Taking the Hits in Youth Ministry
Sometimes ministry hurts. Sometimes we have to take the hit. Sometimes representing Christ means being like Christ in his suffering.
A hit could be something like this:
- Someone’s unresolved hurts bubble to the surface, and that person strikes out at you.
- Someone confesses something truly awful to you, and you have nowhere to go with the information.
- A volunteer drops their assignment, and the ministry suffers.
- Someone drops a communication, and though it’s not your fault, it’s your responsibility.
- Someone misunderstands you, and their brokenness blocks them from hearing your explanation.
- Someone speaks poorly about your ministry, and their accusations are uninformed and unfounded.
The list goes on. These hits are a part of the nature of ministry. You can’t escape them, but you can prepare to deal with them in a healthy way.
One day at the gym, my trainer—a former drill sergeant—was doing a body fat analysis on me. He was struck by the lack of fat anywhere on my body except around my gut. He and I had the following exchange:
Trainer: Pastor, you know why you have fat right there? (Points at my gut.)
Me: Uh, I suspect it has something to do with Oreos and milk?
Trainer: No! You have fat right there because you’re a pastor.
Trainer: When you’re in a battle, the body gives you two responses: fight or flight. When you need immediate energy, hormones are released into your gut to process into energy so you can fight or run away.
Trainer: You can’t do either, because you’re in the ministry!
Me: So it turns into fat?
Trainer: C’mon! Yes!
Me: Now what?
Trainer: We fight in here.
Wise words from a wise man.
Taking the hit has a physical, emotional, and—of course—spiritual cost.
So what are some strategies to handle the hits and live a healthy ministry lifestyle?
Of course, the most obvious thing we can do is allow others to own their own outcomes. As shepherds, we’re guides—not cowboys roping calves. We can’t drag folks where they need to go. People have the freedom to choose. Sometimes we don’t need to take a hit—instead we can avoid the hit by allowing others to see that their choices and attitudes have negative consequences for them.
We can avoid some hits in ministry by just doing the work of ministry well. Making the phone call, communicating ministry, intently caring for individuals and teams, celebrating often, and sharing good gossip about the ministry are healthy ways to get the word out about the ministry and create a positive environment. Most hits are a result of poor communication, which can be perceived as a lack of care. Do the work of communicating well, and the number of hits you take will decrease.
Let’s face it—there are toxic people in every ministry setting. You may need to distance yourself from them for a period of time. You can’t solve their brokenness—only Christ can do that. If you’re being bullied by someone, it may be time to separate yourself. Before you cease communications with them, you need to involve the senior pastor and the church board or elders in the process. Sometimes a strong conversation between the pastor and the toxic person will settle them, and they’ll keep their negative arrows in the quiver, knowing that behavior won’t be tolerated.
Some hits are your fault. If so, own it. Every time I’ve owned a poor outcome and expressed my remorse, I’ve gained trust among my team. Your authenticity in these kinds of situations can actually make space for the people on your team to exhibit a spiritual giftedness you might not have anticipated. Sometimes a step down from the pedestal can be a step up for the folks serving alongside you—this ultimately creates a heathier ministry environment.
Ministry is your calling—not your hobby. You need something you enjoy that has nothing to do with ministry. Ideally, find something that moves you physically: lift weights, walk, do yoga, garden, fish, hike, hunt, quilt, or bike. Do something you enjoy. My biggest non-movement favorite is going to a movie. I love being in a theater for a couple of hours of uninterrupted solitude. I’ve found these times to be a quick reset in my mind and spirit as the minutiae of ministry fade away.
In my estimation, keeping the Sabbath is the most frequently broken of the Ten Commandments. It’s seen as no big deal among those who produce! And yet, we suffer for our lack of attention to the genius of Sabbath. In terms of production we can do more in six days than we can do in seven. In coaching youth pastors, I’ve found that those who don’t practice the Sabbath compensate by taking mini-breaks throughout the week, sometimes leaving critical ministry undone along the way. If they had worked the six days and practiced a Sabbath, they would have finished their work and rested as well. The frenetic, tired, and inefficient youth worker can often be directly linked back to their lack of commitment to taking a Sabbath.
Your body, mind, spirit, and emotions will take a hit from ministry. You can’t always avoid taking hits, but you can anticipate and prepare for them. Your capacity to absorb the hit and quickly recover is directly related to how well you prepare. Self-care is needed for the youth worker who wants to be effective for the long haul.
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
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.