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How Should a Part Time Leader Schedule Their Week?
Advice for Part Time and Volunteer Youth Workers

We recently received this email from a part-time youth worker named Araceli:

I read your article of what our work schedule should look like. I am not a full time youth leader. I have a 40-hour per week job; on top of that I serve as the youth leader of my church. Where I live, it is very common to see youth leaders working full time jobs AND serving as a youth leader. Most youth leaders are not paid. I struggle with this and find myself always playing catch up. How do I balance my job, youth group, family and my sanity? Thank You.

Maybe you are in a situation that's similar to Araceli's. Perhaps you're one of the hundreds of thousands of youth workers who serve at a church on a part-time basis, or maybe you are an unpaid volunteer who's just trying to hold things together. If so, you're not alone! According to Jim Burns, author of Uncommon Youth Ministry, the average church youth ministry in America has 12 students in it, and it's run by 1 (one!) adult volunteer.

Maybe you're like Araceli and other part-time/volunteer (PT/V) youth workers; you want to find a balance between life and ministry so you can grow your group without your "real job" or your family paying the price.

The good news is, no matter how out-of-balance you may be, any PT/V youth worker can balance life and a growing ministry if they set clear boundaries and lead like the apostles.

SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES
See if any of this sounds familiar:

"Can we re-schedule our date night this week? The middle schoolers need a chaperone for the concert."

"Sorry boss, I promise things will get back to normal after this event at my church is over."

"Honey, can I invite the kids from our small group over for our family BBQ on Saturday?"

Without boundaries, we tend to over commit. Having too many commitments will always lead to broken promises. No PT/V youth worker can survive without boundaries. For the sake of your family, your "real job," and your sanity, draw a line in the sand to help you manage...you.

Here are some boundaries that PT/V youth workers may want to consider:
  1. Don't bring youth ministry work to your "real" job. (Most bosses aren't interested in paying you to run the youth ministry at your church...especially if it's not their church, too!)

  2. Prayerfully consider and set a number of hours that you plan on working. I've seen this abused on both ends of the spectrum. I've seen paid youth workers barely do their allotted hours and then... "time's up!" Many of the excuses are noble: I need to make family a priority, I want to avoid burnout, etc. But this same youth worker is asking his volunteers to come and serve 5 to 10 hours above their normal job. Maybe he should consider at least doing the same. On the other end, many youth workers are supposed to do 10, but do 30, at the expense of their family, their job, and their sanity.

    Here's the point: prayerfully consider how many hours you are going to put into this, volunteer or paid. If you want to give a little extra than what's on paper, that's between you, your spouse, and God. But decide that amount. If 15 hours is the number of hours that you decide, then set that 15 hours as a guide and stick to it. Don't burn yourself out. Find out what works best for your schedule, commit to that amount, and keep your commitment.

  3. Take one day off each week. God said to! End of discussion.

  4. If you're married or have kids, set and maintain an uninterruptable time with family. As nice as it is to plan a once-a-week family night... that doesn't usually cut it. ("That was fun kids! See ya next Thursday!") We need to invest in our families, daily, if at all possible! This dedicated time with the family can be in the morning before school, at the dinner table, or on the couch after homework and chores are done. Don't let meetings, events, programs, cell phone calls, knocks at the door, or anything else interrupt this time with them. Your spouse and children will remember there was a time EACH DAY that belonged to them, and them alone.

A Lesson From Andy
Andy isn't a PT/V youth worker, but he knows a little about ministry; 17,000 people in the Atlanta area call him their pastor. That's right...17,000! Additionally, thousands of Christian leaders across the nation and around the world see him as
their mentor. Given that scope of ministry, one might assume that Andy routinely works 80-hour weeks just to keep his head above water, right?

Wrong.

Andy Stanley pastors North Point Community Church, and while many of his colleagues bury themselves under unmanageable loads of ministry, Andy enjoys time with his family...all because he sets boundaries in place to help him balance life and ministry.

Several times in public forums, Andy has spoken about drawing a line in the sand. Andy says, "I told God I want to be the best pastor I can be, working 45 hours a week." That's all. That's it. Andy knows that ministry can eat up his life; there's always another sermon to write, another counseling session to have, another family in crisis, another leadership summit, another....

It's Pronounced "No"
So many youth pastors say, "I just can't say 'no.'" That's not entirely true. What they really mean is, "I can't seem to say 'no' to the church." But the same group doesn't mind telling their families "no."

As a youth pastor, I can't tell you the number of requests I get each week from people in the church and within the community asking for help. I know how many hours I have dedicated to the job, and after that number has been reached, I either say "no," or get myself in trouble. Years of experience have taught me how long it takes to do most of the work associated with youth ministry (writing messages, planning events, training leaders, etc). If we're not careful, we'll bite off more than we can chew, simply by not knowing our job and the time it takes to do it.

So, how do we determine what to say "no" to, and what to say "yes" to?

Set Priorities
Have you ever considered where your time should be spent?

Good question, huh?

Often, volunteers and part time youth workers spend time on urgent tasks, not important tasks. Don't become a slave to urgency. Take time to evaluate what you think is important. One way to do this is to simply write out your priorities.

