burningmidnightoilHow much sleep did you get last night?

I’m not asking what you did last night or the night before that required you to stay up late. It was probably quite noble and likely “for the kingdom.”

Maybe this is even a pattern in your life. You have a bunch of work to do, but want to make sure you spend time with your family during the day. It’s why you put off some of your work until late at night…that’s why God invented laptops, right?

Still, how much sleep are you getting?

Or perhaps more clearly…when are you going to bed?

That alone is worth asking, even if you tend to get in your “eight hours” on a regular basis. Perhaps you’re getting the right amount of sleep, but you’re going to bed on a schedule that puts you at odds with others in your home or the people you see throughout most of your day. You snag a “fourth meal” at Taco Bell, or prep your favorite late-night snack, and plug into whatever you’ve been waiting to get to all day.

It could be for any number of reasons:

  • You’re trying to stay flexible: Ministry requires you to be available on the fly, and you know one of your prime times to serve others is late at night.
  • You’re trying to have some “me” time: Your DVR is backed up with shows you’re still waiting to catch up on, and maybe the only time you feel you can watch them uninterrupted is when everyone else has gone to sleep.
  • You can’t think during the day: It feels like whenever you sit down to get something important done, someone knocks on your door, calls you, or sends you an email that needs your immediate attention.

Maybe you can relate to all of this.

Maybe you can relate to none of this.

Let me ask one more question that goes just one layer deeper.

Who gets to decide what’s healthy in this area?

A friend of mine told me years ago that sometimes you need to give yourself a “fake heart attack.” He had a family member who had an actual heart attack and was told by a doctor to radically reorient his life. This meant new habits with eating, exercise, sleep, and more.

The doctor set the standard.

My friend shared how his family member struggled with this, and so the rest of the household decided to join him in the changes. Everyone had a “fake heart attack” and changed their patterns to help with the real situation.

As you might imagine, the entire family’s life became healthier through the process. Each person lost a lot of weight, had new energy, kept the same sleeping schedule, and consequently bonded more with others in the household than they ever had before. Their relationship grew by leaps and bounds, and they even became more involved in church and other charitable efforts.

Maybe that feels like a Cinderella story from where you’re sitting. “I could never do that,” you might argue. Maybe not.

Unless your doctor told you that you were on the verge of a heart attack. Everything would change then, wouldn’t it?

It’s ironic how we criticize people who only come to Jesus at the last minute because they want to avoid hell. Isn’t this exactly what we do with our health? Until there’s a real fear of penalty, we’ll just keep on pushing our bodies and schedules to their limits because we see no other option that we’ll actually stay consistent with.

Allow me to end on a confession.

burning-midnight-oilI’ve written this article to Tony Myles. If anyone else has read along, feel free to comment.

Me? As I write this, I have a doctor’s appointment in an hour. I’m curious, based on how that goes, what I’ll continue to get away with… and what he’ll tell me has to change in my life.

Can anyone relate?

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psalm 127:2)”

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*


You just don’t have enough time for everything.

It doesn’t matter how well you manage your schedule. Someone is going to demand more of you than you’re able to give.Wasting-Time

One of the best books I’ve read is Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley. Its summary is simply that you’re going to cheat people out of your time, and you have to choose who that will be on a daily basis. The challenge is to make sure no one feels “cheated.”

I first thought that meant I needed to develop a personal value statement as my personal filter for how I spent my time. I later realized that the ministry I served in needed its own values statements for the same reason.

Note how that’s a plural concept. A good one-line mission statement will get you rolling in what you try to do, but several value statements help you foster the culture you’re going to do them in.

Here are our church’s 12 “Family Values” that help us figure out what’s worth spending time on.

    • We put God first in all things. God isn’t just the cherry at the top of our lives—he’s the spoon through whom we approach every part of the “sundae.” Instead of just turning to him about some things, we will follow him in everything.


    • We love people and will share Jesus with them. It’s up to us to make the next move that lets others experience God through us. We say nobody’s “no” for them—we give them reasons to say yes. Like Jesus, we receive people where they are and speak truth that guides them out of sin and into life.


    • We embrace the tensions of the Bible. The Bible wasn’t given to make us know-it-alls, but to foster wonder and wisdom that leads to conversation and conversion.


