I think managing our time is one of the least conquered skills in the youth ministry profession.
I’ve seen one too many of my peers give it their all — filling up a monthly youth calendar, going to student’s extracurricular activities, taking late night phone calls, going out for sodas/coffee, and inviting students into their homes at all hours with disastrous consequences. It’s to the point where I think it’s one of the top reasons that so many youth workers “peter out” after only a couple of years. They’ve over-committed themselves, over-filled their calendar, said “yes” to too many things, and many times leave no space for their home life, rest, or self-edification and spiritual growth.
All of this leads to burn-out.
Some of this comes from self-inflicted pressure to perform and do our best (I’m talking to you, Mr. Melancholy/Perfectionist) and other times the pressure actually comes from our church staff to “keep the calendar full and the kids busy”. Busyness has almost become a badge of honor that we wear like another feather on our hat. It’s another notch on our belt towards self-fulfilled feelings of adequacy.
Truth be told, though, real student ministry and life-change isn’t going to happen through a full calendar of ministry events. In fact, I’ve even heard of parents complaining when the student ministry calendar becomes too full! Interesting, huh?
My advice? Set very clear boundaries between work and rest.
- SET BLOCKS OF TIMES IN YOUR DAY/WEEK THAT ARE RESERVED FOR DOWNTIME. If you’re a family man, your family will love you; if you are single, you are setting yourself up for long-term ministry health.
In my personal life, my two days off are generally reserved for family and free time. I also do my best to keep my family in priority in the evenings — from about 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM. If a student calls during this time, I will ask them if it’s all right if I call them a bit later or the next day. 9 times out of 10, most students have no problem with that.
- TALK PUBLICLY ABOUT YOUR “FAMILY/REST TIME”. Don’t announce it in a way that makes it seem like you are “off limits”; talk about your personal time as your time set aside to refill and refresh, to be with your family, and to spend personal time with God.
- DON’T TAKE WORK HOME WITH YOU. Do your best to keep your work e-mail separate from your personal account. Don’t stop by the office on your weekends unless absolutely necessary. And as much as possible, keep your paperwork on your work desk, not the family couch.
- SABBATH, MEANING “TO CEASE”, IS A BIBLICAL PRACTICE — PRACTICE IT! When you have down time, set apart some time for recharging. Relax. Be still. Listen. Pray. Read. Rest. Just as rest stops are necessary on long journeys, if you want to make the long haul in youth ministry, make sabbath a priority. It’s okay to not “live and breath” your job all the time.
- REST IS A PLACE OF BEING NURTURED. It’s a sanctuary, a place for growth, and a place for protection. It becomes a place where we can regain our strength, gain our bearings, and heal our wounds.
- LEARN HOW TO SAY “NO”. You don’t have to do it all. It’s hard at first, especially when you work with a smaller team, but this is for both your personal health and the health of your overall ministry. Doug Fields has a great book to check out in this regard titled, What Matters Most. Bottom line: don’t overstretch yourself in one arena to make yourself ineffective in all the others over the long haul.
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to do it all. Nobody can set themselves up for that without failing.
Rely heavily on Jesus, find your rest in Him, and you’ll find yourself healthier and steadfast in your resolve to reach out to students.