“David, I want to thank you for the example and mentor you are to me….”
This compliment was interrupted by a flood of awkward, snot producing, exhausted tears. I had been in full-time ministry for right at six years and I was moving fast, too fast! No exaggeration, I was:
- Leading a youth ministry (with all that involves);
- Preaching every other week (my church was without a preacher);
- Coaching football at a local high school;
- Teaching adjunct College courses;
- Playing on, at least two, intramural teams at the University:
- Playing on a youth group indoor soccer team (shout out to the Slugs!):
- Accepting the occasional speaking gig:
- Oh, and a husband to Lisa
I was standing in the lobby of the National Conference on Youth Ministry (NCYM) when this compliment was given. I had left the meeting room because the message had rocked my world, convicted me of my lack of self-care, and I felt exposed. That particular NCYM was the first youth ministry conference I had ever attended. It is not that I had a problem with the conference-I simply did not see the need for taking a break and failed to recognize my pace of ministry was unhealthy and need of an overhaul.
That is why the compliment led into an awkward, snot producing, exhausted tears moment.
That moment, resulting conversations and practical corrections started a career-saving shift in the way I practiced youth ministry:
Truth. Self-Care Matters.
Youth Ministers need to take care of themselves before they can adequately take care of others. Every time we get on a plane we are told to place the oxygen mask on our self before assisting those around us. We put the mask of self-care oxygen on first. Jesus, the one we follow and attempt to imitate, put the self-care oxygen mask on first.
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. –Matthew 4:12
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. –Matthew 14:13
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. –Luke 5:15-16
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida…. -Luke 9:10
Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. –John 6:15
Jesus withdrew, a lot. Youth Ministers know this truth. This is what we teach our students, right? We tell students:
- If you want to hear from God, turn off the noise of the world.
- Solitude and rest are spiritual disciplines needed in their busy schedules.
- God created the Sabbath for a reason and that reason is your well-being.
I did not practice great self-care in the first years of my student ministry. It almost destroyed my desire to be in youth ministry (my marriage was also beginning to suffer). I had a problem. I had a Messiah Complex. You can find various definitions, including in psychological journals, but in youth ministry terms, I felt indispensable to all that was going on in “my” youth ministry. They needed me and I needed them (and the affirmation they gave me). I had to fix all their problems. I had to comfort their pain. I had to teach all of their classes. I had to answer all their cries for help. I had to be their “messiah.”
My youth minister tried to tell me I was not the messiah. But I continued on with my “messianic “pace of life until that moment at NCYM and my realization of the actual pace of life of the actual messiah. Jesus withdrew. He rested. He took in the oxygen of his Father before assisting those around him who were suffocating and in need of life-giving oxygen.
Question: Do you need to learn how to withdraw and take in some life-giving oxygen in 2019?