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Hanging Christmas Lights & The Art of Prioritizing

It’s pretty easy to get stuck focusing on the wrong things in ministry, right? Shoot, that’s true in life in general. Maybe it’s…

Something we enjoy doing more, but just isn’t as important.

Something that comes easier to us, even though the return isn’t as great.

Something we’re avoiding or don’t want to do, so we find distractions and rationalize.

Maybe it’s simply the constant lure of the urgent winning out of the important.

Either way, it’s pretty easy to slip into that funk.

I can usually tell when I slip into that funk, too. For me, the symptoms include…

  • increased stress in my week.
  • slowed momentum.
  • emotional tension.
  • procrastination.

When I catch myself doing this, there’s a phrase I usually tell myself:

“Brett, you’re hanging Christmas lights.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas lights. If I didn’t have a wife to set me straight, my house would probably look like Joyce Byers’ from Stranger Things (if you don’t get that reference, you need to hop on Netflix and block out your next few evenings). For me, that phrase comes from a specific moment in ministry.

I was 21. I had just graduated from Anderson University and jumped right into full time ministry. I was in an awesome church outside of Lexington, Kentucky and doing my best despite having no idea what I was supposed to be doing. For my own mental health, I’m going to assume we’ve all been there (or are there).

I was trying to do everything on my own and had some pretty unrealistic expectations as to what I should be doing and the fruits of that labor. And all of that was starting to cause some stress, especially on Wednesdays.

Wednesday night was our big night. Games, worship, teaching…probably something similar to your main program. And guess who led the games, worship, and teaching? Yep…the rookie who hadn’t figured out how to delegate quite yet (though this blog isn’t about delegation). So, as you can imagine, every Wednesday was nuts:

  • Prepping for worship band practice
  • Finalizing & practicing my message
  • Setting up all media on the computer
  • Setting up the youth room
  • Game prep
  • Making copies (who else read that in Rob Schneider’s voice?)
  • Generally running around like a chicken with my head cut off

Okay, okay, you get it. In fact, you may be living it. So there I was, about 3pm one particular Wednesday and I still hadn’t gotten everything done that I needed to yet. My wife calls. She can obviously tell that I’m stressed out.

“What’s wrong?”

“Ugh, just overwhelmed. I’ve just got so much stuff to do.”

“What are you doing right now?”

and here it comes…

“Uh…hanging Christmas lights.”

The following probably isn’t what my wife said, but it’s basically the way that I took it.

“Seriously? Don’t you have more important things to be doing right now? No wonder you’re stressed out.”

In my defense, the Christmas lights mattered. The space we were meeting in had a terrible vibe. Nothing like some sweet Christmas lights strewn about the ceiling to remedy that, right? So, it wasn’t that I was doing something wrong, I just wasn’t doing it at the right time.

In all reality, it was probably something that someone else should have been doing (that whole delegation piece again). Without hesitation, I could have asked some parents or High School students to come in early to hang those for me. But for whatever reason, there I was…2 hours before things were going to get rolling, doing something that had a much smaller impact on the evening than about ten other things I could have been doing.

So, as you plan out your week, ask yourself, “Where am I just hanging Christmas lights?”

Where am I not being as strategic as I should be?

What am I trying to avoid that should be done/addressed?

Since that experience, a couple of things that have helped me include calendaring & itemizing to-do lists. I started using an app which gives each day its own to-do list. Some of the things on this list are reoccurring. For instance, I knew that every Wednesday I was going to (try to) write up my weekly emails to parents and small group leaders. Other items on the list were one-off things like brainstorming upcoming events and cleaning the tech room, which I would assign to days that had less important things happening.

What about you? What practices have you come up with that keep you from hanging Christmas lights (at least at the wrong time)?

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