering why taking the summer is not such a bad thing. In fact, taking the summer off can be a good thing. A very good thing.
Five Reasons why I'm taking the summer off.
1. I needed a break.
As I said earlier, September through May is game on. For 9 months, the student ministry in light-speed. Activities, weekend worship, trips, retreats, concerts, attending school functions, small groups, counseling, conferences, teaching, training leaders, training student leaders; there's a lot going on. During the school year, the student ministry receives a pretty high priority. It's not the top priority, but it's up there because of the nature of working with students.
But summer has always been a season of rest. And quite frankly, by the time the end of the school year rolls around, many of us in student ministry are in need of a little rest. So for me, most of June, July, and August were months that represented a time of rest. It was an opportunity to slow down a bit. Maybe sleep in a little more, have shorter office hours, taking thing at a more relaxed paced. Now I will say, this only works if you church follows the same formating. I have been blessed to serve in mid-sized churches that took the summer off. No Sunday school, modified summer service times, etc. So taking the summer and shutting down, was part of the programming.
There were a couple summers where I did try to plan a calendar with regular student ministry events, to try and keep things going. But never worked out. In fact, I'll never forget my one lead pastor calling me into his office and telling, stop planning summer activities. He told me, the summer break was something that they took as part of their program strategy. The summer was a season of rest. It was a break for the volunteers and ministry leaders. He simply said, work hard during the school year, and take the time in the summer for you. They were wise words. It was good to take a break.
2. I needed to reconnect with my family.
Running full tilt for 9 months in student ministry often leads to a huge amount of time away from the family. When the kids were younger, my family would often join us for many of the youth ministry activities. It was fun. And the students usually went crazy having the little ones around. But as the kids and our family grew, it wasn't always practical. So as I did more and more with the growing student ministry, my growing family did less and less. As husband and wife, we came to an understanding about time usage in ministry. Fortunately, great flexiblity was given to us as staff members, so we were able to keep a balance. But September through May was about ministry. However, June through mid-August was about family.
The summer break gave us considerable time as a family to reconnect and do things that strengthened and build us up. Vacation, weekend trips to visit family, shorter office hours, flexibility with how ministry in the summer could look, all of these gave us time as a family to be a family.
3. I needed time for me.
It might sound selfish at first, but there is a some real truth and help in realizing that YOU need to take time for YOU. Remember that pastor who told me to stop planning summer activities? One of the other reasons for taking the summer off was for personal growth. Summer is a great time to reconnect with God. At the slower pace of summer, you can create the time to do something more than just your regular personal devotions and study. Take a summer seminary class. Read those books you bought at that last conference that are still sitting in your "To Read" pile. Focus on working on a skill set that you've been wanting to improve upon. Take a mini -sabatical and get away for a couple of days to just be with God!
Summer is a time for you to be filled up again. All school year long you have poured yourself out into your students. And come September, you will again be expected to pour yourself our again. But that won't happen unless, you find a way to fill up.
4. I needed a change in what ministry looked like.
For most of us, ministry can be a trap. Sometimes we get all wrapped up in the things that need to get done each week and we forget how to connect with our students and leaders. It's that busyness of ministry business, and if we're not careful, it can poison our ministry. Summer offers us a break from the norm, to do something a little different. For me, summer was always a time to connect with student beyond the regular programming of ministry.
Now, this doesn't mean that I never connected with student during the school year, I did. But it was often less frequent than what I would have like. Sometimes, the school calendar of students is just as busy as our ministry calendar. Summer is a time to get with those students who you weren't able to spend time with during the school year.
I found for me, summer was an ideal time to meet with student for lunch, or to have a handful of student over to the house for a cook out. It gave opportunities to spend time with that one student that you saw something thing, and you want to do something more with. So you have a one-on-one bible study, or read through a book with them. You see, while the regular ministry stops, ministry it's does not. You are still a discipler called to disciple. The summer gives you time to do it a little differently.
5. I needed time to get perspective for the coming school year.
One of the great advantages to taking the summer off is that it gives you time to pray and dream about the coming season of ministry. One of the things that I did with my students was have them complete a year end evaluation. We asked the student to complete a little survery that asked them to share what made the year for them. Whether it was a teaching series, and event, a special speaker, we wanted to know what was working and what wasn't. Then over the summer, I would read through the surveys and use them to evalute the ministry. We would also ask them to share things that they were either struggling with or things they wanted to know more about.
Over the summer, I would lay these things before the Lord, and seek direction for the new year. These months afforded me the time to sit and pray and dream for the ministry. By mid August, I was ready to begin firing up the engines again.
Not everyone in student ministry can "take the summer off." And while I recognize the advantages as they helped me, I also realize that there are great advantages to keeping the ministry going through the summer. So no way am I suggestign that one is better than the other, I simply have found the benefits as they have worked for me. Will I ever run a year round programming? I don't know. It would most likely depend on the culture of the church and how it operates year round. But for now, I'm taking the summer off. Yes, I will be changing that summer calendar I put together in April and instead of forcing a program to work, I am going to work at simply being this summer!
What about you? Do you take the summer off, kinda'? What does that look like for you? What advantages have you found? Or, do you run your ministry year round? Tells us about it. Leave you comments below!
And thanks for reading!