    • We reclaim what’s Normal and reframe what’s common. There is an “original good” in all people and things that we join our Creator in recovering…we won’t settle for the way things are. What’s common isn’t Normal; what’s Normal isn’t common.


    • We create as many on-ramps as possible. Everything we do will help outsiders become insiders so the lost can become found and the young in faith can become mature.


    • We learn how to feed ourselves and others spiritually. We’re not going to stay baby Christians but will take hold of what it means become disciples who make disciples who make disciples.


    • We own and overlap our circles. Every person has a unique life-calling and care-network they’re to discover, take hold of and overlap with others for an epic impact.


    • We form community instead of waiting for it to happen. Proximity doesn’t equal intimacy.  We won’t  wait for community, but will make intentional investments that make it happen.


    • We work stuff out with a stubborn love. When we get upset, we don’t exit. Reconciliation honors Jesus Christ, especially when it’s hard, in our relationships and church.


    • We are intergenerational and age-appropriate. Every person, regardless of age, has something to offer another person, regardless of age.


    • We spend our words and our stuff generously to further God’s Kingdom. We go above and beyond what feels comfortable to see life change above and beyond what feels expected.


  • We are a growing church. Our size is determined by God’s calling to reach more people with him. We cannot become small-minded or comfortably sit back when he’s called us to be open-hearted, carry our cross, and join him locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.

I’m well aware how hard all of that would be to memorize. Someone would argue that we should distill those down and have 3 to 5 phrases that sum them up. Perhaps one day we will, but right now we don’t need to. Our leadership team spent a year meeting with every household in our church and we discovered these phrases have become “sticky” church-wide based on messages I’ve shared, things others have said, and initiatives we’ve taken part in together.

cultureIn other words, everyone knows these values even if they can’t fully articulate them.

We’ve created a culture where we know what’s worth “wasting time on.” Where that comes in handy is if I have to spend time on one thing versus another thing, I have a community who understands why. They’ll compensate for me in other areas as needed so I can do what I need to do in what’s most needed.

Do you think this is possible in your ministry or church? What have you learned in this process? Maybe we can teach each other something.

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*



The Bionic Teenager?

 —  August 1, 2013 — 6 Comments

I sat in a planning meeting today with several caring local professionals. They hope to host a youth summit in our area, and our conversation eventually centered on the desired outcomes of the conference. We began brainstorming  what we want to see happen in the students involved. In other words, “Who will they ultimately be when they leave this event because they were a part of it?”

After several minutes on that line of thinking, I raised my hand and offered an observation:

“It feels like we’re trying to create a bionic teenager. I don’t know if everyone remembers that old TV show the Six Million Dollar Man, but there was this concept in its opening theme that it feels like we’re sharing here – that we have the means to make students better than they were before… ‘better, stronger, faster.’

I think everything we’ve talked about are great values for kids to grow into, but if I were to force this on my own son he’d feel immense pressure because he can’t get there overnight (let alone consistently). Maybe we need to include the values of ‘rest’ and ‘journey’ somehow? Students can take steps this way, but they may need to intentionally pause along the way and take stock of their progress so they don’t crash because they feel they’re not yet perfect.”

My thoughts were met with enthusiasm, not to mention a lot of affirmation. I felt like I’d made a real contribution to the discussion.


praiseI wondered how often I’ve not had that thought in ministry. Maybe you can identify:

  • “Once kids go on this trip, their hearts will be forever transformed for Jesus.”
  • “If I can only get that student baptized, then he/she will become a role model to the others.”
  • “The more often students are consistent with youth group attendance, the more consistent they’ll be with Jesus.”
  • “They have to start (reading the Bible/praying/fasting/tithing/singing) more if they hope to have a real breakthrough.”

Even just writing those made me realize how absurd they all are.

And yet… don’t thoughts like that creep into your head and planning, too?

The thing about bionics is that something unnatural was added to appear natural.

Hmm. Is that the end?

What do you think is reasonable and unreasonable to expect in these matters?

summeryouthministryHow are you spending your summer with students?

I personally know of several youth groups that shut down because of their proximity to a lake or local activity that keeps teenagers busy, while other student ministries seem to amp up their programs and significantly grow during this season.

Youth worker Austin McCann offers some great thoughts that will help you spend more time with students, no matter what your situation may be.

