Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry

Youth Specialties
July 31st, 2016

Randy’s post below is a great reminder of all we can learn from each other when we gather together. Join us at the National Youth Workers Convention this fall in Cincinnati, OH to connect with and learn from the full family of youth workers.

Being in ministry is great. It’s an amazing experience when you can see in people’s eyes that they’ve caught that nugget of truth. You can see that they get it—and you can see how much it means to them. Wow—what a great feeling! Then there are those days when nothing seems to go right: You hear that one of your key students has had a major spiritual crash and burn. A parent is ticked off at you because of something they heard you might have said—and even worse, that parent went to your senior pastor instead of coming to you. You have a sick child, an overworked spouse, and an upcoming elder meeting you know will go for hours. Anyone else been there?

During times like these, youth pastors often withdraw. We pull back from what we really need. We shut our office doors and think, If I can just get these five things done, I’ll be able to take a breath and recharge.

When I started in ministry, I thought I could handle it all. I thought I’d have enough time, enough energy, and enough margin to serve God, my family, and my church with time left over to start a new hobby. What I didn’t know were two truths about ministry:

1. No one should ever do ministry alone. 

When I started as a youth pastor, I thought I was going to have so much fun. I thought I was going to see students capture the truth I delivered. I thought I would change the world, starting with my community. Then reality hit me: it’s not about me.

[Elijah] answered, “Lord God All-Powerful, I have always served you as well as I could. But the people of Israel have broken their agreement with you, destroyed your altars, and killed your prophets with swords. I am the only prophet left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” (1 Kings 19:14 NCV)

Elijah felt like the loneliest man in the world. He thought he was the only one left. He felt as if he had no support, and the evil around him seemed greater than God. Elijah cried out, using the name All-Powerful, but did he really believe it?

Then God let Elijah know he wasn’t alone. God gave Elijah a metaphorical smack on the back of the head. God left 7,000 men with Elijah. Elijah was exhausted, scared, and frustrated . . . but he was never alone (1 Kings 19:18).

When we’re tired, we often feel all alone—we feel as if no one else understands. Everything and everyone seem to be against us. The walls press in, sunny days are hard to find, and we feel plagued by loneliness. We will all experience lonely, hard, or frustrating days or weeks—but none of us is ever alone.

Tim Elmore wrote about this in a blog post titled “How Eating Alone Costs More Than You Think”:

Thanks to a variety of factors—including our high-tech, low-touch world—we find it easier to interact via a screen . . . We were made for community and connectedness. We desperately long for genuine community—an experience with people marked by depth, trust and transparency. (Growing Leaders, 9-17-2014)

In the midst of frustration, busyness, and loneliness, we need to be with others. Ministry isn’t made to be a solo job—we were made for relationship. Even when Jesus took some alone time, he was never really alone—he was with his Father. Jesus did ministry with a crazy crew who didn’t always understand who he was, let alone how they should minister to others, but he didn’t do it all alone. Why do we try to?

2. We must watch out for soul fatigue.

John Ortberg made me aware of the reality of soul fatigue in his blog post “Fighting Soul-Fatigue”:

There is a kind of fatigue that attacks the mind. When we are bombarded by information all day at work . . . When multiple screens are always clamoring for our attention . . . When we carry around mental lists of errands not yet done and bills not yet paid and e-mails not yet replied to . . . These categories of fatigue are difficult enough in and of themselves. But they combine to make us feel separated from God, separated from ourselves, and distanced from what we love most about life and creation. This is soul-fatigue ” (JohnOrtberg.com, 6-20-14).

We understand physical fatigue—this is when the body is just done. According to Ortberg, soul fatigue is different. The symptoms of soul fatigue include the following:

  • We’re more on edge, and things bother us more than usual.
  • It’s hard to make simple decisions.
  • We deal with impulse eating, drinking, spending, or craving.
  • We jump to short-term gains without counting the long-term costs.
  • We have less courage, so fear creeps in.

Loneliness and soul fatigue go hand in hand—they build off each other. When we begin this spiral, it’s the start of a long and ugly journey. If we’re not careful and allow this to escalate, it could lead us to violate our value systems.

So ask yourself the following questions:

Who am I doing ministry with?

Have I given them permission to keep my soul fatigue in check?

Randy Davis is the National Director for Leadership and Partnerships for the National Network of Youth Ministries. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and at NNYM’s website.

Youth Specialties

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.