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How Maintaining Boundaries Could Save Your Ministry

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As youth workers it seems to me that our calling is to both connect teenagers to Christ and to empower our adult leadership to develop stronger and deeper relationships with both students and God. Those of us who have the privilege of serving the church need to remember this call, and seek to protect our ability to effectively carry it out. What do I mean when I say we need to protect our ability to carry out our calling?

I’m speaking of the importance of maintaining clear boundaries, especially as it pertains to all it takes to carry out the tasks that make your ministry effective.

It seems for many youth workers, the hardest battles they have to fight are within the church. Many churches have a different understanding of the fundamentals of youth ministry than the youth workers they call to serve. (It’s been my experience that a lot of churches often want youth workers to design ministries that are attractive to teens (but only the “right” kind), that don’t cost much, and that keep parents in the pew.)

These misunderstandings by church leadership and the issues they cause can have an erosive effect on the calling of a youth pastor. A youth worker’s call to make bold, vibrant followers of Christ can be deeply impacted by something that seems subtle at first, but can lead to a problematic erosion of calling.

This process of slow erosion most often comes in the form of requests to do other duties outside of the boundaries of youth ministry. We've all been there . . . It starts with doing A/V for worship services, or answering the main church phones either with or in place of a church administrative assistant . . . Next thing you know, the task has become yours. For good.

It’s not that youth workers shouldn’t be willing to pitch in and help out. In smaller churches, or when unique situations come up with staff issues, the need for people to pitch in with tasks outside their area of ministry is almost a necessity. But for many youth ministers, "pitching in" becomes a problem when a random task here or there becomes part of their new job description! How should we think about this concept? Here are a few ideas I've found to be helpful when those "call eroding" requests come up.

Pick Your Battles

With only so many hours available, it’s important to consider how saying “yes” to one thing will require you to say “no” to others, which might actually be more in-line with your calling. Some requests you just need to say, “yes” to, others you need to politely decline, if possible. It can be difficult to know the difference. But your pace needs to be slow enough that you have time to make this distinction.

Look At The Request In Its Full Context

You need to consider if by saying “yes,” now whether or not you’re saying “yes” to forever, in which case you have effectively changed your job description. It’s important to clearly know what you are agreeing to and how it impacts the boundaries of your calling. Again, you might not have much of a choice. But if you do, it’s wise to try and step back and see how a decision today impacts your future.

Educate Those Around You

If possible, as much as you can given your specific ministry contexts, look at special requests as an opportunity to educate those around you about youth ministry, your calling, and how God is moving in and among the youth of the church. Share your heart for Christ and your passion to connect teenagers to Christ.

After ten years of full time youth ministry, I’ve seen churches consistently misunderstand youth work and youth workers. Certainly there are great churches who support and equip their youth workers. This is encouraging. But the most encouraging point is the hope we have in knowing that God is the one doing the calling. God never misunderstands, and God never calls the wrong person.

About the Author

Joshua Gill

Joshua Gill is currently the Director of Youth Ministries at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Malvern, PA. Josh has worked in the youth ministry field for over a decade. He is also speaks and consults through Directions in Youth Ministry. For more information about Josh check out his website at www.directionsym.com.

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2 comments

Man! Feels like a common experience. Expectations layered with unsaid expectations! The value of being a part of a team that clearly defines roles and allows you freedom to work with in that role and clearly lays our boundaries and rules that govern that role! Thats the dream :)
by: david bartosik December 8, 2012 11:19 am
David, I totally agree. It is amazing how beat up you can feel in this field. No wonder burn out is so high...
by: Joshua Gill December 10, 2012 1:07 pm