Up until a few months ago, “stressed” would have described me well. There was not any evidence of it on the outside. I attempted to stay true to my healthy habits – reading, running, basketball, sleep, and eating the right foods. My annual physical didn’t reveal high blood pressure or anything else out of the normal range. But, expanding to the Midwest, while awesome, took its emotional and spiritual toll on me. It took more time and resources than I imagined it would. Three years ago when considering expanding into two areas simultaneously (one more than we actually did), one board member cautioned me that this would be more than I could handle. I’m glad I listened.
We are securely on the other end of this expansion project. YMI Midwest is doing great. All of the necessary organizational pieces are in place. I am glad we did it.
But, money was tight in 2015. Our grant money funding our coaching coordinator’s salary was predictably used up. That was the plan. We had just hosted the Youth Ministry Academy, a three day training event, for the second time. Most of our income for the Academy came in late 2014. Our expenses arrived with the event in 2015. YMI Midwest was experiencing some growing pains as we continued to explore how the relationship between Florida and Kansas would work. For nine months I was watching our cash flow every two weeks praying that we would have enough funds to cover expenses and the payroll. I have never had to do that before. My friends who are small business owners showed quite a bit of empathy as I navigated through this period of time.
In addition, we had our worst recruiting year to date in Florida last year (Midwest had their best). A significant number of churches with which we were working were struggling – church politics, financial stress, and pastor removal. Ugh. We had to work hard in each of these situations. And in my own church I had difficulty finding my role. I wasn’t feeling very positive about the state of the church at the end of 2015. In fact, I was downright negative. The church seemed to be failing all around me. I started YMI because I wanted to be part of solving what ailed local churches. I was convinced I was not helping. Frankly, I couldn’t justify even writing a newsletter. I felt the toxicity would spill out in my words.
Seemingly, the only bright spot was my family. They all had a great year! I suppose if I had to have one or the other, I would choose for my family to be in good shape. Praise God.
Believe it or not, YMI ended 2015 in the best financial situation than we had in the previous five years. Of course we couldn’t celebrate this until the books closed in early 2016. Out of necessity we began to become inventive regarding our service to the local church. Many churches have diminishing resources, still possessing a need to reach out to young people. Modeled after what YMI Midwest did with the Presbyterian Church, we teamed with Emmaus Bible Ministries and the Episcopal Church to offer a nine-month internship with basic coaching and 32 hours of instruction. We have our first student starting this month.
In addition, we decided to offer a “coaching only” service that also included an on-site evaluation and a developmental cohort. This means that this group will not receive the 325 hours of instruction. It was created for the church experiencing financial constraints (it is one-third of the cost of our two-year coaching and training program). Youth ministers in our coaching only program might also be in college full time or have a full time job other than youth ministry. They need more flexibility. Starting this month we will have six in this initial cohort.
We have another strategy that will require some outside funding to get moving in the right direction. We want to offer a digital version of our classes. These edited and shortened versions of our workshops, if done well, could be available on the internet to anybody at any time, one workshop at a time. This idea came from our discussions with Kansas Wesleyan University to offer a youth ministry minor (more on this further down in the newsletter). We have written a funding proposal for $450,000 to be funded by a foundation. We have hired a grant writer to vet the foundations, narrowing our target. Pray that we submit this request to the right funder.
While we have been praying for the right connections to begin this undergraduate college initiative, I received a phone call from Florida Southern College in late July. I was offered the job as their youth ministry adjunct professor. It felt as if God had me moving in a positive direction. Classes begin at the end of this month.
Therefore, 2016 has stabilized. Enrollment is respectable (see information on this further down in the newsletter). I’m not checking our cash flow every two weeks to be sure there is money in the bank. (Note: We still need $15,000 to make up what we hoped to receive in donations earlier in the year.) After two years of detailed meetings and the creation of more solid corporate documents, our board of directors last month elected a new board to include those from YMI Midwest for the first time thus completing our transition to a multi-site organization. I like my church better, and consequently, the larger church. Maybe the sky isn’t falling. There are seasons for everything, I suppose. And, to top it off, my family is still doing great!
So, the word isn’t “stressed” anymore. It is “peace.” I feel at peace with the direction God has YMI going. Thank you, God.