Don’t Just Start Strong – Finish Strong

My two oldest daughters are involved in the summer swim team in our community. It has been a gret experience that they have really enjoyed.  This spring, I have also started running 5 days a week for about 25 minutes a day.  I wish I could say that it has been a great experience as well (running is not exactly something I wake up every day pumped to do), but I can say that it has been a rewarding time for me in the Lord and it keeps me in shape – both of which are needed.

One thing I have learned running & watching the weekly swim meets is that it is just as important to finish strong as it is to start strong.  For instance, when I run, I start with a strong pace and have a lot of energy. Or when the swimmers dive into the pool, a lot of them start with a good, consistent and fast pace.  That is great but unless I or the swimmers have built up the stamina and endurance to keep that consistent pace going, we will slow down over time and finish at a slower pace usually struggling to finish the run or race.

In the same way, youth and young adult ministers can start their job at their church or ministry very strong.  They can build up tons of excitement and bring great energy into the program that may have been lacking.  But unless you have some principles in place, a strong finish will probably not end up happening and you may even burn yourself out or resign, thus failing to finish what you have started so well.

That is why you need to find ways that set you and your ministry up to finish strong.  Finishing strong takes effort and strategy but there are some key principles I have found over the years to be helpful to me and my ministry situations that have helped me not just start strong but move a ministry to where it has endurance and can finish strong.  They are:

  1. Involve others. This means volunteer leaders, parents, and other staff.  You can only be a 1-person wrecking machine so long before you burn out and quit.  You need to surround yourself with others.  Involving others get people engaged and gives them ownership of the ministry and provides you with opportunities to delegate responsibilities that you may not be so gifted at and may drain you.  If you need ideas of how to do this, you can check out what I wrote about it here and here.
  2. Plan ahead. This just doesn’t mean to plan activities and event.  But this means strategically plan out curriculum and a teaching plan.  I like to create curriculum on my own using a variety of resources.  But if that isn’t up your alley, then I’d suggest Group’s Live Curriculum.  It is mapped out from middle school through high school.  The more you plan ahead, the less stress it will cause you to make it up as you go along and it will give you a clear teaching path. Stephanie Caro, author of Small Church Youth Ministry for Group posted a great post on planning ahead on July 15th.  Check it out here.
  3. Take your time off! That means at least 1 Sabbath day a week and use ALL of your vacation.  That’s right, use ALL of it!  There were years early on when I was younger when I would only use a week or 10 days of my vacation.  Not only did it frustrate my family (“We are not important enough that you make time for us”), but it encouraged a work-aholic mindset in my life.  It’s not healthy for you or your family.  If you are going to finish strong, you need regular breaks to relax and chill out.  Invest yourself in something that doesn’t involve ministry or leadership.  For instance, I just started reading fiction books.  Before, I would always read leadership, ministry or “how-to” books.  Sure it was reading, but it kept me in that “work” mindset.  Reading these fiction books allows me to relax my mind and lose myself.  It has been very healthy for me.
  4. Be a Team Player. As my friend Mark Seager wrote about this in his guest post last week, we have to be a team player with the other ministries in our church.  So often we get stuck in the mindset that our ministry (youth ministry) is the only ministry that matters in the church.  “I don’t need to work with the children’s ministry director”.  But the reality is, we have to be a team player.  We have to work with others on staff and in different ministries.  When you work well with others it builds a comradery that fosters strong relationships but also promotes the kingdom of heaven.

Again, these are just a few that I have found to be helpful over the course of my time.  The are probably more but the reality is I have seen so often in my life that starting strong is easy.  What really separates you from everyone else is how you finish.  Don’t fall into traps that keep youth and young adult ministers burnt out looking for answers.  Choose to finish strong.

Have a thought or a “finishing strong” suggestion?  Post it here so all of us can benefit.

Tom Pounder

A father of 4, Tom is the Online Campus Pastor as well as Social Media Director at New Life Christian Church in Chantilly, VA. He blogs, vlogs, periscopes and podcasts regularly about student and online ministry stuff. Check out his work at YMSidekick.com and on iTunes (search YMSidekick).

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