By Eddie Pipkin

My son got married last weekend.  It was a beautiful day, an event they will remember for a lifetime.  But it wasn’t the day they envisioned when they were in the midst of planning seven months ago.  He and his fiancée had been putting together a wedding for 150 people for well over a year.  In the end, they hosted 48 masked participants who weren’t allowed to dance at the reception.  But once they had leaned into the necessary changes, they made it work with style.  As somebody who has been in leadership for lots of events, large and small, over the years, it was a great reminder of lessons to be learned about any important project – some of these lessons are standard stuff you’d teach any leader you were mentoring – some were given new nuance by the realities of the pandemic.

Have a plan.

I have to confess that I had never in all my days seen the sticky-notes-max method.  It was something to behold.  The wedding planners in my house (which included my wife, my son, and my visiting daughter – the bride didn’t arrive until a last minute flight from Boston on the day before the big event) had written down every single item to be checked off the to-do list on its individual color-coded sticky note and stuck those dozens of notes to the glass-faced cabinets in the kitchen.  The entire room was a landscape of easily visualized chores, and as they would accomplish each task – pick up the wedding dress, check in with the caterer – they’d take that sticky note down.  It was a viscerally reinforced sense of moving steadily closer to the ultimate goal.

Ministry groups should do more of this event visualization.  A large white board in a common space is a place where teams can congregate, make a record of what they’re accomplishing, trade ideas in kinetic, color-coded fashion, and come together to view a dynamic summary of their current project journey.  One of the most popular sets in modern television is that big board (that used to be low tech but is now futuristically high tech) in the shared detective space on the cop shows.  Sure, apps and task management software replicate much of that feel, but it’s just not the same as a big, physical, highly visual presence that everybody experiences together.

Don’t be afraid to delegate.

Old as the hills, this advice is.  Jesus, of course, practiced it, hello, disciples!  Yet we all struggle with it.  We all want to keep our fingers in as many pies as possible.  We want to control as much as we can possibly control, because we are secretly convinced that the brilliance of our management of tasks, titanic or tiny, will mean that those tasks are the most perfect they can possibly be.  Only WE can ensure their success!  Of course, what happens is that our obsession with trying to do too much means that we deliver less than stellar results on most of the too-many-to-manage tasks we hold on to.

It is true that we have to be willing to let things unspool with details that are not necessarily exactly the way we would have done it, but it’s a useful skill to learn the difference between details that are essential to success and details that are peripheral to success and learn to manage accordingly.  We ultimately should be moving away from being event planners to being managers of those who plan events.  We’ll never grow our ministry if get bogged down inthe weeds of every single detail.

Don’t forget that people love to do their part.

The other aspect of delegating and letting people do their part is the power we have to help people grow and find their own niche for leadership and service.  When we hold on to too much, we hold back those can flourish by learning to do their best in pursuit of a project.  (We know this lesson well, but we have to be constantly reinforced in remembering and practicing it.)

People love to be released and empowered to do their thing.  It’s why we all get up in the morning.  It is a special power as leaders we have to turn folks loose to employ their gifts.

Assume the unexpected will happen.

Just because you have a plan – even a great plan – does not mean you are going to flawlessly control the mechanics of the universe.  Stuff is going to go off the rails. One of the best ways to prepare for the inevitable unexpected moments is through thorough, careful planning.  The great thing about careful planning – and this is counter-intuitive to some people – is that it allows you to practice maximum flexibility if that is what is required.  Some folks think that loosey-goosey means you have more room to change it up, but loosey-goosey just leads to sloppy chaos.  Careful planning means you have the calm demeanor and the multiple options to shift gears seamlessly and with a smile on your face.

I used to say a prayer when I arrived at the church for youth group every Sunday night.  After I pulled into my parking space and shut off the car, I would take two minutes to breathe deeply and pray, “Lord, I have tried to think of every crazy thing these kids are going to pull tonight, but I know there is still going to be something I haven’t thought of.  Give me the patience to roll with it when it happens.  Amen.”

Celebrate the imperfectly perfect (or the perfectly imperfect)

I officiated this wedding, so after the rehearsal I circled up the bridal party for a prayer, and I said this: “I want you all to remember that something will go wrong tomorrow, or at least not according to plan.  We’ll drop one of the rings when it’s time for the ring exchange, and it will roll across the room.  Or one of the groomsmen will lock up his knees and pass out.  Whatever it is, however, it happens, it’s all good.  It will be all right.  And you’ll have a story to tell about the day that you’ll always remember.”  Nobody passed out.  No rings were dropped.  But there were, of course, little glitches here and there, adorable asterisks added to the story of their day.

There is a fine balance between being obsessed with the perfection of any event and being so loosey-goosey that there is chaos, but when we foster that attitude of “I’ve prepared all I can, now I’m good with rolling with what happens,” we can be at peace and enjoy the moment.  Sometimes we work so hard preparing for a given moment that we completely forget to relish it while it’s happening.

Make that lemonade out of those lemons.

In the age of the pandemic, we’ve all become experts at this leadership exercise.  Since we are having to make adjustments that have dramatically changed the vibe of our events, it’s important to celebrate the ways that these changes have provided new opportunities for fresh experiences.

Enjoy the ways that these crazy times make things that weren’t special suddenly special.  The bride and groom at this wedding – who have backgrounds in public health – had mandated strict protocols about social distancing and mask wearing in an attempt to keep everyone safe, so there was going to be no general dancing at the wedding reception.  People were grouped at tables with other people to whom they had already been exposed on a regular basis.  In the moment someone suggested dancing for a couple of songs, but only at the individual tables, which sounds like a lame and ridiculous idea, but it evolved into this delightful series of individual conga lines of gyrating guests who made circles around each table.  It was festive . . . and safe . . . and everybody loved it.

If we don’t get weighe down by our frustration and cynicism over following all these restrictive rules for so long, there are moments of grace and glory to gleaned.  Imagination and open, receptive hearts go a long way towards creating a new and maybe special-in-its-own-way thing.

Relationships are the main thing.

When it all comes down to it – and Jesus was the quintessential example of this beautiful truth – the people at the events are far more important than the events themselves.  The relationships that we make time for and fully lean into are what give an event its meaning.  Those interactions with people are what live on in our memories and what lay the groundwork for how our lives to move forward in healthy ways.

Therefore, no aspect of an event should sacrifice relationships.  If we are facing a choice between achieving some sort of Instagrammable perfection and preserving a relationship, relationship should take precedence.  Don’t get so busy that you have no time for conversation.  Don’t get so caught up in micromanaging that you leave no time for dancing (or any equivalent idea that illustrates your commitment to fully embracing the moment with people who are important to your story).

So, how about you and your ministry team?  Do you practice these familiar truisms?  Are there some you clearly need to work on right now?  Are there events you are planning that are causing you to lean into these fundamental principles?  Share your own adventures right here in the comments section, so we can build some memories together.