Who are you “supposed” to call today? Which teenager “should” you hang out with this week? How many of your own family’s activities do you “need” to show up for this month?
Look, we’re all busy—it doesn’t matter whether we’re full-time, part-time, or a volunteer. The balance we try to maintain among our priorities at home, church, and work is fragile, and we always know we “could/should” be doing something that’s more important. Even when we’re trying to be intentional about our choices, we struggle with guilt.
So what are the essentials? As someone who’s wrestled with this over and over (and over and over), so much of this comes down to who gets our time, and when they get it.
My 5 quick tips for busy youth workers who are determined to maintain a relational approach to ministry:
1. Prioritize self-care. Jesus gave us the “great commandment”: to love others as we love ourselves. The step we often skip is to make healthy investments in our own soul. When you don’t have the physical/emotional/spiritual energy to engage others with redemptive impact, you can’t practice relational ministry. Some questions and thoughts to chew on with Jesus:
- My Emotions (heart): What “heart viruses” have infected you? What’s a burden you’re carrying that you refuse to hand over to Jesus? Not sure? In my experience, laughter melts our defense strategies. Listen to or watch Jim Gaffigan or Brian Regan—give yourself space to laugh without a filter. And then pay attention to what’s lingering in you afterward.
- My Spirit (soul): You know that particular spiritual pathway or discipline you’re not a fan of? Go all-in on it for a week— not as a “try harder to get better” campaign, but simply to inject some imbalance and freshness into your pursuit of Jesus.
- My Intellect (mind): What if you posted on social media, asking for recommendations of life-changing books that have nothing to do with ministry or teenagers? Then pick one of the recommendations and read something that’s “just for you.”
- My Physicality (body): The best exercise we can do is the one we’ll actually do (whatever that is). What is it? Get to it.
2. Practice family-care: By loving our loved ones, we not only invest into them but we also feel freer to invest into others. It’s so hard to be relational with others when I know I’m missing the mark at home.
- Give your spouse 90 percent veto-power over your schedule. Before you take on something outside of the norm—a new event, camp, whatever—run it by your spouse. If he/she thinks it’s not healthy for you or your family, listen up. Maybe one out of 10 times push back to make your case for something your spouse thinks is a bad idea.
- Remember your extended family. Whether you live close by or far away, your little connection-efforts add up. I often call my mom or dad (who live in separate states than I do) when I have a half-hour drive ahead of me. These non-rushed conversations really mattered to them.
3. Honor job-care: This is a blurry line if you work full-time in a church, but we must honor any pre-existing commitments we were hired to do before taking on new extracurriculars or ministry.
- Lead by example. One of my small-group leaders slacked off at work to invest more time in his teenagers. It sounded noble, but after he lost his job, the cost of his “commitment” proved to be awkward for his guys. Better to work your shifts and ask for ministry time off than generally disrespect your workplace for “church stuff.”
- Honor up. There’s always something or someone to vent about at work. Instead, lean into a grateful mindset when you consider the challenges you’re facing.
4. Persevere in ministry-care: What does it mean to invest in your teenagers, relative to the rest of your “investment portfolio”?
- Determine who in your ministry gets the best burst of your energy. For me, it’s our adult volunteers and staff leadership team, parents, and a student leadership community of 20 teenagers. That’s not to say I don’t invest in others, but these stakeholders get my best bursts, because I’ve prioritized my ability to make a lasting impact.
- Sometimes I get a text that says: “Hey, a few of us are on PS4 now playing games. Want to join in?” Other times I get texts that say: “Well done. Let me tell you why…” or “Praying for you today. I sense today will be a powerful day for you.” Not all texts are created equal, and our response to them needs to morph according to how much time/energy investment they deserve.
- Figure out what is most important in your teenagers’ lives. Ask: “What’s one thing you’d love for one of us adult leaders to show up to this year?” Make that touch-point happen, if you can.
5. Invite open-care: Jesus practiced “spontaneous availability”—He was always inviting others into His mission, in the moment, and outside of formal structures.
- Systematize spontaneity. I know a youth worker who sits at Panera every Thursday to talk with whoever shows up. If no one does, she gets a lot of laptop work done. If a parent, student or elder pops on by, they get her full attention.
- Build-in five minute wander times. When you plan your schedule, give yourself five-minute windows to connect with others outside your normal “flow.” Linger and enjoy whomever Jesus leads you into conversation with.
What’s your next step?