Whew—you guys make it hard to choose finalists! It was really difficult to FOCUS on just a few when there were so many great entries. Looks like quite a few of our Orange Leaders out there have found tricks and tips that work for them in their ministry, and hopefully it will be helpful information for the rest of us as well.
Below, you’ll find the lucky seven finalists for the “How Do You FOCUS?” contest. Please read through these entries, and when you’re ready to vote, head on over to our Facebook poll to cast your ballot. Please note that this blog post is a MUCH longer post than normal, but we felt it important to maintain the individual voice of each finalist. The three entries with the most votes will receive two tickets each, and voting ends at 5 p.m. on Friday, January 18.
We will also post the additional entries next week so you have a fantastic list of options in your quest to FOCUS.
1. Kim of Friendship Baptist Church
After several years as a public school teacher I entered a career in ministry—a bona fide people-pleaser. This did not bode well for my new career in children’s ministry. My desire to listen to everyone and show them I could do a good job quickly drove me insane! Nothing was getting done. I realized I didn’t know a whole lot about ministry, so I dove in head first and started learning how to manage people, the influx of ideas and information, time, and most importantly for me—learning how to FILTER.
By creating wins with measurable goals for our ministry I’m able to let go of a lot of things either I or other church people think I should be doing. FREEDOM! The books Think Orange and 7 Practices of Effective Ministry were great resources for learning how to create WINS. I’m also learning how to filter people and the things they have to say, either well meaning or not so much! I’m learning how to differentiate between negative people giving negative feedback and positive people giving negative feedback and what to do in each instance. Thanks to Carey Nieuwhof (November 5 blog post) for that one! My people-pleasing days are definitely on their way out! Focus in ministry is something I continue to try to hone in on, but for me, today, there is so much more freedom in it. It’s easier not to focus on the numbers, the negative comments, the 17th person this week wanting to know if we’re doing VBS this year. Our wins assure me and our team that we know where we want to end up, we have a great plan for how to get there, and it will surely be messy along the way. So, we focus on the wins, big and small, that we see in our kids and their families every week. I am excited to see where God leads us this year, knowing that it will only happen if we stay focused and allow Him to lead.
2. Drew of Southside Baptist Church
Being a children’s pastor for five years now, I often feel like the dog in the Disney movie “Up.” I’m getting in the zone, getting work done, only to see a “squirrel” in my peripheral vision that causes me to get off track for minutes, hours, and sometimes even days.
Squirrels can be anything from a co-worker who doesn’t have enough to do, to websites and social media that take our attention away from what we should be doing, to spending too much time helping others do parts of their ministry. None of these are bad; I mean they are just silly little squirrels. But focus, or eliminating unnecessary “squirrel time” from your life takes discipline. Here are a few suggestions that have helped me the past year:
1) Create a schedule: Many of us have schedules, but are they the “law of the land” or simply just a suggestion? Do we let the squirrels know that unless it is a dire emergency that you are not to be interrupted? I’ve read some surveys that claim it takes 15 minutes to re-focus on a project once you’ve been interrupted. So, creating a schedule and making it stick is very important for true focus to occur. Also, don’t be afraid to use modern technology to help you with a schedule. Use devices like your computer or phone to help keep you focused on tasks.
2) Get ahead of yourself and create MARGIN in your life. Oftentimes, my biggest problem isn’t the amount of work, it is focusing on that amount of work early in the process of when it is assigned. When projects are started earlier, it is easier to focus on the project. The emergencies that sometimes are caused by squirrels aren’t as devastating to our production. The work is often done better, and our jobs are much more satisfying when done early. Also, when mistakes are made or directions change, we have a margin, or extra time, that makes those situations much less overwhelming.
3) Take a break from your ministry EVERY day. I often struggle with leaving the work at work. It is sad, but many times I go home thinking of what I didn’t complete. I’ll even take work home, and be distracted from my duties there. I find myself less satisfied with my work, and have a wife that is frustrated with my lack of attention to her. Even worse, I often wake up in the morning worried about what I have to get done that day. If you have done your best to complete a task, leave it at work. If you HAVEN’T done your best to complete a task, leave it at work and do better the next day. When going on vacation, leave work at church.
