Nehemiah provides us with a blueprint of what we should do as we begin the process of planning our programmes.
The first step was to pray. Through prayer he developed the burden and passion necessary to undertake the task ahead of him. When we look to embark on the planning of a youth group activity we need to begin with prayer and continue to pray through each step along the way. Prayer is the means by which we come to know God’s agenda for what He wants to do. It is where we discover the part we have to play and where He can give us the insights and instructions we need.
Prayer should not simply be “Lord bless our plans, Amen!” We see from Nehemiah that our prayers should begin with an expression of dependence upon Him and an awareness of our own weakness. Essentially our prayer says “We can’t, but You can!”
We see also from His prayer that Nehemiah had an understanding of the purposes of God and the part his plan played in those purposes. Unless we have a clear sense of how our programme does this we have no right to even pray for God’s blessing, much less begin to plan. [i]
Nehemiah’s next step was to plan an outline of what needed doing and when. His goal was clear – to rebuild the city, and he had in mind an idea of how long it would take. He then held on to these plans and waited for God to give the go ahead through the approval offered by the king.[ii] Many can do the first but are not so good doing the second. If you are seeking God’s timing as to when to run a given event or to undertake a specific project look for circumstance and the confirmation of others to establish God’s correct timing for this.
Part of Nehemiah’s planning during this stage included finances and, specifically, ways of getting the material needed to complete the task.[iii] Therefore, for us this planning outline will not only include a timescale but a budget as well. Estimate expenditure and then set your income – what people pay to come to your programme, accordingly.
Once he had been given the green light, Nehemiah travelled to Jerusalem and commenced a detailed survey of what needed to be done. He carefully itemised the tasks that required completion and developed an understanding of what was needed to complete each task satisfactorily.[iv]
The planning we take on as youth leaders similarly requires the successful completion of a number of tasks. For example, if we are planning a camp or retreat these tasks may be:
- Research and chose an appropriate venue
- Plan a programme and invite a speaker
- Prepare and distribute publicity
- Handle registrations
- Prepare a budget, collect and then bank money
- Arrange transport to and from camp
- Purchase and prepare food
However, not only must we list these tasks, we must also give parameters to be observed in accomplishing them. For example, we might stipulate that the camp be within one hour’s travel from our church, or that the budget for food be under a given amount. Following this process ensures we do not miss anything and prepares us to do the next step well.
After Nehemiah had done all this he launched his publicity campaign – he spread the word regarding what was to happen, talking to city leaders and those who were to be involved in the “programme”.[v]
Publicity is a crucial step in running a programme. There are three parts to it: substance, style and strategy. Substance is what we tell people. It is all the necessary details surrounding the event. Style concerns the way we communicate substance such as the design of posters and flyers or the way we present announcements. Remember the saying that “the medium is the message”. Whether we like it or not, people will draw conclusions about your event by how good the publicity looks so make the effort to do this well. Finally, our strategy for publicity needs to be varied. Our aim is to tell as many people as possible as often as possible through as many means as possible. Use paper (posters, flyers, notices) and electronic means (phone, internet), but remember that the best publicity is someone telling a friend.
This next step in planning, as observed in the example of Nehemiah, is delegation. People were assigned to complete each task and were motivated to do so partly because the section of the wall they were asked to repair was close to where they lived.[vi]
When we delegate to people we first make sure they are willing and motivated to help. Don’t let people “volunteer” others! Try to match the task with a person’s interests and gifts and that way they will remain more highly motivated. Let them know what the parameters of the task are (see above) and when it needs to be completed, and finally check with them that they have understood what is expected of them.
As the tasks were being worked on, Nehemiah monitored the progress that was being made, encouraging the workers and developing contingency plans when problems arose. These problems took the form of tiredness, obstacles and criticism.[vii] When you plan programmes expect all of these!
Remember that delegating a task to a young person or another leader is not the end of your planning. When you delegate a task explain that you will call them before the task needs to be completed to see how they are getting on and to answer any questions they may have. When you call check on their progress and help them with any problems that arise, but also provide encouragement and show a personal interest in anything that’s happening in their life. Calling them before the task is due to be completed means there are no last minute problems if they don’t manage to get their task done. If they are falling behind with the task you can enlist further assistance for them before the deadline arrives.
[Adapted from the P4 Booklet "Skills for Leadership"]
[i] Nehemiah 1:4-11
[ii] Nehemiah 2:1-6
[iii] Nehemiah 2:8
[iv] Nehemiah 2:11-15
[v] Nehemiah 2:16-18
[vi] Nehemiah 3
[vii] Nehemiah 4