Three Tips for Young Youth Workers
Youth ministry can be an all-consuming calling. Because there’s always something to be done, it’s easy to find ourselves doing ministry all hours of the day and night. Here are three important things I discovered early in my career that have kept me somewhat sane:
Log your hours.
Even though you can’t really punch a clock in youth ministry, it’s wise to keep track of the hours you do work. Hanging out with students on a Friday night is great, but it’s also work, and you should count those hours. Don’t be afraid to count fun things as work—if you’re with students, you’re working. This can be as simple as jotting down your hours on a calendar, note program, or app.
As much you love your job and your students, you have to realize it’s a 40-hour-per-week job (or however many hours you’re expected to be there). Sometimes you have to make yourself get up and go home when you reach 40 hours. Certainly don’t ignore an urgent phone call when you reach 40 hours, but keeping track of how many hours you’ve worked will help you better manage your time, There will undoubtedly be 80-hour weeks, but there will also be 20-hour weeks. Just make sure to keep your average close to the number of hours you’re paid to work. Discipline in this area will help tremendously in the long run.
Take time off.
Early on in my ministry, a wise man told me to choose two days each week to take off. As often as possible, I make these the same days each week. If you do this, it will help your students and parents know which days you’ll be out of the office and unavailable. Don’t be tempted to answer email, return phone calls, or even swing by the office. Take the day off!
A lot of ministry folks take Friday off. This is difficult in youth ministry, because weekends are often the best chance to be with students. Since my current church doesn’t have Wednesday night youth activities, I’m usually able to take that day and Saturday off each week. As strange as it is to have a day off in the middle of the week, give it a try—it’s nice to have two mini weekends each week. There are times when I have to work on my day off, but that’s the nature of ministry—I just don’t make a habit of it. Establishing your days off early in your tenure will help later.
Spend time with peers.
It’s easy in youth ministry to just hang out with students all the time. But the wise youth leader will also find peer groups to hang out with. If your church doesn’t have a young adult group, find a softball or bowling league—any group where you can be with people your own age. Don’t forget to feed your own soul, too. Finding a Bible study or lectionary group (either in or out of your church) is a wonderful way to be with peers and study at the same time. You need some time away from teenagers, and they need to see that you have a life outside of youth ministry. This is a lot easier for me now that I’m much older and married, but it’s also important to do when you’re young and single.
Scott Gillenwaters has been in youth ministry since 1986, and currently serves as Director of Student Ministries at First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He’s married to his best friend, Kathy, and has two college age sons. He sings, plays piano, runs, reads political history and loves to dabble in local politics. Follow Scott on Twitter @sgillenwaters.