4) Just because it is urgent to a squirrel, doesn’t mean it should be urgent to you. Have you ever watched a squirrel cross the road in front of your car? They zig and zag like a wide receiver who is trying to score the game winning touchdown with no time remaining. They often panic when face to face with a car, and their hesitation and lack of planning often causes their demise when your tire runs over them. Their panic can also cause severe damage to drivers. Most driving courses instruct drivers to refrain from swerving to miss these animals. The reason for this advice is that your job as a driver is to focus on keeping your car on the road as much as possible. In ministry, squirrels often jump in front of our cars. They take our focus away from where it should be. It may feel wrong, but sometimes you just have to ignore them. They may feel like you have run over them, but an emergency to them should not automatically mean an emergency to you. If you quit swerving from your ministry to bail these squirrels out, they will eventually quit running in front of your car. Or at least give you ample time to brake before reaching them. Don’t let THEIR lack of planning become YOUR emergency.
5) Know your weaknesses. If you lack focus, and feel like you underachieve each day, perhaps there are squirrels all around you that you didn’t realize were distractions, like social media, your favorite sports team or an upcoming vacation. Maybe make a rule that states, “I will not spend more than 15 minutes a work day on social media sites like Facebook or Pinterest.” Decide which squirrels need to be completely banished from your work environment. If something takes too much of your focus away, do whatever it takes to eliminate it.
3. Holly at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church
I am a creative. A multi-tasker. A hoarder. A dreamer. These traits mean that my office is cluttered, my desk is piled high with things I just can’t seem to part with, and at any given moment I am in the middle of at least three different projects. I am also 28, so I’ve grown up with a cell phone and seem to be genetically programmed to require at least two screens in front of me at all times. Needless to say, FOCUS is hard for me to come by. As life happens, I realize more each day that FOCUS is something that I crave–not every day, but enough to give me time to get things done and to provide some structure to my otherwise less than scheduled life.
I try to set aside at least one day a week to be my FOCUS day. I pick a day when I can spend it alone in my office, a day without meetings, and a day when I feel mentally up to it. My FOCUS day schedule goes like this: First, I sit down, clear my desk, and make a handwritten list of all the things I would like to accomplish today. Anything that pops into my head that I need to finish is allowed to go on the list, even if it isn’t really “finishable” in a single day. Once I have a list to work from, I get a clean sheet of paper and make a FOCUS day list of projects, emails, and other items that I’m pretty sure I can accomplish in a single day. I keep the other list and work from it every other day of the week. (Side note–you may wonder why a self-proclaimed gadget-junkie would use paper lists when I have no less than six GTD apps between my phone and iPad to choose from. The reason is simple: gadgets are distracting. FOCUS days are all about getting rid of distraction, which for me means, a few hours with my gadgets put away in my purse.)
The next thing I do is set a timer. Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique? They recommend working for an increment of 25 minutes then taking a 5-minute break. After completing four work increments, then you take a longer 30-minute break. I spend my FOCUS days in increments of work, followed by breaks. It is amazing to settle in and know that no matter what, you are going to accomplish something over the next 25 minutes and be rewarded with a break afterwards!
Once the timer is set, I simply start at the top of my list and work my way down. Sometimes I spend the entire 25 minutes on the first item of the list, other times I will breeze through six or seven items in 25 minutes. Every once in a while, I have a doozy of a project that takes three or four work increments before I can cross it off. While the timer is on I don’t check Facebook or Twitter and I let my e-mail wait. I screen phone calls, but each time the phone rings I add the call back item to my list. The one thing I cannot really control are the people that walk into my office, but I have learned to say (when appropriate), “Hey, I’m really trying to focus today, but I’m planning on taking a break in a little while. Can I call you or come see you then?” Everyone I’ve ever had to say that to has understood, believe it or not!
Eventually, the timer rings and I get to take a break. I check Facebook and Twitter and emails and run to the bathroom and check to see if there are any snacks at the coffee station and visit my co-workers and tell jokes and generally get my extrovert on. On the longer breaks, I’ll go get lunch or run an errand or take a lap or two around the building to stretch my legs. But then I go back to my office, turn the timer to 25 minutes and get back to my list.
At the end of a FOCUS day, I’m usually amazed at everything that I accomplished. Most of the time, I complete everything on my list. The best part about FOCUS days is not that I have crossed things off my list, but that I have actually spent quality time on my ministry. I find that on these highly structured days, the Lord speaks to me in new and different ways. I am given new eyes as I edit scripts for FX or God shows me a new way to demonstrate our virtue of the month. The structure that I hate so much helps me to know more about my God. FOCUS helps me become a better minister to children; it helps me hone in on God’s vision for my life and my ministry. I go home after FOCUS days exhausted and excited about the work being done in my church.
