The Reflective Practitioner: Five ways to move onward
The Reflective Practitioner: Five ways to move onward

Bridge photo

The theme at this year’s National Youth Workers’ Convention was Onward. That’s a great theme for any youth program and one I’ve been reflecting on since the conference.

This January, I will have completed my first year as a Christian education director. So much of my job is looking forward to the next season and the next event. I’m asked to bring energy and new ideas to the table day in and day out, to help the next event be bigger and better. Those overwhelming feelings of drowning were frequent at the beginning of my new job. Today I rarely feel that anxiety.

So what changed for me in just one year? I kept moving onward.

To me onward is focused energy. It has meaning and purpose. Here are five ways I learned to move “onward” in the past year. They aren’t complicated or even particularly original. But for each of these strategies, someone actually had to tell me to do it. I hope these tips help give you permission to let go and try something new to move your ministry onward.

  • Learn to improvise … but don’t freestyle – Christian educators tend to be pretty adaptable, flexible, and creative people. That means that I can and often need to throw something together without thinking much about it. But the past year I spent some time putting together methods, systems, and goals that help me to fall back on some standards. These can be done with a group, but developing my personal models was key. Just because you didn’t plan for something doesn’t mean you can’t have a way to deal with it. What is your model for dealing with an unexpected event?
  • No excuses – A friend of mine is a server at a restaurant, and she told me recently about all the things that can go wrong during her shifts. Servers often have to take the blame for mistakes that happened somewhere else in the restaurant. When they start to explain what happened to a table of hungry guests, it sounds like they are making excuses. This is what being a director is like sometimes. So many different moving parts means so many things can go wrong. People may not realize the many pieces that go into one Sunday morning. You will never be able to explain, and it’s not a great practice to put the blame on others. In the moment, ask those who are pointing out the mistakes if they have any ideas. If you ask honestly, and not out of anger, you can often find a partner in solving a problem, picking up new ideas, or getting to the heart of the issue.
  • Partner with parents – I’m not a parent, but I know parenting today is difficult! I do my best to understand the many challenges parents encounter. I try to keep them informed and involved with emails and newsletters. A little organization and planning goes a long way. When you communicate and plan with your parents instead of fighting them, it keeps you organized and looking forward yourself.
  • Find what excites you – Often I get the opportunity to choose locations for mission trips and retreats. It crosses my mind to take a vote or otherwise make a group decision, so we are all happy about the trip. However, I believe if you pick locations or events that you are excited about, others will follow. Pick things that you can have fun with and they will be fun to plan and organize.
  • Get out of the way – On the other hand, the best ideas usually don’t come from me. They come from the volunteers, parents, youth, and staff that I encounter on a daily basis. I love brainstorming with other people and then supporting them in seeing our ideas through. Sometimes the more you can let go of control, the further the ideas can go with others. As long as you make sure the new idea fits in with your established methods, you will be able to create something new and sustainable with more people to support it.

Ellen King is the Director of Christian Education for Children and Youth at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA.

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