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Becoming a Self-aware Youth Worker: YS Idea Lab with Tony Jacobs

Tony Jacobs is a 25-year veteran youth worker and one of the rock-star YS Coaches you can spend time with at the National Youth Workers Convention. In this YS Idea Lab, Tony shares a few of the key things that he sees as essential for youth workers to stay anchored to their identity in Christ during the ebb and flow of ministry.

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If you don’t have time to view the full interview, here are three things Tony addressed that made an impact on me:

Guard your priorities.

Tony shared a little about how he learned to set the right kind of priorities in his life, and he talked about how he carefully guards these priorities. This was a great reminder that we have to be willing to say no to some good things in order to say yes to the most important things: family, marriage, Sabbath, and our personal relationships with God. If we don’t choose to guard these priorities, the busyness of ministry can creep in, cutting us off from life’s most important relationships and keeping us from being holistically healthy.

Know where your energy comes from.  

Some people get their energy from being around others. When they feel as if they’re running low, they find a group of people they love and spend time with them. I’m very much the opposite: I refuel by being away from people. This makes some elements of ministry really difficult, especially camps, mission trips, and retreats where I’m constantly around other people. In those situations, my body starts to raise some red flags when I’m running low on energy. I’ve learned a few ways I can fuel up before these kinds of events and how I can recharge when I start to see warning signs:

  • Pre-event Sabbath. I usually carve out time right before these kinds of events to retreat and build up a store of energy.
  • 15-minute pockets. During a camp or mission trip, I carve out 15 minutes of solitude at the very beginning of the day and at the very end of the day.
  • A safety-net nap. If I find myself completely drained during a retreat or any other overnight trip, I give another volunteer a heads up that I’m disconnecting for 20 minutes, and I sneak away for a quick nap.
  • Post-event Sabbath. I set aside time after every event to retreat and refocus. Even if it’s just a few hours, it helps me get back on track.

Find people you can be honest with. 

Whether you’re in ministry or not, everyone needs a group of people they can be completely honest with. You need a place where you can open up about your frustrations without fear of losing your job. There should be people in your life you can trust to walk with you through any issues of faith—these are people you can tell anything to and it won’t affect they way they see you on Sunday mornings. You also need a community that supports your dreams for your future and can see beyond any limitations within your current ministry setting. These types of people complete a self-aware youth worker. If you don’t have them in your life, here are a couple ways we can help you find them:

  • YSNetworks. Find and join a local network of youth workers. These people are in the throes of ministry alongside you and can support you. If you don’t have a network in your area, e-mail Fred.Oduyoye@youthspecialties.com, and he’ll help you start one.
  • YSCoaching. Take advantage of YS Coaches like Tony—they can be an outside perspective in your life. Coaching happens in a lot of different ways, and we can find a way that works for you. E-mail Brian.Aaby@youthspecialties.com for more information about YS Coaching.

The YS Idea Labs are filmed on location at the National Youth Workers Convention. Check out more YS Idea Labs HERE and register early for NYWC to save BIG: NYWC.COM.


JACOB ECKEBERGER is the Content Manager at Youth Specialties, an itinerant worship leader, the spouse of a church planter, and a long time volunteer youth worker. You can find him blogging about social media and digital strategy ideas at JACOBECKEBERGER.COM.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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