4. Dave at South Bay Church
Below is the way that I focus to help move our ministry forward. For me, it starts with annual planning, which trickles all the way down to what I’m doing each day. So many people have helped me to develop this system and I hope that it can help someone else.
- Annual Goal Setting: I start the year by taking two days away for an annual planning retreat where I develop goals for my personal life and leadership, family and ministry. I spend lots of time praying and thinking about these goals to drill down and simplify them as much as possible because I want to pour my energy, my family’s energy, and my team’s energy into the efforts that will help us have the greatest effectiveness in the coming year. Less is more and the greater our simplicity the greater our effectiveness!
- 6×6 Objectives: After I have developed goals for the year I use a practice from Axiom by Bill Hybels that he calls a 6×6. This is the top six projects/objectives I can work to accomplish over the next six weeks that will have the greatest impact on our ministry. These are not tasks, but these are the “big rocks” that will help move the ball forward in accomplishing our annual goals. Some examples of what goes on my 6×6 are: Prepare Kids Ministry for Adding Service by (date), Develop Leadership Pipelines in our Family Ministry, Develop Systems for Use of Kids/Students Rooms, etc. Under each item on my 6×6 I will make key action steps that need to happen in order to accomplish these objectives.
- Week Task List: At the beginning of every week I will plan my week by looking back at my 6×6 to see what needs to happen in that week to accomplish my 6×6 objectives. I divide my week task list into 3 sections: 1) A List – Top priority items for that week; 2) B List – Secondary items that are okay to not get done; 3) D List – This is my delegation list for my Direct Reports (staff or volunteers) and I try to move as much off of my A/B List to them as I can so I can be freed up to only do what I can do.
- Daily Task List: Every day I will look at my A List on my week task list and see what needs to be accomplished for that day and then I write a list of items in a small journal that I carry with me. My daily task list is usually 8-10 items and I cross them out as they are accomplished.
- Guarding my Weekly Schedule: You have to be organized with your goals, objectives, and tasks, but you have to guard your schedule to accomplish them. I have an ideal week set on my calendar that includes pre-blocked times for meetings, admin tasks, email, focus times (where I work on big picture items only I can do), and I block out date nights with my wife so work doesn’t intrude. My assistant knows not to schedule meetings during my focus times so that I can stay focused.
- Time to Evaluate: I also try to take a full day every one to two months to evaluate where our ministry is in regard to the goals we mapped out at the beginning of the year. This brings me back to the 30,000-foot view so I can see clearly and look over the remainder of the year to see if there are any course corrections that need to take place.
5. Cathy at New Horizons
I have been a Children’s Church Director for almost 30 years. God has blessed me to see the fruit of my labor. I now teach the children of adults who were previously in the children’s ministry!
First and foremost, we pray to get guidance through the Holy Spirit who resuscitates our creative thinking.
We also focus on keeping communication open between our pastor, youth leaders and parents. A successful children’s ministry happens with the support of parents and leaders. We ensure we communicate with our pastor and youth leaders by sharing our goals, calendar of events as well as a wish list. Our church is very small and a budget is not always available. Therefore, we rely a lot on our parents’ financial and moral support. Keeping them informed of our plans is critical. After all, these are their children we’re teaching. Parents should want to be involved in enriching their lives naturally and spiritually.
As we plan, we focus on providing our kids an environment where they feel they are a part of the teaching as opposed to just being a student. Often, the teachers are learning along with their students. Therefore, we involve our kids with planning monthly activities because as they are involved, they feel they’re making important contributions.
At the beginning of each year, we focus on the basics. Many times our children need to be reminded of just basic information such as who is Jesus, who is Jesus’ heavenly Father, how was the world formed, who came first, etc.
The first three months, our focus will be getting back to the basics: books of the Bible, parts of the Bible, parables, Scripture memorization (with understanding). To make this fun, we are challenging the older kids by giving a prize to whoever learns the most Scripture and can tell us what those Scriptures mean. We’re challenging them to know at least three parables and what they mean. This got their attention, of course, because they are so competitive. What they don’t know is everyone will win a prize just for trying.
Our focus is on pulling in children from the community. Many children who live within a block of the church do not attend church. We want to teach our kids how to witness to other children in their own way.
To recap, our focus is:
staying in alignment with our leaders by communicating our plans;
providing a clean, fun-filled, teaching environment for our children;
involvjng our children with planning activities while they learn more about Jesus;
teaching the basics about the Bible, parables, who Jesus is and how to witness to other children.
