One of the greatest things you can offer the students you work with, is a whole and healthy you.
We need to give them a picture of what a healthy follower of Jesus looks like. To get there we need to lean into a very important question,
“What is fueling my ministry?”
The answer may haunt us.
We may hide from what we know to be true about ourselves. But if we’re honest and open we can refocus and recalibrate. When Christ is our source, miracles can happen in our lives and ministry. When serving Christ is our source, ministry can happen but we can lose ourselves in the serving. Our ministry should be a byproduct of the John 10:10 life that Christ offers us. But for many youth workers our ministry has become our source of life. And for some it has become our identity.
When ministry becomes our source of life, burnout hides in the shadows waiting for an opportune time to take us out. I don’t cheer for burnout. I am not a fan of it. But I’ve seen its power and I am impressed with its effectiveness.
We pour out our time, energy, and prayers.
We sacrifice our plans, weekends, and healthy eating habits all for the sake of retreats and mission trips. Week after week the routine is run hard, love hard, serve hard, and rest if you have time. Running with the spiritual fuel light on becomes the norm. The handful of students that tell us that we’ve changed their lives, is a prize. Praise from parents, when it seldom comes, is a bonus.
Then you open your church e-mail. What was left in your reserve tank vanishes as you come to realize that a broken chair in the youth room and a missing serving spoon in the church kitchen overshadow your life-changing one-on-one with a student in crisis. The urgency to fix the chair takes precedence. The hunt for the spoon that you used for a game last week becomes priority. You pray the shortest and most honest prayer you’ve prayed in a long time, “Really?”
Frustration floods in bringing with it a good dose of doubt. The search for a “real job” is planted in your mind. The chair is still broken. You can’t find the spoon. Burnout sneaks in but you still have to plan the message for next week, so press on.
I’m writing to myself at the moment, but those who have ears, let them hear.
Don’t believe the lies. What you do IS worth it. Don’t let frustrations get the best of you. The chair had seen better days and the spoon was bent anyways. What you need is some R&R, some rest and relaxation. But to get there you need to do some R&R, some refocusing and recalibrating.
When our eyes are fixed on our ministry and not our master we lose sight of our source. When Peter was walking on the water he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the wind and the waves. His shifting eyes made the obstacles around him seem more important the One who called him out there in the first place.
When we find ourselves more concerned with the obstacles around us, we need to refocus on Christ so we don’t miss the opportunities in front of us. We need to fix our gaze, not on our ministry, but our master. Hebrews 12 directs us to “Fix our eyes on Jesus” the one who called us out here in the first place.
When we refocus and fix our eyes on the pioneer and perfecter of faith, we will find ourselves being pulled out of the bondage of burnout. Hebrews 12 goes on to say that it was Jesus’ focus on joy that empowered Him to endure the cross. And when we consider Him and all He endured, weariness will wash away and our hearts will remain intact.
When we find our eyes fixed on our ministry, let us refocus on Christ to pull us through and bring us to a better place.
Recalibrating our soul requires us to pause and make adjustments to our spiritual posture. We need to pry our fingers off our ministry and let go of the expectations of others. We need to open our hands allowing God to lift the burdens we convinced ourselves to carry.
Recalibrating means letting Christ be our true source, our only source. If we find that our ministry has become our source of life, we need to make adjustments and establish new rhythms.
If that means getting back into your hobbies, make that your priority. If that means reconnecting with old friends, let that take precedence. The LIFE Christ offers us comes when we find ourselves doing the things that bring us joy.
It does not have to be a Bible study, but it could be. It does not have to be prayer, but that will certainly help. Do the things that bring you joy and do not feel guilty about it. Decline invitations to things you don’t want to be at. Invest your time wisely in the things that fuel your soul and trust that God IS there.
When I find myself in a season of burnout I ask, “What is missing from my life?” The answer is often, “My hobbies.” When I take too much time away from the basketball court, my patience is shorter. When I go too long without spending time with my friends, my frustrations come quicker. And when I get back to doing the things that bring me joy, I find myself having more to give those I serve.
So if you are an artist, pick up some new supplies and get to work. If you are a musician, carve out some time to play or perform. Recalibrate your soul by finding life outside of your ministry and don’t feel bad about it. Let God pull you back into ministry through your hobbies.
After spending time with Jesus, Peter went back to fishing.
In a season of doubt Peter went back to what brought him life, and guess who met him there. Standing on the shore Jesus called out to him and just like the first time, a miraculous catch was waiting on the other side of the boat. Later that morning, Jesus pulled Peter back into ministry saying, “Feed my sheep.”
Don’t let burn out get the best of you. Ask yourself, “What is fueling my ministry?” If the answer is not Jesus, refocus your eyes on Christ, recalibrate your soul to receive Life and get back in the water. There’s more joy to be had loving on our flock.
Cesar Castillejos is currently serving students and families in Richfield, Minnesota, through collaboration with Young Life and Hope Church. He serves as the Young Life area director and lead teaching pastor of The Well, a faith community that started in a nightclub. Cesar is also the founder of One of One Clothing Company, a mission-focused business that uses creativity to spotlight the uniqueness of every individual.