4 Critical Signs of Youth Ministry Burnout

Is it burnout or just a funk?
In direct sales, you know right away if you’re succeeding or not – you either have the sale or don’t.  In sports, you know if you scored or not, you can measure your stats to gauge success or failure.  You can measure or see the results of your work in physical labor jobs, even jobs like accounting have an output you can see.
Youth ministry is one of those professions that has a lot of “gray areas.”  You’ve spent the last several months and years pouring your heart into your ministry.  You’ve stayed up all night at lock-ins, retreats.  You’ve worked long hours to be there for your youth ministry.  You’ve done the work.  Have you been successful?
It depends, did someone just schedule a 4 hour meeting on “improving your numbers”?
Did a parent just stop you to say thanks for how much you have impacted their child?
Did a youth just direct every profane word they know at you, because you caught them smoking a joint?
Did more than one youth in your group decide to go to school for seminary?
Did your own child just complain about “you like the youth kids better”?
On any given day, what you do may not directly tie to how you allow yourself to feel at the end of the day. You are in control of what you do but, you are not in control of the results that you may feel on a daily basis.
Here’s the good news: God calls us to youth ministry to be faithful, not impatient for worldly success.  You’ve been faithful.  But maybe you’re working too hard at trying to be seen as successful.  Or maybe you’re just working too hard.
You’ve heard that if you don’t take care of yourself in youth ministry, no one else will. You can get youth ministry burnout.  This time of year, it’s common for youth workers to be tired, discouraged or “in a funk.”  How can you tell the difference between a temporary downturn and serious youth ministry burnout?
If it’s a temporary downturn, give yourself a break.  Return to the basics like prayer, sabbath, rest, personal time, exercise and eating right.  Find friends to talk you through things.  Have fun outside of youth work.  Seek pastoral support – and you might need to look outside of your church for this help.
If you think you might be in burnout mode, seek help.  How to tell the difference?
According to crisis intervention research*, there are 4 main areas that burnout affect: behavior, physical, interpersonal, and attitudinal. The following are the things that can be effected in each category:
Behavior:
- abuse of alcohol/illicit drugs
- difficulty coping with minor problems
- loss of enjoyment
- dread of work
- increased irritability/impatience
- losing things
- suicidal or homicidal ideation/attempts
- reduced work efficiency
- PTSD-like symptoms (post traumatic stress disorder)
Physical:
- chronic fatigue
- insomnia
- muscle tension
- panic attacks
- weakened immune system
- flare-ups in preexisting medical conditions
- weight gain or loss
- changes in appetite
Interpersonal:
- withdrawal from family and friends
- difficulty separating professional and personal life
- decreased interest in physical or emotional intimacy
- loss of trust
- loneliness
- allowing clients (pastors/parents/youth?) to abuse your professional boundaries
- ending of long-lasting relationships
- difficulty coping with minor interpersonal problems
Attitudinal:
- boredom
- guilt
- depression
- pessimism
- helplessness
- survivor guilt
- grandiosity
- sense of meaninglessness
- self-criticism
The world needs good youth workers.  Your role as a youth pastor has the opportunity to transform lives. But the world needs you to be healthy.  Your youth and your family need you to be healthy.  If too many items on the lists above sound familiar, it may be time to take a break, reevaluate and seek help.
Be blessed,
Erin
Questions:
For the veterans, have you gone through times of burnout? What got you through it?  What advice would you give to youth workers who might be experiencing burnout symptoms?
Is there anything you’d add to the list of burnout symptoms?
What do you do to stay healthy in youth ministry?
*(Source: Cooper, J. (2010). Essential crisis intervention skills. In L. Jackson-Cherry and B. Erford (Eds.), Crisis intervention and prevention (pp. 55-71). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, p. 70.)

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Comments

  1. says

    I would add a drop in memory capacity. I know when I’ve crossed the line from a “busy season” to burnout when I have a hard time remembering small things: recalling names, etc. Great post!

  2. says

    Erin,
    Great post, the feelings of burnout used to overwhelm me (which seems redundant); however, once I start seeing the signs I try to give myself a mini retreat where I take a day to just sit with God and the tension. To avoid burnout I make sure I draw a line between ministry and personal life. I engage in activity outside of ministry like running, hiking and cooking. When we can have healthy habits to go to in times of stress it allows us to step away and then step back in with a clear mind. Again great post.

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