We know by now the idea that camp stops after the summer is a myth. Camp staff, leaders, supports, even campers and parents, continue to be impacted by and contribute to ministry year-round no matter what the non-summer season looks like. So while it doesn’t stop, there is a seasonality to outdoor ministry, and that’s a really good thing.
Sometimes we stumble into who we are. Our vocation finds us, reminding us that God is moving in our lives, and while our skills and experiences get bigger, interestingly what matters most gets smaller. We move toward clarity on the most important questions in our own lives, and in our business and ministries. So as I worked with churches, camps, and other organizations, there are two questions that it all keeps coming back to.
These are the questions to ask anytime you do anything: why and who. That’s it. These are questions small in letter count and monumental in impact on our choices. They are the questions to ask when we’re approaching something in ministry (and maybe even life in general).
We need to do things on purpose, for people.
Considering a new program? Why and who? Evaluating and redesigning an event? Why and who? Exploring a theme for end-of-year fundraising? Why and who? Let’s unpack them just a bit, then put it into practice.
We’ve all got mission statements. They adorn our walls and our strategic planning handbooks, maybe we read them at our annual meetings. Mission statements are important and worth time and often support in creating and honing. The hardest part about mission statements is practical application. How does our purpose actually inform our program. Asking the “Why?” question every time we approach something is the way theoretical mission becomes practical ministry. We use our “why” as a lens for our “what.”
Now, the why shouldn’t always have the same answer – our people and programs need uniqueness and creativity, yet can and should always have clear alignment with our mission, and everyone involved should be able to see that. They should get you there, and most of what you do probably does, but as we keep learning over and over in life, the only way to not know something is to not ask. So ask questions like:
In what ways does ___________________ move us forward?
How does __________________ connect with our mission?
How aligned is this program/event/initiative with what’s most important?
In what ways does _____________________ reflect and support our identity?
Ask anyone what’s truly most important in life, you’ll nearly always hear something about people – family, friends, community, helping others, following Jesus, etc. There are audiences, and not just one, for all we do. Sometimes we think of those as primary, secondary, tertiary, and so on, but they are all there, and the ripples of impact are seen in both the stats and the stories from camp.
The tendency for lots of ministries is to assume all things to all people. All are welcome, right? Of course, yet we each have unique audiences with unique perspectives and experiences. Our innovation center needs to move off of our own creativity and on to those we serve and connect with. When we’re designing or evaluating, we need to get out of our own heads, and seek the insights and understandings of others.
So as we approach something in a staff conversation, board meeting, or summer planning session, begin to use this “Who?” question as a lens too. Ask questions like:
Who is _________________ for? Who does it serve?
Who else does ___________________ impact?
What does our community for ______________________ look like?
What do they care about? What are they motivated by?
It’s worth noting that the audiences don’t just include those served, but those who do the serving – yourselves, your staff, your volunteers, and beyond. How things affect them matters for things like mental health and burnout, using gifts and talents wisely, and feeling fulfilled in their role.
How we implement this has to be simple, or it won’t happen. None of us need another thing to do, so make it easy and front-facing. Add these two questions to the top of your meeting agendas. Talk through this with your staff and empower them to ask these questions. When we use these questions as lenses to look through, it leads us to wise decisions focused on what matters most!