If you do not plan for and make self-care a priority, it will not happen. You may experience periodic lows in activity, but most teenagers and families (and youth ministers) are one step away from a crisis. There will never be a perfect time to withdraw from people and practice self-care, but withdraw you must or you will not last long in youth ministry. Because they are different, I will break this self-care suggestions into daily, weekly and yearly categories.
Daily. Every day of the week can have a different rhythm for a youth minister. Some days are filled with activity prep, others with lesson prep, others with pastoral visits. Some days you finish knowing that you did something but can’t really remember what happened. Youth ministers inherently love the unique challenge each day brings. Self-care, as we see in the life of Christ, demonstrates a daily calm amidst the chaos. Even if only for a moment, make it a priority to:
- Pray. Talk to the Father. Also, learn how to sit and silence and listen to Him.
- Read. Read the Bible and some book that fosters spiritual growth (this does not entail reading for lesson prep).
- Work. At times, a youth minister’s lack of self-care is a direct result of their lack of work ethic while in the office. Plan and execute your tasks with excellence. Procrastination creates undo stress on you, your family, and your church.
- Rest. Get your work done and get home. Go to bed at a decent hour so you can wake up at a decent hour.
- Turn off. Get away from your phone and computer. If you do not, self-care is impossible in today’s social-media environment. Trust me, if there is an emergency, it will find you.
Weekly. The weekly category has always been my biggest challenge in self-care. Take your day off! Do you remember all those Sabbath Day verses in the Bible? You could be killed for breaking the Sabbath (there is a pretty good chance many reading this book would be dead by now if that law was being enforced today). We live in a culture (and church culture) that applauds run away activity and looks down on those who take a weekly break. In youth ministry, you will often be asked to watch a game, eat lunch or grab a coffee. It becomes easy to fill your day off with just one game, lunch or coffee. Protect the day! Here are some helpful tips for having great day off:
- Turn off your phone.
- Do not check, update or troll social media.
- Sleep late if you can or nap during the day if you can’t.
- Go out to eat (if you have a spouse, take them out to eat).
- Do something you enjoy (a hobby, a movie, a book, a visit with a friend, etc.).
- Stay away from the church building and those you minister to regularly.
Yearly. There are a few things you need to be sure to do every year.
Take your vacation. I have been guilty of not using all of my vacation time. That is an awful thing to do to yourself and your family. If you can’t afford to go anywhere, then plan a Staycation. Practice all of the day off tips during these extended periods of rest.
Attend Conference. More than likely, you will be given time and resources to attend one conference a year (if not, your leadership needs some education in minister care). After the emotional moment described at the beginning of this chapter, I have not missed an opportunity to attend a professional youth ministry conference.
Take some time. Most youth ministers possess a great deal of flexibility in their schedule. Take a day or two to get away and reflect on your own spiritual life, ministry and strategic direction. This type of activity can be strengthened by a visit with a trusted mentor and friend.
Ministry is fluid and a crisis does not wait to be invited into anyone’s schedule. The best of self-care plans will shift, just as they did for Jesus. Don’t worry- just get back on track as soon as possible. Remember, place the oxygen mask on yourself first.
Self-care begins with a choice.
How is your level of self-care? Open up your calendars (youth, personal, family) and ask yourself these searching questions:
- Are you taking your Day Off? The entire Day Off?
- How is your prayer life?
- How is your personal reading?
- What are your peers telling you about your ministry pace?
- What is your spouse, family saying about your ministry pace?
- Are you in control of your media consumption? Can you drop the phone and social media when at home?
- When is the last time you took a vacation?
- When is the last time you went to a class without teaching?
- Do you feel that your schedule is out of control? Is this because your work ethic needs work or you have developed Messiah Complex?
Don’t spin out into despair, all youth ministers will find an area or two of improvement when evaluating their level of self-care.