Ministry is amazing… We get to spend our greatest energy wading into the deepest pools of others—their triumphs and failures, joys and sorrows.
And we have the honor of pointing them toward the Lifeguard/Swim Coach who’s teaching them how to be strong swimmers!
But when we’re swimming laps around these pools, we can feel drained and exhausted. Cynicism creeps in—and maybe anger, depression, anxiety, or apathy begins to set in. It’s not enough to count on “staying plugged into Jesus” as a strategy. That’s just a nice platitude. Jesus himself got worn down and even anxious (remember him escaping the crowds to find solace and silence in the wilderness and sweating with dread in Gethsemane?)
So, you might be in danger of drowning…
1. If you start feeling like you’re paid to be a Christian, rather than a pastor.
When the ONLY reason you get up for church on the weekend if because you HAVE to be there, you’re probably going under. When you have flashes of anger or depression because human interruptions are preventing you from completing tasks, you’re in the danger zone. When you’re about to have a “Come to Jesus” moment with a service person, but hold back only because you’re wearing a church T-shirt, it’s time for some mouth-to-mouth
2. If the real issues confronting your teenagers don’t summon your empathy.
It’s true that, after a season in youth ministry, we grow accustomed to confessions that in earlier days we would have found shocking. But when a student bares his/her soul and you’re wondering if this is going to eat into your dinner time or Netflix binge, you’re drowning. And if your response to his/her need is to offer the prescribed Scriptural tetanus shot and move along, it’s a red flag.
[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]Ministry is amazing. But it’s also a soul-sucker when we aren’t as diligent about our own soul care as we are about others.[/tweet_box]
3. If you’re always ill-prepared and scrambling to fulfill your ministry responsibilities.
All of us go through seasons when the interruptions of life and ministry make us less prepared than we normally would be. But if we’re always scrambling last-minute lessons or game ideas, you’re simply flailing in the deep end with no floaties. Whether it’s crafting the lesson, planning programming, or simply spending time praying for teenagers, there’s a joy in being prepared for our responsibilities.
4. If your “work” becomes your “identity.”
In the eyes of Jesus, our worth is not defined by the ministry we do. We’re adopted children of the King. Period. We don’t earn that, own it, or control it. We are his. So, if your ministry is struggling and that means you are struggling in your identity, you need a Swim Coach/Lifeguard. Hear me—ministry is NEVER a safe space, and that means we’re always in a battle with an unseen enemy. But when we lose sight of whose we are because of the work we do, we’ve lost sight of our anchoring priority—attachment to Jesus.
5. When prayer is our opener and closer to meetings or meals, and really non-existent otherwise, we’re sinking to the bottom.
Quite possibly, we’ve been there for a while. The source of everything in ministry is our connection with Abba/Daddy—when we aren’t talking to him or inviting him to talk to us, we’ll start sucking water into our lungs even in the shallow end of the pool.
Ministry is amazing. But it’s also a soul-sucker when we aren’t as diligent about our own soul care as we are about others—I’m writing from experience. So, here are a few life preservers…
- I have to spend regular, daily, intentional time with Jesus, even when I’m not feeling it or when “extra duties as assigned” keep me busier than I should be. Sacrificing my time with him means I’m sacrificing everything.
- I need a few people in my life, my immediate family and a few others, who have my permission to caution me about my place in the pool. I trust these people implicitly because they care about my soul and can see what I sometimes do not. When they call something out in my life, I listen even when I do not agree.
- I have to guard and grab Sabbath rest as a priority. If possible, I don’t leave vacation days on the table. I’m working on making days off uninterruptible. I continue to invest in hobbies and outside pursuits in my life that require me to think about something other than teenagers.
Even when I stay on top of soul-care, I still have seasons that make me feel like I’m coughing and sputtering and flailing and in danger of sinking. But there is One who walks on water. No matter what pool I’m in, he can find me. He can save me.