How Should a Youth Pastor Schedule Their Week?
You’re sitting somewhat paralyzed in your office chair. The dazed and confused look on your face comes from seeing 56 new emails in your inbox, the phone’s little red light blinking in your peripheral vision signaling voice mails, and the weekly calendar that reminds you of the two Bible studies and one talk due this week.
Where do you start?
You’re not alone.
Lots of youth pastors ask the question, “So, what should my work week look like?” Too many youth pastors, who are burdened by the incredibly difficult task of guiding teenagers in a world-run-amuck, carry a bum rap because of how they choose to spend their time. It’s a great question to ask yourself, because it proves that you are focused on being as effective and efficient as possible.
However, it’s also a difficult question to answer. Every youth ministry requires a different type and level of care. Plus, no two church leadership boards expect the same from their youth pastor. And finally, no two youth pastors are the same. So, if you’re expecting to find a filled out, color-coded, work calendar ripped from Doug Fields’ Daytimer in this article, you’re gonna be disappointed. I will offer you the major components of a productive youth ministry and encourage you to implement them as you see fit.
Almost 99% of all youth ministry falls into one of three categories:
- personal development
- preparation for and leadership of programs
- mentoring/relational ministry
Personal development is the “behind the scenes” refining of self that continually prepares you for youth ministry leadership. (Daily Bible study, prayer, conferences, training, etc.) Preparation for and leadership of programs entails not only the “upfront” parts of the job that everyone around you sees and experiences, but also the meetings, communication, and training that makes them possible. (Staff meetings, study time, event/program attendance, etc.) Mentoring/relational ministry centers on the “one-on-one” aspects of ministry where you try to make a significant impact on those closest to you. (Counseling sessions, going to students’ games/plays/recitals, mentoring, etc.) Let’s take a look at each of these three breakdowns, and their components, to get a picture of what our work weeks should look like.
Personal Bible Study and Prayer. Nothing is more important to the soul of a youth pastor than daily time spent with the One who called him/her into ministry. I call this “be” time. The day will offer lots of “do” moments, but this is a time for me to just “be” a child of the King, a hurting follower, a joyful servant, etc. There is no magic involved; it’s just a relationship between you and Him. Make sure this moment gets your best. This is your most significant relationship; treat it accordingly!
Personal Mentoring. Every professional that is growing is listening to someone else. Find the person that can pour a little of themselves into you. This does not need to happen weekly, but certainly monthly. This could look like a 2 hour lunch once per month. Get together in a place with zero distractions, come prepared for this time, and glean all you can from someone that is a little further down life’s track than you.
Day Off. Take one every week! Two if you can get away with it! Even God rested. What makes you think you can go on and on without rest? The biggest cause of burnout is lack of rest. Youth pastors who do not rest purposefully become a statistic one way or another. Either they burn out, quit, and go sell insurance, or they become so ineffective that the ministry is continually punished by their shallow, thrown-together leadership. Don’t let either of these happen to you.
Unapologetically pick one day each week that belongs to you and your family. Keep it the same from week to week (as much as possible) and communicate it to other leaders. Let them know that this is the day that you will be unavailable.
While you are at the task of setting boundaries, go ahead and determine the number of nights per week you are willing to be out of the house. With all that happens in youth ministry, you could easily spend 5 nights away from home each week. Do your family a favor and make sure you are home at least 4 nights per week. They are already paying a high price for your ministry. Don’t allow their cost to soar! (For more on balancing Family and Ministry, read this article.)
PREPARATION FOR AND LEADERSHIP OF PROGRAMS
Communication. The best way to get a bad reputation as a youth pastor is to NOT communicate with the leaders around you. Those leaders can be anyone from the Senior Pastor to the night janitor to the lady who comes in once a month to update the youth ministry database. It is incredibly frustrating for people to have to continually guess what you are doing and what you are expecting. Tell them point blank!
It’s a good idea to communicate at least once per week in an email to all of your leaders that will be serving that week. Give them a heads up reminder of what is supposed to happen. You could easily set up an email distribution list that blankets all of the leaders in your various ministries.
Phone calls are a step above email communication, but generally take longer. You might want to reserve the more intricate communication to a phone call. That way, there is less chance of miscommunication. If someone calls you, make sure their phone call is returned within 24 hours!
Don’t forget the often neglected tool of the 18th Century…the thank you note. Yes, the old-fashioned, hand written, postage-stamp-required, thank you note. This carries a significant amount of weight with those around you. (I once had a leader tell me that he saves all of the encouragement and thank you notes I send him.) This is a powerful tool of communication!
A youth ministry website, newsletter, and mail outs (as needed) can round out healthy communication from the youth pastor.
Planning. How far out do you need to be thinking? For program stuff (the things you do every week) it is a good idea to know where you will be 6 weeks from today. That means knowing all of the Bible studies in this curriculum PLUS knowing which curriculum you will be going into next. (That way, you get to advertise it effectively.) For events (the things you do only a few times each year) you need to be thinking 6 months down the road. That way, leaders can be prepped, logistics can be handled, and reservations can be made.