When was the last time you watched a child pray? I love how children simply speak their mind outright to their heavenly Father, but what I am most envious of is how they can be so focused during prayer: eyes squeezed shut and hands clenched tight. In contrast, I cannot forget the details of my work, my wants or my immediate needs when I try to be still before the Almighty. Why? Arguably, I lack focus, but even truer, I lack a clear understanding of God. I would like to suggest that even though there are a few tried and true approaches to time management, honing our focus for ministry might be a tougher, yet simpler skill. I suggest we learn from these children, how to focus.
When faithful children pray to a compassionate God, they are completely dedicated to the purpose at hand. There is no room for doubt that God is intently listening to them pour their hearts out to their One and Only Father. I just wish I could hold such a sincere faith without self-correction or doubt. Of course, I can and many times I do, but first—just like these children—I have to recognize how much my focus is an outpouring of the degree of my faith. If the task at hand is genuinely worthy of my focus, then it deserves to be my priority and to receive my full attention.
When eager children pray to an earnest God, they are sincerely alive in the moment. There is no reason to be anywhere else but directly in the presence of the Living God, so they squeeze their eyes shut. Yet, I have so many devices intent on drawing my attention to an alert or reminder that I stay agitated and dissociated from any one purpose. Ugh, if only I could stay as eager as a child, I might not fall victim to my own diversions or distractions. I have to start by closing the door, tuning out the noise and unplugging the devices, so I can lose my dependence on these crutches and gain my focus on my real intent.
When little children pray to a big, big God, they make it personal. There is a pure sincerity in a child’s simple language in prayer. It’s just close and personal. I might want to break the mold, shoot for the stars create a new concept or just be original. But, if my aim is too wide, I will potentially lose focus of my target. There is nothing new under the sun, a wise man once said. When I sit down to plan an event or write a genuine message, I am far more productive if my goals are personal, attainable and close.
The next time you have a moment to be alone with God, pour your heart out, squeeze your eyes shut and clench your fists tightly.Then, tell me if it helps your focus. Of course, as adults it is difficult to see our Invisible God so intimately entangled in all the details of our dreary, lackluster, busy lives. But, what if we started all our work—managing emails, organizing our schedules, ministering to His people—with a childlike prayer to focus our hearts on His purpose? What then could distract us from this work?
7. Janet at Christ First Baptist Church
Working in children’s ministry, it is quite easy to lose focus. There are volunteers to recruit, lead, train and encourage. There are parents who need encouragement, leading and a friend to lean on.
In ministry in general, there are always fires to put out, budgets to contend with, planning meetings to attend, and more planning meetings; did I mention planning meetings? It all seems to get in the way and distract me from the real reason God placed me in this place—to do ministry. Early morning meetings and an email inbox a mile long can often divert me from my daily devotion and prayer time.
So, how do I stay focused, and focused in a way that I can contribute to the vision of the church
ministry and that of the vision of children’s ministry? I find myself going back to notes, books, blogs from Orange Conferences, tours and the website. Within those pages there is always a piece of treasure that the Lord has delivered to me through an Andy, Reggie, Sue, Matt, Perry or Joy (just to mention a few.) When I look up from my desk, in my office, I’m often reminded to focus, by way of an Orange axiom, and a new nugget of truth, encouragement or wisdom is revealed. Just what I needed, at just the right time!
Some of my Orange axioms:
- Two influences are better than one.
- Invite others to be world changers not spot fillers.
- Be relevant.
- We are stewards of the message of a better life.
- Make them feel significant by giving them something significant to do.
- We’re not raising children, we’re raising adults.
- If you want to move families in a better way then you need to set your family as a priority.
- Spotlight leaders love people more than themselves.
- Help parents win at home.
- Look at the world through the cross, not from a list of do’s and don’ts.
- Never buy into the myth that you need to become the “right” kind of parent before God can use you in your child’s life.
Nuggets, pure gold, priceless; and there are so many more. I often change them out on the wall in my office. When I take my daily devotion and prayer time and combine it with words and tools of Orange Leaders (two influences), my focus becomes laser sharp again. I become more productive, a better communicator, a more connected and influential leader. The creative wheels begin moving again.
The focused leader within emerges. I trust God more and me less.
FINE PRINT: Voting ends Friday, January 18 at 5 p.m. Winners will be the three entries with the most votes, and will each receive two tickets. If any winners have previously registered for OC13, those registrations will be refunded.