I’m taking a week off from youth ministry.
It’s not because I’m going on vacation.
It’s not because I have too many things in my schedule.
It’s not because I no longer love students.
I’m just about ready to rip some of their heads off… that’s all.
Can you relate?
I enjoy being a volunteer youth worker. On any given week, I might be in the back of the room showing a student how to play a teaching DVD off the computer or I may be the actual teacher who is standing up to share a lesson of my own. Most of the time, I look for however I can support our youth pastor, lead a small group of students and transport my two sons and their four friends each week.
I’ve been active in student ministry for more than two decades. I love it.
Some days, though… teenagers drive me up a wall.
If only I could stop time in the middle of crazy moments like Zack Morris did in Saved By The Bell.
I recently shared with my wife, “There are two kids who never seem to want to be there. I’ve been gracious, but now I want to tell them to stop whining. Oh, and then tonight someone threw a ball the wrong way and it broke the church computer monitor. You know that I’d rather have a student be there and break something than not come at all, but there was no ownership of what he did. His personality has already been wearing me down, and this made me all the more agitated. Then there’s this other kid who is loud and in my face every time I see him… and this girl who complains because…”
On and on I went. My wife (thankfully) knows when I just need her to listen.
Later in the same week, I ended up serving at a student ministry camp fundraiser. I again had students there who were grumpy, flirtatious, distracted and everything in between. I grunted through it until a woman from a more popular youth group in town came over and told our students that they should instead come be a part of their ministry because of all the exciting things they’re doing.
I have to confess… that really bothered me.
As much as Christians intellectually pontificate how the Body of Christ is bigger than any one church or youth group, we all have very real emotions wrapped up into what we’re doing. I felt like she was saying because they have more exciting events that what we’re doing is somehow less-than-ideal.
So I came home and popped again before my wife. “I want something better for our students than what they’re experiencing… what I’m experiencing…”
On and on I went. My wife (thankfully) knows when I just need her to speak.
“It sounds like you need some time off from youth ministry,” she offered. “I know you love it and love teenagers, but if you keep pushing through it like this it won’t be good for anyone. You might even need to take the summer off.”
“I don’t know about the summer,” I countered, “but I can start with a week and see what happens. Who knows? Maybe the summer, too. Or maybe not.”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized there are at least 4 ways to take time off:
- Sometimes we need a week off from ministry. Somebody can cover for you. If you discover otherwise, either you’re not looking hard enough or overestimate your importance. Worst case scenario, just tell the students you won’t meet this week and they have to come up with an alternative plan as student leaders.
- Sometimes we need a month off from ministry. This is harder to navigate because it requires multiple weeks of responsibility. Still, it can happen. Ask someone else in the church if you can swap duties for a month. Have fun seeing things from another angle.
- Sometimes we need a season off from ministry. There is no way I can walk you through this without knowing the logistics of your situation. What I can tell you is I have friends in youth ministry who shut down youth ministry for the entire summer in order to let their leaders recharge. I’ve never done that myself, but I have for a season not served and let God guide me back in when the time was right.
- Sometimes we need a year (or more) off from ministry. If you’ve been hurt or burnt out in any way, you may need to take the time to deal with that wound before you can again be a healer. There is no shame in pausing or changing your responsibilities to renew your soul and perspective. If you’re a paid youth worker, this may look less like quitting and more like shifting your duties so you’re doing more things that give you life.
I’m not cynical. I’m not angry.
I’m trying to make sure I do what needs to be done before I become those things.
Can you relate?
Do you need any time off from students? Why. or why not?
What’s a possible sign that it’s time to take a break?