Ask The Source

How do I avoid burnout and still be effective to my high school students?

I have been an adult volunteer in the high school student ministry at my church going on six years. My mom suggested that I take a break from youth ministry and go back to attending a young adult Bible study to meet people my age. She said by doing this, I will avoid from being “burned out”. How do I avoid burnout and still be effective to my high school students?

Anthony, Garland, TX


Dear Anthony,

As someone who has been part of both teen and young adult (college/career) ministries, I must say that there's wisdom in your mom's advice. You may or may not need to take a break from youth ministry for a year, but you definitely should have regular time off and you ought to be in a group with your peers/people your age.

I would add one of my favorite sayings, “Take your breaks before you need them.” It's important that once in a while you give yourself permission to turn the reigns over to someone, or if there's no one capable and available, to cancel youth group altogether (holiday weeks are great for this, summer break, etc.) in order to give yourself some time off… guilt-free.

Another thing I highly recommend, beyond daily alone time with God, are monthly or quarterly “Sabbaths” – days when you get away for focused time alone with Jesus, away from students, phones, and media. A 4 to 8 hour block of time during which you can tend to your own soul and reconnect with the One Who called you to youth ministry in the first place. It's what matters most.

Whether you step out of student ministry for a season or simply manage your time so as to avoid burnout, I agree with your mom about peer fellowship. Specifically, you need to be in a fellowship setting in a non-leadership role. Just go and be. I'll never forget a youth pastor from another church who attended my husband's and my young adult small group. He could come, be himself, share his struggles, and not worry about whether it would be misunderstood or get back to his students or pastor. He could just let go and enjoy being an individual called by his first name, not ÒPastor Scott.Ó We really liked him and loved having him in our group. Now, leading a bi-monthly young adult group at our current church, we've had a couple of my volunteer youth leaders attend. I've made it clear that at our Life Group, ÒI'm not a youth pastor and you're not a youth leader.” When we're there, weÕre just part of the body of Christ, iron sharpening iron and growing spiritually.

Another practical thing to do is enjoy hobbies and activities that fuel and fill you – things that have nothing to do with ministry at all. Whatever you enjoy, especially health-promoting activities (sports, hiking, rock-climbing, etc.), make time for. It's kind of like that financial advice smart people give: “Pay yourself first,” meaning, put money in your savings account before spending. The same applies emotionally: make time for the things that fuel and fill you, then you won't resent giving yourself away in ministry, and you won't burn out.

Keith, we hope this helps. Two great books I highly recommend that speak to personal and time management are Boundaries by Dr. John Townsend and Henry Cloud and Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald. Speaking of good books, I'm all about reading ministry books that help me to be better at what I do, but I also encourage you to regularly read books that speak to and nurture your soul, as well…books that God may speak through to you.

Same team,

Danette Matty, Resource Correspondent
The Source for Youth Ministry

Note to Full-time youth leaders: This is even more crucial for full-time youth leaders. There are several ministries that host pastors (and their spouse, if married) up to a week, to get some much needed physical, emotional, and mental rest and to reconnect with God. One such ministry is Pastors Retreat Network; this one has 3 or 4 US locations and happens to be free! And you know how The Source loves FREE!


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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