If you work as a 20 hour per week PT/V youth worker, here is a sample of what that list might look like:

  1. Hang out with kids on their turf by visiting campus 1 day a week. (1 hour and 1/2)
  2. Meet with kids one-on-one for evangelism or discipleship. (1 hour and 1/2)
  3. Lead a small group and hang with kids afterwards. (2 and 1/2 hours)
  4. Meeting with adult leaders or potential leaders one-on-one (2 hours)
  5. Church staff meeting (2 hours)
  6. Prep time for youth group (3 hours)
  7. Youth group night and meeting with leaders afterwards. (2 and 1/2 hours)
  8. Prep time for Sunday a.m. youth group (1 hour)
  9. Sunday a.m. youth group (1 hour)
  10. Administrative junk! For example: Phone calls, emails, paperwork, thank you notes, etc. (2 hours)
  11. Special event planning (1 hour)

    * Special events like annual camps or weekend retreats would make this schedule look different, of course.
A close examination of your list will reveal what you consider most important. You may notice that the first five items on the list are relational tasks: building relationships with kids, building relationships with leaders, and maintaining good relationships with church staff. The next five are programming tasks. Very often youth workers will either be very good at the first five or very good at the last five. Regardless of your gifting, neither can be neglected.

Once you complete the process of writing out your weekly tasks, sit down and discuss the list with your pastor or someone else in leadership in your ministry. Ask them for their opinion. If you have a pastor or administrator above you, make sure your list matches their priorities.

Tracking Your Time
Setting priorities is an important step. Carrying out those priorities is a whole different ballgame.

Every PT/V youth worker should track his/her work and the time it takes to get it done. That way, you can see if your daily tasks match your list of priorities.

You're probably thinking, "I've got too much work to do already, and you want me to do MORE work by writing down all the work I do???" Yep. That's exactly what I'm suggesting. I call it a Task/Time Chart. If you are responsible for working 20 hours each week at your church, it MIGHT look something like this:

DAY TASK TIME
Monday Called Jo Anne about snacks for Wednesday night
Called Don about the game for Wednesday night
Met with a student named T.J. after school
8 minutes
12 minutes
30 minutes
Tuesday Church Staff Meeting
Wrote the Bible study for Wednesday night
Emailed it to all the small group leaders
Picked songs for worship and built the PPT
Met with a potential volunteer for lunch
Led a small group and hung with kids afterwards
1 hour
1.5 hours
5 minutes
25 minutes
1 hour
2 hours
Wednesday Went on campus to visit kids
Rehearsed the worship team
Helped Lori set up chairs for program time
Led the Wednesday night program
Cleaned up from the Wednesday night program
Debriefed with the adult leaders after the program
90 minutes
40 minutes
20 minutes
2 hours
18 minutes
22 minutes
Thursday Met with Britney about her struggle with parents 1.5 hours
Friday Planned the Sunday School lesson for the weekend
Took Middle Schoolers to "movie night"
1.5 hours
2.5 hours
Saturday Nothing! 0 hours
Sunday Taught Sunday School for whole group
Adult training mtg. with lunch after worship
1 hour
1.5 hours

NOTE: This is just an example. Conform it to whatever your youth ministry week looks like. The main point is to get a solid understanding of how you are actually spending your time. If you make a phone call, send an email, teach a Bible study, or write a note of encouragement, chart it and the time it takes to get it done. Be very specific! To get a good feel for your work and the time it takes you, do this for at least three weeks.

This chart might make you think twice about some of the tasks you do in your ministry. "Did it really take me that long to make a flyer?" If you only have 5 hours, should you spend 3 on a flyer, 1 on talk preparation, and just 1 hour hanging with kids? Maybe you need to revisit your schedule and match it to your priorities.

Setting boundaries is the only way Araceli and the rest of us can balance life and ministry because youth ministry is a big job. But in addition to searching for balance, she confessed she was "always playing catch up." Nobody wants to do youth ministry that way. So, if that describes you too, then you need to...

LEAD LIKE THE APOSTLES
There is a refreshing story found in Acts 6:1-7. Basically, a few widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food, so a few conscientious believers brought the problem to the attention of the Twelve Apostles (the big shots). Check out what the apostles said and what happened as a result:

"It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Now, clearly, this is not a situation where the apostles were permitted to simply say, "no." Old ladies would have starved! But, that didn't mean that THEY had to be the ones feeding them! The same is true for you.

The apostles knew they were responsible for the "big picture." If they got bogged down in every detail, the early church would have crumbled. To lead like the apostles, we must stay focused on the big picture, too. We do this by communicating needs and delegating ministry tasks to others.

Finding Your Stephen
The Apostles never would have found Stephen (or the others) had they not communicated a need to the church. Because they were willing to ask for help, "the Word of God spread" and "the number of disciples increased rapidly."

Effective PT/V youth workers are constantly communicating needs to others. It's usually easy to spot them; they have large teams of adult leaders, and consequently, large numbers of students. It's also easy to spot PT/V youth workers who do not communicate needs and ask for help. They have one adult leader who's just as close to burnout as they are!

As a PT/V, recruiting volunteers is an absolute necessity. I've never met a youth worker who said, "Actually, I don't need any help at all!" Most of us desperately need volunteers. We just don't know how to recruit them.

Rather than repeating the basics in this article, we encourage you to read two existing articles on our web site about recruiting and keeping volunteers. These articles will be a big help to you as you build an effective team of adult volunteers for your ministry.

Now, the only thing left for you to do as a PT/V youth worker is to lead confidently...and you don't need a Master's of Divinity, a PhD in theology, or 22 years of experience in youth ministry to do that.

At TheSource4YM.com, we believe PT/V youth workers are the heroes of the Kingdom! Not only do you work a "real" job and manage your family, but you also make sure lots of teenagers know they have a heavenly family. You're absolutely crucial to God's agenda, and that's why we're here for you. If you need even more, check out a few of the training seminars we offer to help you in your task.


David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org. David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.



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Comments on this post

   Tenaj         1/10/2015 11:57:15 AM

This article was rated but no comment was left

   Jason Carney         3/16/2012 1:17:24 PM

Great advice! I definitely need some boundaries!

   Heather Privett         2/28/2011 6:57:02 AM

Wow! My husband and I have been doing the "youth ministry" unpaid for nearly 18 years. This summed it up great! Thanks for posting this article!














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