6 Steps to Avoid Youth Ministry Burnout

Thank you to our special guest contributors, Jake and Melissa Kircher from We Love Our Youth Worker for this article.

 People who work in youth ministry often struggle with the concept of rest. There’s always kids to Facebook or text, phones buzzing, paperwork to do, trips to plan, parents to calm, meetings to attend, and people to see.

These things are necessary, yet many youth workers, their spouses and churches don’t schedule times of rest and Sabbath amidst all the chaos. This lack of healthy boundaries is taking a huge toll on the marriage and family relationships of clergy members.

A number of years ago Jake worked as a part-time youth minister for a church in New England. It was a part-time job but the church expected programs and youth attendance that only full-time hours could accomplish. Jake loved his job and the church desired a program, so no one really took the time to consider just how much he was working. (He had a second part-time job as well.)

Jake worked 80-ish hours a week and became completely burnt out physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. The effect this had on our marriage was devastating.

This was not a healthy situation for us and Jake has since moved into full-time youth ministry at another church. It took a year after the move to get our marriage back on track. Burnout is serious and it has long-lasting consequences.

One of the best ways to ensure your ministry stays healthy is to make sure your marriage stays healthy. Not only should your family relationships take priority over work, but the teenagers you work with will be ministered to by seeing a loving, strong, and supportive marriage. Teens gravitate towards stability and desire to see families stay intact.

Here are a couple of key ways to begin implementing rest into your life and ministry work schedule.

1) Ideally, a Youth Worker/Pastor should have one day off and one “flex” day a week.

Monday is our Sabbath. We try to avoid checking e-mail, stay away from work and Jake even turns his cell phone off…all day! We also try to avoid doing errands or paying bills on this day. Monday, as best as we can swing it, is our day of resting and fun.

Saturday is our “flex” day meaning that normally it’s a day off from work but we get errands, yard work, bill paying, etc. taken care of. Jake does do events and other youth activities on some Saturdays, will keep his phone on, and check work e-mails. This is a built-in day to allow ministry if scheduled, but also to protect the true day of rest from being cluttered with household duties/chores.

2) After a longer event or trip, it is ideal to have two days off.

Jake tries to make this work as much as possible, and luckily our church is supportive. This time is important to recharge energy levels, relax and have quality time for our marriage relationship. We’ve found that these intentional pauses in the midst of a busy month are crucial to ensuring an overly fast pace doesn’t become too normal.

If your church is uneasy with two days, try for one. Any time off will be beneficial.

3) It is not necessary to have Internet and email on your cell phone.

This one might sound a little crazy, but we’ve learned that having constant email access prolonged the workday and prevented us from relaxing at home. Additionally, constant vibrations and dinging all evening doesn’t encourage attentiveness to your spouse and family. We made the decision to ditch the data plan two years ago and rarely miss it. In its place, we’ve found more time of uninterrupted connection and peace.

4) On average, a Youth Pastor shouldn’t work more than 50-55 hours a week.

Most youth workers will agree that their schedule and hours fluctuate on a week-by-week basis, which is pretty normal. However, you should strive to have an average workweek be about 50-55 hours. The world only needs one Savior and they already have Him…and just to be clear, it’s not you!

5) A full-time Youth Pastor needs at least three weeks vacation.

We’ve found that a week’s vacation during the summer and one during the winter helps to avoid overworking and burnout. The other week of vacation is split up between the holidays, graduations or other special events but in many cases those times involve a bit of stress and shouldn’t take the place of de-stressing, relationship building vacations.

6) Have a date night once a week.

Try to pick one night a week and make it off-limits to technology, work and chores. We have found it best to make it a set evening (Thursdays) because trying to adjust it week by week puts priority on our busy schedules rather than spending time together. You don’t want to be legalistic either, so if something comes up, that’s okay.

In marriage and family life, we all need time to talk, connect, relax, and rejuvenate. Our culture (and especially church culture) emphasizes busyness and involvement, which tends to leave youth workers battling their churches and often their own workaholic natures in order to have time for themselves, families, and marriages. By realizing harmful ministry practices, encouraging fellow ministry workers, implementing good boundaries, and possibly moving out of an unhealthy position to one that supports family and balance, youth workers can bring about change and growth…and avoid burnout!

More words from Jake:

Having learned about avoiding burnout the hard way myself, as well as watching a number of peers burn out of ministry over the last 10 years, this issue played a major role in my (Jake’s) decision last year to get involved with a new organization in the US called We Love Our Youth Worker (WLOYW). To effectively reach young people and their families for Christ, means heaving healthy environments for ministry and church leadership teams working together to avoid burnout. This is the goal of WLOYW.

Originally developed in the UK, WLOYW is seeking to create a national standard for the way churches staff a youth worker. Whether full-time, part-time or volunteer, WLOYW believes our new Covenant, comprised of seven promises, will impact the quality of you and your church’s ministry. If churches and youth workers both commit to this covenant, it will lead to less burnout, which will mean that youth workers serve at one church for longer, which then ultimately leads to more teens and their families hearing and living out the Gospel. Which is what ministry really is all about.

To find out more about We Love Our Youth Worker, US visit www.weloveouryouthworker.com and click on the US icon on the right.

Healthier youth workers mean healthier youth ministry.  Youthworker Movement members can look forward to learning more about the principles of WLOYW in January.

Melissa and Jake Kircher

 

This article is an adaption from an original article published on YouthMinistry.com. Jake and Melissa Kircher do ministry at a church in Connecticut as well as write about marriage and relationships on www.holymessofmarriage.com. They also write regularly for RelevantMagazine.com and YouthMinistry.com.


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Comments

  1. Georgia Harrison says

    This article has some great points. Thanks for sharing with us! My one disagreement is that I try to encourage youth ministers to average 40-45 hours per week, which means that you take some additional time off during the school year when you can, to make up for the crazy summer schedule. Definitely there will be some weeks where you work 80 hours, but give yourself some time off other weeks to make up for it. Thanks again for sharing!

  2. says

    A rule of thumb I use is to take 1 extra day off after a weekend retreat, take 2 extra days off after a 5 day trip, and 3 days off after a 6-10 day trip. these are compensatory days to refresh mind and body and not to be confused with a regular day off or vacation or sick days.

  3. Shannon LeMaster-Smith says

    I think what is most helpful to avoid burnout is to develop healthy boundaries in general. Learn to say “no” and to accept that you cannot be at every meeting, at every game, or at every concert. It is especially difficult to say no to the “fun” things, or the “good” things, but if in the long run it helps you to avoid burnout and minister more effectively, then say “no.” Every person is different when it comes to setting appropriate boundaries; so for some, working 60 hours a week is fine whereas 40 is enough for others. For me, I need 8-10 hours of sleep every night; not everyone does. Healthy boundaries address time, relationships, and physical and spiritual health.

    • says

      Shannon – thanks for your comment. I especially agree that it is hard to say “no” to the things that are good/important/fun. I found that I hated missing out on just about anything where the youth are present. In order to stay healthy long-term, we could probably all benefit from learning to take charge of our schedule and learning to say no more often.

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