Home > Leadership, Youth Ministry > Don’t Lose Your Life to Youth Ministry

Don’t Lose Your Life to Youth Ministry

My Problem

I can remember counting every hour I worked my first two years in youth ministry to justify a raise.  I don’t remember the exact number, but I went to the personnel committee averaging somewhere around 65 hours per week.  How in the world did I average 65 hours?  Well, I counted the 40-50 that I put in working 5 1/2 days a week.  Then, there were the trips, retreats, lock-in’s, 30 Hour Famine’s, etc.  I would count every hour – all 24 – when on a trip or retreat.  I justified it by saying if something happened in the middle of the night I was responsible and had to deal with it.  Makes sense right?

Wrong.  Sleeping (even if only for a few hours because kids are up half the night) does not constitute a work hour.  Although I did have some interesting part-time jobs where I did get paid to sleep (even if I wasn’t supposed to).  But the argument, I was trying to make did have validity not about a raise, but about how much I was working. Unfortunately, I was working at a church at that time that did not recognize either the need for a raise or that i was overworking myself.

But what do you do when you work all week and then go on a 3-day retreat and are expected to be at a Monday morning meeting? I was headed toward mental and physical burnout and being young and single was not a good excuse.

National Problem

The national burnout rate in youth ministry is 3.9 years! Youth Ministers called by God leave the church to sell insurance primarily because working in the church is too hard.  There are a multitude of reasons for this including lack of training and support, pay, and yes long hours.  The church is responsible for a lot of these conditions, but some of them we have control over and must take responsibility for ourselves.

It’s not  Jesus’ fault either, I don’t think he intended for us to “lose our life” the way so many of us take it.  Yes, give everything in our life to Jesus but that does not mean excluding parts of our life – family, friends, etc. – for ministry.  We should give those pieces of our life to Christ as well.  We have more responsibilities in this life than our job.

Avoiding Burnout

Here are 3 not-so-easy steps to avoid burnout. They are not-so-easy because youth ministers are prone to having savior complexes that lead to overworking.  Some friendly advice from someone who still is learning to do these things.  Get over yourself, and get a life!

Manage Your Time or It will Manage you

The Center for Youth Ministry Training supervises lots of young youth workers. One of the components of the program is that each graduate resident receives a veteran youth minister who walks with them during the 3 years of our program.  One of the key ingredients to the coaching program is time management.  If you don’t learn to set boundaries around your time, your time will manage you and you will lose your life to the church.

It is important for you to learn that you can not do it all.  There will always be more to do.  Don’t trick yourself into thinking that you can take a day off or a vacation when you get it all done.  You will be more productive at your job if you are rested and physically and mentally healthy.    Find a time management program that works for you.  CYMT uses the rhythmic week with our students which forces them to find one full day (3-4 hour blocks) during the week that is down time.  The blocks can move around during the week, but they can not go away!

Friends are people who KNOW you!

Another problem that ministers and youth ministers have in common is that we have no friends.  We have a lot of acquaintances.  Parents of youth, volunteers, church members, other staff can all be surface level relationships.  But do you have true friends?  People who know what’s going on in your life.  If you don’t, then you without a doubt feel lonely.  Who are you in a relationship with that loves and accepts you for who your are?  If you are going to make it in ministry and have a life, you are going to need people like this in your life.  If you aren’t managing your time, then you won’t have time to invest in relationships to have friends.  You don’t have enough time in this life to not have friends!

Exercise makes us feel better!

It’s just true.  Your body feels better when you exercise.  Run, walk, chase a ball, throw a frisbee, dance, hike, or climb!  I don’t care but your body does and you will be a better minister for it.  Again, no time to exercise means bad time management.  In this case, your life actually depends on it.

This blog is as much to me as it is to you!  I’m trying cycling as a physical outlet right now.  I’m trying to avoid working at home at night.  I want to be present with my kids and wife.

What have you found that helps you not lose your life?

I’m migrating this blog to ymblogs.com.  I hope you will join me there!

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  1. March 15, 2011 at 9:41 am

    You should count every hour on a retreat because you are required to be there. You don’t get breaks and you are responsable.

    • March 15, 2011 at 9:58 am

      Danny, I’d argue that every hour is not reasonable. For example a one week mission trip. Are you going to say you accrued 16 hours of overtime each day and take the next two weeks off as comp time?

      Jobs come with a variety of responsibilities. I’m always responsible for my ministry even when I’m not there, because I’m the boss. But every hour I’m responsible is not a work hour.

      Events are a part of the job. That’s my take, but if you are finding balance great!

  2. March 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    what a great blog! how sad that 3.9 years is it. and i bet that many more stick around because it is a job, but the fire and passion is long gone. i really appreciate the encouragement and the helps. i am off for a run!

    • March 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      Thanks Benjamin – I like your post about March Madness. I’m a Memphis Tiger fan. Hoping we can pull at least one out this year!

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