Like many student pastors I struggle with finding time to hangout with students. In the summer I feel this struggle more than ever… Let’s face it, you can’t leave the office and spend everyday with students this summer. If you do, you will probably get fired! But how do we manage hanging out with our students this summer while making sure all the office work gets done and our ministry doesn’t fall apart? [ READ MORE ]

Austin believes it may be as simple as:

  • Get to the office earlier.
  • Take them along with you.
  • Do stuff at night.
  • Take them out to lunch.

 What have you found that works for you in the summer?

I would like to say that when I was young and single that I enjoyed all the margin that was in my schedule to the fullest. Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Just like now I had responsibilities, obligations and burdens that constantly made me wonder, “Where did all the time go?”

Doesn’t matter what season of ministry you find yourself in, time management can be a struggle. The problem comes when you do not monitor the amount of responsibilities and obligations that cross your plate. What it does is create a unnecessary and debilitating tension. In order to be successful in youth ministry and manage all that is in front of you, it’s important to step back, look at your calendar and:

  • Focus On A Few: There is this pressure in youth ministry to do it all; however, all that leads to is ineffective ministry. Focus on those few things that you, and only you can accomplish. By focusing on what you are best at doing you’ll have the greatest impact for your ministry. Delegate the rest to your volunteer and leadership teams to create more capacity.
  • Learn To Say “NO”:  It’s flattering to receive invitations and offers especially when they can lead to big opportunities. While it’s not always easy to say, “NO.” what it will do is protect you from overcommitting. To discern what to accept and what to turn down, figure out what will move you towards your vision and what will pull you away.
  • Prioritize:To stay efficient you need to know what is Urgent, Important andExpendable. By sorting tasks and responsibilities in their proper category you won’t have to worry about tangents tearing you away from your vision. Make a list, write it down and revisit frequently.
  • Build Safety Nets:Find people to share your schedule, and goals with. Ask them to hold you accountable and check-in. It’s also important for you to schedule in (Even if you don’t have time) to just connect with God. When you feel as if you have no time, the best you can do is pause and wait for God’s direction.

You always have time, the question is, “How are you using it?” Consistently look at your schedule, review your responsibilities and trim what is unnecessary When you can add margin to your schedule you allow room to recover, refresh and enjoy what God has called you to do.

Which of these habits is hardest for you when it comes to making time?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

With summer quickly approaching schedules change, people leave and you are ready for a BREAK. If you’ve been in ministry long enough you know that summer is one of the most important times of year because it enables you to make tweaks and changes without disrupting the momentum. It’s also a time for you to relax, grow and experience new things with your students (i.e. mission trips). The only problem is it’s also a perfect opportunity for:

  • Momentum to Fade
  • Volunteers to Drop Out
  • Teens to Forget About Your Ministry
  • You to Fall Behind in Your Work

To avoid these pitfalls and summertime blues it’s important to treat summer as seriously as you do any other season. To do this you need a strategy. If you want to avoid your summertime mishaps and come out on the other side focused and ready for the fall, be sure to:

  • Keep True To Your Schedule: The tendency is to just shut it all down over the summer. While you do need periods of rest, it’s important not to lose the time frame you work hard to promote. If you aren’t going to meet regularly with your teens still keep your program time as an opportunity to meet with parents, host trainings or check-in meetings for the camps and events. Make sure people are reminded that your designated ministry time is still on their minds.
  • Be Consistent But Keep It Light: While you want to maintain your meeting time, don’t feel like you need to maintain the work load. Look at cutting certain components (i.e. technology or activities) that take a lot of preparation and focus on the relationships, which can happen more organically. By planning light you give yourself the capacity to focus on strengthening your leaders and giving yourself some much needed rest.
  • Switch The Focus: During the year your focus is on growing disciples amongst the teens. In the summer change that focus to your leaders. Find times to meet with them, hang out, invest and grow with them spiritually. It’s a time to be reflective, to cast vision and remind them about the importance of their commitment. Make it social; however, make it educational at the same time.
  • Communicate, Communicate and Communicate: Despite your schedule keep the communication air waves open. Maybe it’s sending your leaders a postcard while on vacation or checking in with teens via Facebook/Twitter. Let parents know some of the tweaks and changes happening over the summer. Give teens a chance to check back in, when they are in town. Let them know that you are still thinking about them.

