Written by Aaron Helman
We’re entering one of the most difficult times to be in youth ministry, or really, any ministry within the local church.
Advent is supposed to be a season filled with joy and peace and all of those things that we’re wrecking ourselves with stress and overwork trying to write sermons about.
Couple that with diminishing daylight, colder weather, and the stress that the holidays deliver to any family; and you’re left with a recipe for burnout, depression, and the inevitable feeling that happens to pretty much everyone in ministry:
Sometimes you feel like giving up.
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.
Sometimes the overwhelm becomes truly overwhelming.
It’s not always easy, but here’s how to keep going when you feel like giving up.
USE YOUR BASIC SPIRITUAL TOOLS
Everything that you’ve taught about the power of prayer is true. Everything that you’ve taught about silence and reflection and meditation and devotion.
That’s all true too. It’s true for you as well. You counsel students to seek wisdom, solace, peace, and comfort in the Lord during their most difficult times.
Allow me to counsel you to do the same thing. I won’t dwell on the mechanics of how this works, because you already have that understanding, because you’re a youth pastor.
Now it’s time to put that knowledge into action.
Do what you’ve taught others to do.
Practice the spiritual self-care that you’ve prescribed for those around you.
And, you should also do these things.
I don’t care what’s on your to-do list.
Move getting a decent night of sleep to the top of it.
Actually, make that TWO consecutive decent nights of sleep.
Your new goal is two consecutive nights of eight hours of sleep.
If that means you don’t get something done, so be it.
The long-term consequences of burning out and spontaneously quitting your job in a blaze of frustration are greater than the consequences of not getting the website and Twitter updated this week, I promise.
Schedule a day or two days in the next month to take off.
Don’t use that time to clean the garage or play FIFA.
Go somewhere and give yourself time to be quiet and breathe fresh air.
Call the staff at the summer camp your students attend.
Tell them exactly what’s going on with you and ask how much it would cost for you to rent a cabin for a day-and-a-night. A
Any camp worth its salt will do it for free or at a greatly reduced rate.
Spend your Sabbatical in silence, in prayer, in nature, and in doing things you enjoy.
Once it’s scheduled, circle the date on your calendar and promise yourself you won’t make any life-changing decisions until your Sabbatical.
People tend to make sub-optimal decisions when they’re in the middle of the storm.
Oftentimes, you need to get out of that whirlwind before deciding what you’re going to do next.
If you do decide to quit, that should be a reasonable and thoughtful decision.
During the most stressful seasons of our ministry, it’s tough to be reasonable and thoughtful.
Get yourself to a place where you can be.
SEE THE FUTURE
My favorite part of our ministry season is our Bike Trip program.
We ride bicycles with students for ten weeks to train them ahead of a 400-mile, week-long bike trip.
I love everything about it.
I love riding bikes. I love the sunshine.
I love challenging my students and seeing how they respond.
I love worship in the evenings.
I love watching students lead devotionals.
I love eating ice cream at the end of a long day.
When I start to feel like giving up, I start working on Bike Trip.
I look at maps and make routes and plan schedules.
There is a part of your ministry that you absolutely love.
It might be a ski retreat or a summer mission trip or a Jr High Camp.
When you do those things, you feel content and satisfied and alive.
There’s no rule that says you have to wait to plan them.
When you’re at your breaking point, focus some of your energy into the parts of your ministry that you love the most.
You might just come back alive.
Email a friend.
Call a mentor.
If you don’t have either of those things, DM me on Twitter (@aaronhelman) right now.
Ministry is tough and it’s tougher when you’re feeling alone.
And if none of this describes you – if you are loving life and loving ministry – then I have another challenge for you.
Go out and become a mentor and confidante to someone else.
Have you gotten through the stress and burnout of ministry?
Leave a comment below and share your secrets with all of us.
Like this blog post? Then you’ll also like this…
Aaron Helman is on a mission to end youth worker burnout by providing the training and resources that you haven’t been taught… until now. Smarter Youth Ministry exists to help you learn how to manage their time and resources better so that you can do more ministry with less frustration. All of that having been said, you most likely know him as the creator of “Lamentation or Taylor Swift Lyric.”