How Many Hours Do You Spend In The Office?
I bet the answer is too much. There’s this really strange tendency for youth workers to fall in love with their offices or cubicles. It’s time to remember that youth ministry is a fine balance between office work and contact work—a heavy emphasis on one or the other can seriously hinder your ministry, your reputation, and even your longevity. Here’s one way to evaluate your time management: Start with 45 hours.
I know there are a ton of different expectations out there for youth workers and a ton of different definitions of what counts as work. Add to the mix retreats, mission trips, lock-ins, etc., and the amount of hours a week becomes a total circus. But with all the variables, a good benchmark is 45 hours.
There may be some weeks that greatly exceed this number, and there may be a week here or there where you come in closer to 30—but 45 is the place to start. More than this probably means you’re a workaholic with balance issues—less than this probably means you’re a slacker.
Now that we have the amount of hours on the table, what do we do with them?
How many hours are in program?
Every youth worker has different programming responsibilities. I have middle school group on Tuesday nights from 6:30-8:30. I show up an hour before, and I never leave before 9:00—3.5. I have high school group on Wednesday nights from 7:00-9:00. I show up an hour before, and I never leave before 9:30—3.5. I have church and Sunday school on Sunday mornings. I show up at 8:00, and I don’t leave until close to 1:00—5. Add these up, and I spend 12 hours a week in programs. (Good math everyone!) I divide the remaining 33 hours between office work and contact work.
16 Hours of Office Work:
Office work—administration—is key on several levels. First and foremost, it actually reminds your colleagues in the office that you work there. They’re hard at work, and they expect you to be hard at work as well. By being in the office, you show them you’re a team player and you carry your weight. The last thing you want is for your co-workers to second-guess your work ethic. Once they lose trust in you, it’s all downhill. But it’s more than just making an appearance—on a spiritual level, this is part of how we practice the ministry of presence. By simply being there, we get to be a part of the daily work of God as we’re in relationship with our co-workers.
The second reason you’re in the office is to actually get your administrative tasks completed. You’re responsible for your programs, teaching, training, event planning, receipts, and so on. And the truth is that this shouldn’t take more than half your hours. You were hired to pull off some amazing programs, but if you can’t pull them off in half your hours, then you’re trying too hard or not being efficient enough. I know you have great ideas and want to find the perfect graphic for a flyer or something, but let’s face it: it doesn’t take that long to plan out youth group or Sunday school. You need to be efficient in your tasks so that you can pull off a great program that then allows you the time to do the actual thing you’re paid to do: build relationships with students.
16 Hours of Contact Work:
At the end of the day, no one really cares about your program or the T-shirts you designed—what matters is the relationships you’ve built with your students and with your leaders. How do you build these relationships? Good old-fashioned contact work.
Go to where the students are. Show up on campus, take a bunch of them out to pizza, go to a football game or dance recital—go where they are. Invite them into your life and into your home. Open up the church gym, or set up video games using the multimedia devices of the sanctuary. Teach a couple of them how to play guitar. This is probably your heart, so just do it.
It’s also important to do contact work with your leaders. Spend time loving on them, showing up at their work, or making the church buy them lunch or dinner. Your leaders are the lifeblood of your ministry and need to be cared for and treated well.
Think of how many people you can connect with in 16 hours a week. Think of all the relationships you can develop over the course of a month, a year, five years. Soon no one will care about (or wear) the T-shirt that took you 30 hours to design and order, but they’ll know they’re seen and loved by you. The only way this can happen is if you actually work hard while you’re in the office so that you can spend half your time being with people.
I’m in the office by 8:00 a.m. Monday, and I spend all day at my desk. I make a list of all that has to happen that week: all the programs that need to be pulled off, the lessons I need to teach, and the upcoming events I need to plan for. Then it’s off to the races. You would be surprised at how much you can get done when you actually sit down and do it. My goal is to have all my administrative tasks done and all my programs outlined and ready to go by our staff meeting on Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. After the staff meeting, I write out my lessons. By Tuesday afternoon, everything is really done.
When I go into the office on Wednesday morning, all I have to do is schmooze it up with my staff. I goof off with them, buy them coffees, and occasionally I have some last-minute planning and phone calls for an upcoming event. I don’t ever need to come in on Wednesdays, but I do because of rule number 1. The office is about reminding people I work there. Because all my work is done, I can move on to more relaxing and fun things such as reading books, magazines, and blogs. I use this Wednesday flextime to dream and reflect, and on non-spiritual days I simply Facebook stalk everyone I know.
Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday are dedicated to contact work with students, leaders, and then more students.
This is what works for me. What works for you?
After almost two decades of student ministry, Ben’s heart still beats and breaks for students. Loving students and helping them love Jesus have been the foundational principles around which he has organized his life and ministry. While his job description has transformed over the years, he is still most passionate about investing in the student ministry at MARIN COVENANT CHURCH. Follow him on twitter at @AVERAGEYM.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.