One of the opportunities I have been afforded in ministry is time to let my youth pastor friends and colleagues vent. Youth workers are my heroes and they deserve a safe place just like anyone else to “let go” and be heard. In a vocation where many hurts linger below the surface, it is a blessing to be trusted and invited into these holy conversations.
Given space and opportunity, it doesn’t take long for us to commiserate and share what is currently troubling us in our ministries. As the “arc” of the conversation builds, peaks, declines, and our heartbeats cycle back to normal, we typically discover that beneath our frustrations are the same two troublesome things—misperceptions of expectations and lack of self-care.
For that reason, I created a list of things we need to be reminded of that are NOT a part of our job descriptions. Maybe this list will be helpful to you. Caveat—this list is for MOST ministry contexts—you know, the REASONABLE ones.
Sideline Family and Social Life
Though the demands of ministry are great, we have not been asked to consistently sideline our family and friends. On the contrary, I have found that I serve the ministry best when my family is nurtured and my friends are properly “hung out” with (is that a verb? If not, it should be).
It does not do either party or the Kingdom any good when we sacrifice our family and social life on the altar of ministry.
Ignore the Sabbath
Most of us work on the day that others consider a Sabbath and frankly, most ministers ironically have difficulty keeping the Sabbath. I was encouraged early in my ministry by a pastor to take two full days off per week (just like folks in our congregation). He modeled a healthy commitment to Sabbath; I joined him in that commitment. It has served me well and I believe has contributed to my longevity in ministry.
Some churches allow for “comp” time. You might be surprised if you consult your employee handbook that it is mentioned within. I have found that I am no good to anyone for a couple days following a week-long mission trip or camp. At best, I am still in bed. At worst, I am present but morose and uncommunicative. If your church allows it, ease back into your routine by taking some time off after a big trip.
Leave Untaken Vacation Days
Why must we play the martyr and not take all our vacation days? What does that prove except that we do not know how to properly order our lives? I find youth workers often kid themselves into thinking others are noticing that they are not using all of their vacation days. I can assure you that unless you tell them, they will never know.
A bow that is left “strung” all the time will not be fit to fire an arrow. Likewise, your soul needs times of extended breaks to serve well. Your long-term effectiveness demands it.
Punt on our health
We have a strange vocation that affords the opportunity to eat terrible food, miss sleep, stay connected 24/7 through social media and texts and generally run ourselves ragged. Because of this, ministry can be as hard on our bodies as it is on our souls. I can attest to this fact. I once lost 15 pounds and gained back 20 pounds in the same ministry year!
We need to develop a proper theology of our bodies since God called them “VERY GOOD.” We must steward them from this conviction.
What would it communicate if we ran into a parent in our congregation at the gym or a student from our ministry at the community 5K road race? I suspect a lot more than we would ever consider. Our ability to commit to our own efforts at balance will give others the permission to do so as well. I believe they are watching our examples.
As the Apostle Paul says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” Stone-fired clay is fragile and so are our bodies. To continually ignore the damage ministry causes on our bodies is foolish and short-sighted.
Be the Parent
Because of our big hearts for teenagers, it can be easy to overstep God-given boundaries. We have not been asked to be the parent of someone else’s kid(s). Ministry contexts and strategies abound, but there is not one setting in which you are asked to be (like) a parent.
A helpful illustration shared to me by a friend applies here—At best, we are the “Robin” to their “Batman.” We are present to support and be one of a cloud of witnesses in our students’ lives. We are not called to anything beyond spiritual friends and guides.
Sacrifice Our Personal Devotional Time
I know that our preparations for Bible study or youth group are formational for us, but it is not the best way to feed our souls. Even Jesus snuck away from his disciples for extended times of prayer and personal devotion. Though our preparation time is helpful, our individual time in the Word and in prayer is quite literally the fuel for our ministries.
The joy of the Lord is our (ministry) strength. We find that kind of joy in the quiet places that we intentionally carve out of our schedules.
I believe a commitment to intentionally owning our schedules and taking care of our souls will be fruitful and exponential for our ministries. In this way, our commitments to “No” is really a “Yes” to the things that are of ultimate importance.
Lastly, if you find yourself in an unreasonable ministry situation (mentioned earlier) and experiencing any of the expectations above, it might be time to update your resume and get the heck out of there.
TONY AKERS has been in ministry to youth and families in large and small churches for 25 years. He is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and just entered his 12th year serving as the Minister to Youth and Families at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Tony also serves as a youth ministry coach and writes fairly frequently at WWW.STUDENTMINISTRYSOLUTIONS.COM