Summer might be your break and it might be a time for serious planning. Regardless of how you use it, make sure you approach it wisely. Do not forget about your audience while you recover from a full year of ministry. No matter your take on the summer make sure you have a strategy as the weather turns warmer.

How do you avoid summertime blues?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

Ran into a former student the other day and had to blink twice when they told me that they were graduating college. This is not the first teen in my ministry to go through college, it was just one of those moments when you wonder, “Where has the time gone?” We all experience that, life in general moves quickly. As Matthew Broderick’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so cleverly states:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it.”

When you hit that reality it’s easy to get discouraged because you might feel like opportunities have been blown or missed. The pace of your ministry might feel like it’s unbearable and you begin to question whether or not you are really getting anything accomplished. If you feel that way then chances are you need to SLOW DOWN. And you can do that by:

  • Managing A Schedule: You might not feel like you have enough time in the day because you don’t manage your hours well. A schedule is for tracking your time just like a budget is for money. Budget out your work day and breaks. Track the time you are spending in certain areas of your ministry. When you can track your pace you can slow it down.
  • Observe Silence: Too much noise will increase the pace you have at work. Make sure your environments allow you to slow down. It might be turning off music or the Internet. It could mean finding a quiet place to write or adjusting the lights in your office. Eliminate distractions so that you can concentrate on God’s calling for you.
  • Simplifying Your Ministry: The more complex something becomes the more overwhelming you will feel. Look at your ministry and instead of asking, “What are we not doing?” flip it and ask, “What do we need to stop doing?” Simple can be more effective than complex because you won’t be overwhelmed, instead you’ll be more focused.
  • Putting Time With God First: Life gets crazy when you try and take control. Quiet time with God is something you teach your teens; however, it’s something you have to remember to do yourself. Even if you feel like you have a million things to do, you need to put God first and let Him give you the grace you need to get through it. He’s the one who will and can slow down your days.

Slowing down your work pace helps you not only manage your ministry well, but build appreciation for where God is blessing you. It gives you a chance to observe how He is impacting you, the ministry and His Kingdom. So, SLOW DOWN.

Do you feel like you need to slow down? If so what area?

The Battle To Rest

 —  February 19, 2013 — 3 Comments

A few years back I was training for my third marathon.  The regimen leading up to the big race was grueling.  I had to change my eating, sleeping, and exercise habits.  Sacrifices in family, personal and even professional life were made.  Keeping my training schedule were a priority.  Finally, it got to be a little too much.  I just remember refusing to run one day and then taking a break from the training for an entire 10 days.  When I resumed training I had never felt better.  The rest was well needed.

Youth ministry is a lot like preparing for a marathon.  The days, the weeks and seasons can be grueling.  Sacrifices are made and in the end you can hit a wall much like you do in running.  Unfortunately, taking a break isn’t so easy because you need your job.  While you might be able to take a step back (even away permanently) from a race you need to take the proper steps for REST.

REST as a youth minister means:

  • Enjoying time with family.
  • Spending time with God.
  • Falling back in love with your calling.


There is no question there is more rest can bring; however, being able to find it is a totally different issue.  In order to find rest you need to:

  • Schedule It In: Sounds funny to schedule in rest; however, by putting in breaks you give yourself margin.  During busy seasons you’ll use up that margin; however, when the pace truly slows down you will be able to take advantage of the “extra” time you’ve given yourself.
  • Say “No”: There is a fear that by saying, “No.” you are telling people not to trust you.  In reality you are embracing your limitations which is good.  If you are overworked and have too much on your plate not only will you sacrifice the things you enjoy, but resent what it is you are doing.  Find people to hold you accountable to saying this helpful word.
  • Build Trust In Your Team: You need a team around you who will step up when you need to take a step back.  This allows you to do the things that refresh and rejuvenate you.  To truly trust your team you need to work on situations where you let them take on leadership, and ownership of the youth ministry. It’s ok if they fail and mess up, if you show them love and direction in return.  A team you can trust is one that will help you rest.

Again, youth ministry can have a grueling pace.  If it’s not approached with margin and limitations you’ll find yourself consistently burned out.  Unfortunately, gaining rest isn’t as simple as laying your head down on a pillow, you need to take necessary steps.  A youth minister who can rest, is one that can go the distance.

What steps do you take to find rest?  What sabotages your efforts?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)