Doing Youth Ministry When You Are Completely Exhausted
No one goes into youth ministry because they want to spend their days relaxing in a stress-free environment. (Or, if they do, it's safe to say they immediately realize they've made a terrible decision, lol.) Youth ministry is not for the faint of heart! Especially those youth workers who are bi-vocational. Youth ministry can be exhausting. But it’s also one of the most rewarding callings imaginable.
The question we have to answer is, how do we manage the tiring aspects of youth ministry so that we can continually be effective at leading teenagers closer to Christ?
First, it's essential to acknowledge the obvious fact: sometimes we get tired!
Vocalize this to your spouse or team or both: I'm tired! I am completely exhausted! Just saying this can ease a little of the tension we feel admitting our fatigue. So many of us hate to seem ill-prepared. We don’t like to look like we don't have it all together. Because of this, we sometimes try to hide our exhaustion. But here’s the deal: we have people looking up to us. One of the things we can model for them is how to be healthy as we strive to do ministry. Standing up in front of our team and saying, “I am spent, and I can use some help," is an important part of leadership.
Sometimes we're exhausted because we're NOT delegating as we should be. A moment of transparency where we admit this can often lead people to be proactive in taking something off their plate.
Second, be intentional about creating space to rest.
As youth workers, we need outlets where we can rest, even if it's as simple as a hobby that you do in your own home. We need hobbies that are not related to our role at church, something where we can be away from our phones and unwind. Maybe it's a sport. Maybe it's doing some sort of a craft. Maybe it's as simple as scheduling long walks with your dog. Whatever it looks like, we need some form of a mental break where we can truly recharge.
Annie F. Downs says that if we work with our minds, we should Sabbath with our hands. And if we work with our hands, we should Sabbath with our minds. Youth ministry is a mixture of both, but her point is well taken. The idea is that our hobbies should create different rhythms so that we can recharge. Make sure that whatever you’re doing for rest, it truly is restful.
Third, remember that we don’t quit when we’re tired; we quit when we’re through.
Do you remember the story of Elijah? Elijah was Israel's greatest prophet, and his ministry was rough! It was three years of high pressure, confrontational, all-encompassing ministry. It's easy to miss at first, but a lot of Elijah's story is about him dealing with spiritual exhaustion. It culminates with Elijah and God's encounter where essentially, God tells Elijah that He's not done with him. The work is not finished!
God gently reminds Elijah that he’s not alone and that God still has a plan for Elijah. But the moment is God telling Elijah that it’s time to get back on the horse. Exhaustion is real. And we need boundaries and practices that help us recharge. But if there is work still to be done, we must rally our strength and do it.
Finally, it's crucial to know when your exhaustion is more than just being tired.
Ministry is hard. It's tiring. Most times, we keep going because that's what we're called to do. But it's also vital to know when we're getting close to a breaking point. Burnout is real, and it's caused many good people to take extended leaves of absence (sometimes permanent ones) from ministry. You must realize the difference between just being tired and being on the verge of burnout.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people in your circles about what you’re feeling. Listen to their advice. If you find that even after resting and getting help from your team that you still can’t seem to muster the physical, emotional, or spiritual strength to jump back in the fight, then make sure you hit pause and work to find a solution. You are right where God wants you, and you’re the right person for the job. The last thing you want is to be on the sidelines because you didn’t have good boundaries and habits that empowered you to recharge and recommit.