Last summer, I followed up an incredible week at a CIY Move conference with my High School students with a week serving a mission called 3:18 Ministries on a reservation in Arizona. Despite the heat, fatigue, and variety of creepy-crawly “hosts”, that week was a great one as well. Driving across parts of 4 large states at the end of that two week trip, I was filled with a healthy feeling of satisfaction and pride in my students. They really are an amazing group of people (I’m sure yours are, too), and I was honored to be able to have such a great seat to watch God work in their lives.
A couple days at home provided enough time to wash clothes and re-pack for a week of camp with my Jr. High students up in the Black Hills. It’s a setting I look forward to visiting every year. But I’d already covered over 2000 miles in a full church van over the previous 13 days. After the week surrounded by Jr. High campers, I was out of gas. Which wouldn’t have been a big deal, except…
I still had one more week of camp to go!
This would have been a huge problem had it not been for a great couple of volunteers from our church who were going to be at camp serving in other capacities. They were willing to add to their list of duties, so I was able to drop them all off Sunday and come back to get them on Friday. They had a great week without me!
The pace of last July was the most solid example I’ve encountered (next to the gray hairs and balding spot on my head) of the fact that youth ministry takes something out of you. As rewarding as it is, there’s no denying that it can be draining as well. It’s critical that we don’t let ministry drain us completely. I’ve noticed a few things that can help us continue to have something to offer.
Plan the calendar with Christ as the center. If you and I don’t plan our time, someone else will, and they won’t necessarily have God’s mission for us in mind. Parents, students, Lead Pastors, friends, coaches, and pretty much everybody else have something they want from you and your ministry. If we’re not careful, we will fill our schedules with every body else’s expectations and our traditions and neglect to plan around what God wants. If you’re doing what God wants, He’ll provide the fuel. But why would He fuel a flurry of activity that doesn’t have Him at the center?
Work your way forward with a team. The workload of a normal, healthy youth ministry will overwhelm you if you try to drag it around on your own. So please don’t try. Find some other adults in your church who care about the next generation, build them into a cohort that is intent on discipling students, and do everything you can to equip them to do just that. Pull away from your regularly scheduled youth ministry schedule a few times a year to refine the vision of your ministry with your team and share some tools to help make that vision happen. Learn to lean on each other as God knits together His Body.
Stay connected with Christ. Your youth ministry is not about what you can accomplish. It’s not even really about what you have to offer. It’s about Jesus producing fruit in you that will sustain the life of His movement to redeem and reconcile the people around you. He does that when we stay connected to Him. I have to admit to some pretty dry stretches from time to time when I was only cracking my Bible open to get fodder for the next lesson I had to teach. When prayer was a token offered up at bedtimes and meals. Apart from Him… I could do nothing. But when I am consistently renewing my mind by feeding on His Word, I can both hear His voice more clearly and am given the power to respond to His call more confidently. When we stay connected with Him, He continually fills us no matter what life and ministry take out of us.
Don’t forget your first church. It’s easy to get busy with any job and neglect our families. In ministry, we can also lull ourselves into thinking it’s ok because we’re doing important, God-honoring work. But (if you’ll forgive the paraphrase) what would it profit a youth pastor to gain the best youth group ever known to man and lose his own family in the process? One of the most exciting things for me right now is to see my own kids leading out in our student ministry. 3 of my 4 kids are old enough to be part of our youth ministry and I love seeing how God is working through them within our groups. But I wonder how they’d be feeling if I’d let my ministry steal me from them when they were younger…
There are sure to be times that are more taxing than others. But youth ministry doesn’t have to drain you. Determine now what God wants to do through your ministry and plan accordingly. Develop your team, keep each other connected, and never lose sight of those God has placed most firmly in your sphere of influence.
Then, go make disciples.