I must confess that it was almost always my children who were seen sobbing on the school bus as it pulled out of the parking lot on the the last day of school. They loved their teachers and often could not imagine that a new one could possibly take the place of the one who was waving goodbye to the bus. They loved the routine of school—the steadiness of things to get done, the daily challenges and small successes. Summer always seemed to loom long and a little too wide open for my girls. Unfortunately, they get that from me. I’m of the the ”If I rest, I’ll rust” variety, fearful that the lack of routine will derail my momentum on any given project, especially when ministry seems to come to a grinding halt due to Summer’s siren song—a song often accompanied by descants of “We don’t have enough volunteers for September” and “Our lead GEMS counselour is thinking of trying something new next year."
Here’s the thing, though, every year summer did eventually serve as a kind recalibration time for my girls and for us as a family. Before Junior High, my girls spent time practicing how to lock and unlock a padlock. Before High School we reassessed haircuts that would help get them out of the door at 6:00 AM. We experimented with new lunch and breakfast ideas to help make our mornings less stressful. Summer was just the space and time we needed to adjust to new realities on the horizon. Summer was a great time to debrief how that last year went and make plans to help make September a stronger start for all of us.
The same can happen during a ministry hiatus. We often don’t take time to consider recalibration unless we have had a difficult ministry year. It is tempting to get volunteer slots filled and schedules typed and printed so that we don’t have to think about the start of Sunday School while we are floating down a lazy river. When things are going well in our ministry area it is hard not to continue with what has already been working, but often we miss small hints of where we might need some course correction. Summer is a great time to slow down, look back and ask ourselves, and better yet, our ministry teams:
- What have we learned about how we do our ministry and the people impacted by our work during the last year?
- Where did we gain the most traction in our ministry? Where were there some bumps that we might want to address?
- Are there any plans we need to set aside next year in order to finish well in those areas where we have had the most traction?
- How might broadening or narrowing our focus give us stronger momentum next year?
- Remembering that most successful programs change about 10% of their programming every year, is there something new we might want to experiment with next year?
- How are our volunteers feeling about the ministry?
- Who is being mentored to step into leadership? Are we replicating ourselves for future growth?
- How was our communication with all those impacted by our ministry?
- Given what we know from last year, are we missing any resources to help us be more effective next year? What might these be? Who can help us obtain these resources?
In my own family I noticed that our summer recalibration helped build excitement for the new year. Summer turned the grief of goodbyes into anticipation for what a new year might hold. I remember many times reminding my girls that God had faithfully provided good teachers, new friends, and cool learning experiences in the past. This has been true for me in my ministry preparations as well. How do you use times of ministry hiatus to catch your breath and recalibrate, so that the Spirit can breathe new life into the work you and your team are doing?