In April, I will celebrate my 7-year anniversary with our Life Teen program – two years as a Core Member and five as the youth minister. I had heard that the average life span of a youth minister in one place was pretty short. After some research, I found my answer – the typical rate of burnout for youth worker is a mere 18 months! I guess that means I am about 66 months overdue to suffer from “long-term exhaustion and diminished interest” in youth ministry!
I am no legend in youth ministry. There are people who double, triple and quadruple me in years of work in a parish. But, anyone who has outlasted this 18-month standard has felt burnout setting in at some point. Or at the very least, they have had the feeling that things were on the decline or they were messing up. Most of us feel almost daily the immensity of this particular ministry and think, “I am not the right person for this.” But, by God’s grace, we wake up each morning and head to the trenches, joyfully.
How do I and so many other people in youth ministry face, work through or trample on burnout?
- “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” (Gn. 2:2) We overwork ourselves because we feel we need to prove something to those who might look at the youth minister and say, “they never work.” Guess what? YOU DO work as hard as anyone else. It just looks very different. Just because the hours worked are strange hours doesn’t mean you should stop taking days off, plan something every weekend or take phone calls at all hours of the day. The required number of hours to work in a week is 40. And, guess what? The church IS NOT asking you to put in more than that! There are weeks when you might have to work 100 hours in 5 days (thank you, week-long events!), but if the week following only requires 10 or 20 hours of work, so be it! Enjoy & relax.
- “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16) Jesus always gives examples for living and since He was the best minister EVER, we should take heed. Even HE needed to get away from those He ministered to for rest, prayer, and reflection. SO MUST WE! Most dioceses have requirements for continuing education and those trainings or conferences are perfect times to be refreshed, to pray and to be inspired. Can’t make an event like that? Then make time for a retreat either specifically geared for youth ministers or one that is on a topic completely unrelated to your work (a men’s or women’s retreat, a silent retreat, etc.). We must pray daily, but we also must get away from our offices and youth rooms to be truly refreshed.
- Peter, James, & John. If you read the Gospels, you will see many references to Jesus taking these three into prayer experiences or ministry situations with Him. They were the ones who saw Jesus at His weakest, His most intense, His most prayerful. They were His companions in ministry. Again, we receive an example of what we should do. We need a close community of people who we can talk to, lean on and pray with. I have several close youth minister friends who I know I can call on when I need to. They will support me and pray with me, offer insight and help get me through the rough patches. We need our “inner three” (or four or five) who will enter into this ministry with us and will help us be holy and remain sane!
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Cor. 4:8-10)