By Eddie Pipkin

April 1, 2016

There has been a surprising amount written lately about the value of ‘switching it up.’

In articles on everything from “how to enhance your mental health” to “how to get the most out of your workout,” a consistent theme has been the need to break up our routine.  This advice can seem counter-intuitive because many of us spend a lot of time and effort developing our routines and rhythms in the first place.  We have spent years defining the cadence of our working day or the precise balance of elements that keeps our family schedule functioning.  Still, the experts tell us that obsession with our routines can be our enemy.

Particularly as we age, our minds and our muscles become literally less elastic, so even though we might have some good habits, intellectually and physically, if we are working the same territory over and over, the results can be a brittleness that reduces our ability to adapt to new challenges flexibly.  This lack of flexibility can even put us at risk for injury (or in the case of our minds, reduced coping skills, potentially leads to a spiral of helplessness and anxiety anytime we find ourselves out of our established comfort zone).  Older people who neither vary their physical routine or their mental routine (picture eight hours a day of “Murder She Wrote” re-runs, enjoyed from the La-Z-Boy), eventually find themselves unable to function in the greater world.  Luckily, there are some simple strategies to stave off this depressing demise.  Switch it up.

switch it upThe fitness gurus recommend that we cross-train.  In its simplest form—and this works for even the most casual kinds of exercise—if you walk every day, ride your bike or go for a swim a couple of times a week.  If you tend to sweep right to left, go for broke and sweep left to right for a change.  Use different muscle groups.  The mental health guides tell us to stay sharp by keeping our minds activity (do crosswords, read intellectually challenging books), but they also observe that our aging brains need us to keep the electrical pathways fresh, and we do that by switching up our routines.  Don’t drive the same route to work every day.  Don’t go to the same grocery store.  Challenge yourself by forcing yourself to learn fresh routines.  (I have been trying both of these—the cross training and the brain challenging—and it is very interesting.)

Of course, you are wondering what this has to do with ministry, this being a ministry-focused blog.  Well, lots.  The ‘switch it up’ advice can be very useful for

  • Boosting creativity.
  • Helping guard against burnout.
  • Giving us a fresh perspective (and often a deeper appreciation of the work at hand).
  • Keeping things from getting stale (and us from getting stale in the ways that others experience us).
  • Boosting efficiency (as we try different approaches and either learn new things that work better or are reinforced in the wisdom of our current ways).

So, here are some ideas for how to mix it up in ministry:

  • Mix up your meeting routine. Alter the time of day or the day of the week and see what happens.  Even more easily (and perhaps more effective—this is fun to try and can have a real impact on what transpires), change up the location of your meeting.  Meet outside, meet at the milkshake hut, meet at somebody’s house instead of a stuff office.  Meet at the altar or the foot of the cross, and remind yourself of the holy calling of your work.
  • Mix up responsibilities. Trade some of your job duties with people on your team for a week and experience the ministry from their perspective (allowing them to experience it from yours).
  • Mix up your daily routine. If you like to do certain tasks first thing in the morning, put them off till the end of the day (this one will drive you highly organized folk insane).  If you tend to work through lunch, make yourself take a walk at lunch for a week.
  • Communicate differently. If you love long, highly detailed emails (and who doesn’t, right?), pick a day when you do an experiment in which you only communicate to people in conversation.  Or if you are the person who only likes to talk through ideas, pick a day or two when you force yourself to write everything down.
  • Mix up your worship order. Or your newsletter.  Or your youth group schedule.  Or the way the chairs are arranged.  Wonderful things can happen when you take the things ministry participants are used to and shake them up.  Messy, delightful, insightful things.  It really makes leaders and participants think more deeply about what elements of our routines are the most valuable and why we do things the way we do them.

What are some ways that you have ‘switched it up’ and what wonderful or tragic results resulted?  Don’t be shy.  The comments section is for us all to learn from one another.  If you are somebody who reads but never shares your own thoughts or ideas, it’s time to ‘switch it up’!