Written by Aaron Helman
There are a lot of things that go into making a successful youth minister, and you know what most of those are: a healthy and growing relationship with the Sustaining God, an authentic passion for the generation, and a solid Biblical theology.
Of course, there are those important vocational skills like teaching, leading volunteers, and communicating with parents.
But one of the most important qualities of a great youth worker is one of those underrated things that doesn’t get nearly enough credit:
Sometimes the most important thing is just to stick around for a while.
Things like relational ministry, development of volunteer teams, and affecting culture change are usually not the product of sudden and dynamic work, but instead consistent and incremental change.
In other words, if you want to make a long-term impact in the lives of your students and in the history of your congregation and ministry, you’ll probably need to make a long-term investment.
And of course, that’s what all of us want to do.
We may understand that youth workers don’t have the longest shelf life, but none of us go into youth ministry expecting to flame out and quit our jobs leaving a trail of wrecked ministry and broken hearts behind us.
But those burnout statistics are a harsh reality.
Too many youth workers don’t remain youth workers for very long. And too many teenagers and churches are reeling because of what happens when a beloved youth worker burns out.
A lot of youth workers adopt the attitude that It could never happen to me!
But, those who stick around for the long haul usually realize that it absolutely could happen to me.
That means that it’s massively important to take the proactive steps necessary to make sure that it doesn’t.
After studying youth worker burnout for half-a-decade now, we’ve identified what those proactive steps are.
Here are the 3 most prevalent positive habits adopted by youth workers with long and healthy careers.
Want to join them?
Begin practicing these habits yourself.
HABIT #1- LEARN HOW TO DELEGATE.
One of the most important ways to make doing ministry a life-giving experience instead of a soul-sucking experience is to do it with a team.
In large churches, some youth workers are fortunate enough to get to do ministry alongside a team of other like-minded professional youth workers.
For most of us, that’s not our reality.
Instead, our “team” becomes the volunteers and parent helpers that are on our side.
Utilizing these people well becomes massively important as a way to increase your own bandwidth, to reduce your loneliness, and to build a healthy and sustainable ministry.
Delegating to volunteers is the process by which you offload things from your to-do list in a clear and effective way to people who can do those things instead of you.
Many of us have volunteer teams who attend and help out at our events, but we may not ever make the step of delegating tasks to them.
The first task I ever delegated was finding a mom to coordinate youth group snacks.
It was her job to call the other parents, to schedule snacks, and if she couldn’t find someone, she would do it herself.
It was a good thing for me because making a grocery store run to get Oatmeal Raisin Cookies was the last thing I needed to spend my time doing in the hours before youth group.
It was good for the students in our group because they hated Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.
It was good for the mom because it gave her a way to contribute in a way she felt comfortable.
Best of all, I felt less alone in those tenuous moments before students started showing up for youth group because there was always a parent there to set out snacks and make small talk.
You might delegate worship music or game planning or even an entire event.
There’s a family in my church with a large backyard and a bonfire pit.
Every year they plan, lead, and deliver an entire fellowship event for our students.
My contribution is showing up.
There are likely families in your congregation willing to do the same thing if they were asked.
HABIT #2 – DEAL WITH CONFLICT, DON’T FESTER IN IT.
You may have a beef with the choir director.
Or maybe you feel unsupported by your senior pastor.
Maybe it’s a problem with an entrenched volunteer.
Or maybe you’re just tired of the janitor haranguing you about the youth room.
If you want to last a long time in youth ministry, you’ve got to be willing to deal with those problems head-on, no matter how uncomfortable they seem. Festering in your issues is a recipe for disaster.
Sitting on your problems won’t get them solved, but it will cause you to resent your church, your ministry, and the other people you work with.
You may hate dealing with conflict, but if you don’t do it, then it won’t be long until you simply hate coming into work, and that’s a place that’s not far from disastrous consequences, for yourself, your ministry, and your teenagers.
If you don’t know how to deal with conflict, talk to your senior pastor.
Don’t ask for him to solve your problems for you, but do ask for guidance in learning to solve them yourself.
If your conflict is with your senior pastor, ask for a time to get coffee.
Be honest. It will be awkward.
It might be painful.
But it’s a lot less awkward and painful than resigning through an angry email six months from now.
HABIT #3 – PROTECT YOUR SABBATH
A long time ago, I asked a long-winded question of a long-tenured youth worker that ended something like this:
“How do you deal with people who try to interrupt your Sabbath?”
And that was it.
Sabbath is a great gift from a loving God, but it’s also a Commandment. Like, One of the Ten.
Ask any elite endurance athlete and they’ll tell you, sometimes the quality of your performance can be wholly dictated by the quality of your rest.
Sure, there’s a lot of training that goes into any event, but if you sleep poorly, you lose.
The same thing goes for ministry.
We run and run without ever stopping to rest, then act surprised when we fall on our faces.
We spend ourselves thin without ever taking time to recharge or spiritual batteries, then act surprised when we run down to nothing.
If you are regularly running your engine at 100 miles an hour, but never take time to slow down long enough to fill up your tank, burnout isn’t just an unfortunate thing that happens.
It’s a literal inevitability.
God did not make you to function without rest.
That’s why the Sabbath is a Commandment.
WHICH ONE DO YOU NEED TO START TODAY?
I want you to be in youth ministry for the next decade and beyond, and if you leave, I want it to be because God is clearly calling you away, not because you suffered a cataclysmic burnout episode.
So, which of these three things do you need to get better at?
And how can you start at it TODAY?
Leave a comment below and share your plans.
HOW TO KEEP GOING WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE QUITTING
Sometimes you feel like giving up. Quitting.
Turning off your alarm on Sunday morning and staying in bed until Tuesday.
Sometimes the frustrations feel greater than the meaningful calling you thought you had.
As a little extra, I created a PDF you can download called “How to Keep Going When You Feel Like Quitting.”
In it, I share 5 steps to take to keep going in youth ministry when you’re at or near your breaking point.
Or if you’re simply feeling the stress and pressure of a busy youth ministry season, then this is perfect for you too.
HOW TO KEEP GOING WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE QUITTING DOWNLOAD PDF
Written by Aaron Helman. Aaron has been in youth ministry for over 15 years and is currently a youth pastor in South Bend, Indiana.