The best planning tool I have ever used is to take 8 minutes on Sunday night and plan out Monday through Sunday of the coming week. It lets me prioritize what’s most important, make sure I have not double-booked myself, and find extra time to work on that new ministry project I want to get off the ground.
Also, recognize the difference between “in school” months and “out of school” months. Your ministry can be much more relational during the “out of school” months. Events, trips, outings, and other special opportunities can happen on a more frequent basis. (For more on planning ahead in ministry, take a peek at this article.)
Team Meetings. Team meetings are one of the most crucial ways to effectively plan with and communicate to those around you. It gives you face-to-face communication with other leaders in the church. You should prioritize these meetings as “must attend.” Some of these include the staff meeting for church employees, the summer camp planning meeting, leadership trainings, etc. If it’s a meeting that can help you accomplish your mission in youth ministry, you might want to prepare ahead of time, and then attend the meeting.
Lesson/Bible Study/Message Preparation. If you’re a youth pastor that must present a message/talk/sermon and a Bible study each week, then you MUST have adequate time to prepare each week. Remember, this is the one chance you get all week long to have most, if not all, of your students together! Take the time that is necessary to make sure you deliver a strong message to your kids.
Message/Talk/Sermon – I have found that it takes at least half of one day, completely uninterrupted, to accomplish this. (You’ll find that many good preachers spend from 20 to 25 hours to prepare for a Sunday sermon, so half a day isn’t really that much!)
Bible study – A good rule of thumb is to study twice as long as the Bible study, itself, will last. So, if the Bible study is planned for an hour, then study two hours. This goes a long way towards ensuring you get the proper meaning of the text, some great questions for your group to answer, and a life-changing take away for them to implement in their lives.
Presence at Programs. You are expected to be where kids are. But it is an unfair expectation that you will be doing ALL the teaching, training, and leading at the various programs centered on youth ministry! That is why I distinguish between being “present at” and “personally leading” programs. You will lead some of them, but you might allow some programs to be led by others. It’s a good idea for you to lead in the big group moments of your ministry. But it is impossible to think you could teach every Sunday School class that meets on Sunday mornings, or make it to every in-home small group that meets throughout the week.
Mentoring Ministry. What students remember most about our ministry is usually NOT our messages, our Bible studies, or our summer camps. It is the conversation we had with them about their significant others/parents/hobbies over the Coke we bought them at the local McDonald’s. Whether you get together with one student, or a small group of students, this time is precious to them. I can’t talk enough about the transformation that I have seen in kids’ lives when I have taken the time to take them to Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone! (NOTE: Be careful here that you do not violate any church standards about adult/student contact. Rule of thumb: men with guys, women with girls.)
Leadership Training. Your mentoring should not be directed to students only. You can, and should, also mentor the adults and volunteers that are walking with you in ministry. As ministry goes on, you will find that HOW you lead needs to be tweaked from time to time. Take full advantage of leadership training opportunities with your adults (and with your students) to make sure the ministry you offer is the best it can be. At least once per month, meet with your teams of students and then with your teams of adults to keep a good handle on current needs and solutions for your group. (For more on developing your adult leaders, take a peek at this article.)
Establishment of Office Hours. You will be blessed by setting “In Office” hours. These hours will indicate when you are in your office and available for appointments, phone calls, meetings, and to some extent, interruptions. Post these on your office door and list them in the church newsletter. Here is how they work: you gotta be in your office when you say you’re gonna be!
I found the magic number to be 25% of my work week’s hours. (40 hours/week youth pastors should spend at least 10 hours each week on the church campus “In Office.” 30 hours/week youth pastors should spend at least 7 hours each week on the church campus “In Office.”)
Celebrity Appearances. The biggest points I score in the hearts of teenagers is when I attend their “regular life” activities like football games, school plays, or even family funerals and weddings. Teenagers know that their parents, siblings, and friends “have to” attend. But when you show up, in the midst of your busy schedule, they take note of it! These rare points in life show your students that you are interested in their WHOLE life, not just their CHURCH life.
TAKING IT ALL IN
These components are the makeup of many productive youth pastors’ work weeks. Their individual purposes and priorities in ministry will dictate how they employ them, and to what degree. But these tools are foundational when it comes to managing yourself, your ministry, and many of the variables in it.
OK, I realize this is a lot…and that there are some visual learners amongst us. Now, I’m no Doug Fields, but here’s a window into what my work week as a youth pastor typically looked like (approx. 52 hours). Maybe you can use it in a way that allows you to enjoy the call God has placed on your life to reach teenagers with His life-changing love.
NOTE: FUSION was the weekly outreach ministry we ran on Friday nights at the FUSION Center for high school students in our area. (This building was 2 miles from our church and located right beside the Starbucks and Muvico Theater.) Mid-week Bible study, held on Wednesday nights at the FUSION Center, was what we invited them back to each week. Catalyst was our Sunday morning small group ministry that was much more in-depth in nature. The CORE was the building on our church campus where our High School ministry was housed.
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 TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.