Self-Care For Longevity
In my 12 years of youth ministry, in various settings, the most important thing that I’ve learned is that I am both my own greatest tool (this is clearly outside of the Bible, the Spirit and my calling to serve young people) and my own biggest obstacle.
Youth ministry, be it in or out of the church, is very much about showing up where kids are, spending time with them, building significant relationships, discipling them, etc. This is what makes me my own greatest tool. I have to be in a position to show up physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to do the work that I’ve been called to do.
At the same time, my desire to always show up and my lack of personal boundaries during much of my ministry career, created the biggest roadblock for me being able to show up because it created burn out. Crazy seasons of not wanting anything to do with kids. And, if I’m really honest, I didn’t really want much to do with Christ or his church at the time.
I blamed the church for me being tired. I blamed Jesus for giving me this burden to serve his young people. I blamed any and everything, but the real culprit was myself. It was my unhealthy need to be needed that had me showing up for others when I needed to stop and show up for myself and my own relationship with our savior. It was my own Savior complex that had me acting as if it was me and me alone, and not the work of the Holy Spirit, that was responsible for saving the souls of these young people. My unresolved issues are what had me out there like Wonder Woman without a cape, not the church or my Lord.
So after many seasons of making myself sick in a very real literal way to the point that I actually ended up in the hospital, God finally got through to me. As a result, I began to do the real work of creating boundaries and caring for myself in a way that has allowed me to flourish in ministry instead of walking away from my calling. Here are the top 5 tips that have saved my personal life and enriched my ministry.
1. Get A Therapist
We need both the altar and the couch as we serve the young people that we are called to work with. Ministry leaders are privy to some of the deepest, darkest, most hurtful secrets of our kids. We are many times the first to hear about abuse, bullying, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, etc. While we definitely have a charge to take all of that to the feet of Jesus at the cross, we also have a responsibility to care for both our mental and spiritual state by using the professional tools and resources that we have access. That include professional counselors and therapists.
2. Protect Your “Off” Time
My Sabbath, my vacations, my sick days, my personal days, my holidays, my time after I’ve given my 8-9 hours in the office on any given day, are just that, MINE! They are time for me to rest, renew and reconnect with who I am as a dearly loved daughter of God. It’s my opportunity to enjoy moments with friends and family without the concerns of the ministry. It’s my opportunity to simply enjoy the life that God has blessed me with. We all need a space where we get to focus on being and not doing. We have goals and dreams that have nothing to do with our career or ministry calling, but have everything to do with our quality of life and our ability to serve others well when we are serving them. Guard your “off” times with the fierceness that you protect your dearest loved ones. Don’t respond to emails, text messages or phone calls when you are out of the office. As you make it a point to protect this space, those around you will begin to honor your “off” time as well. Protecting those sacred moments prepares you to give of yourself completely and fully when that time to sacrifice comes.
3. Have Friends That Have Nothing To Do With Your Ministry
It is important to have spaces in your life where you can discuss things other than the work that you do. It’s important to hear about what’s going on with other people. It’s important to have a sacred community where you don’t feel like you have to be “on” all of the time. We all need places where we can just be normal men and women talking about the mundane aspects of our daily lives, sharing pictures of our latest personal adventures, new books or favorite current movie. It’s good for us.
4. Find Your Tribes
We all need to have a healthy community of people that are doing exactly what we are doing. As a single, black woman in youth ministry, I need other single, black women friends that are serving with youth to share my ups and downs with. Very few people will understand all that I deal with as a single, black woman in youth ministry, as other ones that find themselves in the same place. I need a community of people doing ministry in urban, under-resourced areas because there is a uniqueness to serving in urban, under-resourced areas. Find the tribes that you most identify with and that will help feed your soul. Connect with those people on a regular basis. It helps you to know, that even when you feel the loneliest, you are not alone. Tribes are also a great resource for ideas, tools and resources. My tribes have been invaluable in my ministry journey and are a huge part of why I’m still in ministry 12 years later.
5. Take Time For Yourself Every Single Day
I spend at least one hour each day doing something solely for myself. It might be going for a walk. It might be reading a book. It could be watching a television show or chatting with a friend. It could just be sitting in silence with a hot cup of tea. Whatever it is, it is something that feeds my soul and brings me joy. It helps me relax after every hard day. It reminds me that I’m a human with needs that deserve moments of respite and care. On the really rough days, it gives me the energy to get up and get back in the arena tomorrow. It’s a reset button. I have learned that giving myself permission to reset, even if only for 10-15 minutes at a time, whenever I am in need, helps me gain the strength and energy to stay in the ministry for another day.
I hope that these tips help you care for yourself in a way that will have you thriving in youth ministry for as long as God would have you to be there. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me. I look forward to hearing from you and walking in this self-care journey together.
Kristin D. Hemingway is a Detroit native currently residing in Atlanta, GA. With over 12 years of youth ministry experience, she currently serves under-resourced middle and high school students in the metro area. She loves traveling and helping people to live a life that they absolutely love!
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.