Overwork and Youth Ministry

Don’t worry, I’m not feeling overworked in youth ministry! However, Kurt Johnson, over at Simply Kurt has a post with some questions about things we do in youth ministry. I’ve already commented at his blog, but I wanted to take a moment and go a little more indepth into Kurt’s final question.

How can the church break the cycle of overworking our best, most willing, volunteers?

I said in my comment on Kurt’s blog, and still hold to the same idea, that we need to radically rethink how we do youth ministry. I’ve been involved in three youth ministries as a student and four as an adult (either volunteer or professional), the youth ministry I am currently pastoring is my fifth (not as a pastor, but as an adult volunteer/pastor). In almost all of those ministries we did events, and events, and events. As a teen I had “youth group” stuff to be at multiple times a week, and over the summer there were always things going on. As an adult volunteer I felt the pressure to create additional events, and sometimes I got the impression that parents wanted events so their kids had something to do to hang around with other Christian teens.

Perhaps you can see where I’m headed with this, but let me be clear: I think that in youth ministry, even when our events have purpose and meaning, we still kill ourselves and our volunteers doing events. Some people have suggested, over in the comments to Kurt’s post, that we need to allow volunteers vacations from ministry, time off, and that sort of thing. I couldn’t agree more! But I think that in the long run those types of things are only stop-gap measures. We need to rethink how we approach ministry to and with youth. I think that we need to dial back the volume a little (not literally!) and model, not a corporate “get things done” way of doing youth ministry, but a slower, more laid back style. We will still have events, certainly – but maybe a few less. We will still have to organize things and be prepared as youth ministers. But maybe we can help students to realize its not about doing our things instead of the world’s things, but that it’s rather about living out the Jesus Creed amidst our friends and neighbors – both redeemed and unredeemed. Maybe we can model, through the design of our youth ministries, a quieter approach to life that will help students to be prepared for life after our ministry.

My goal here isn’t to be uber critical of the way we’ve done youth ministry in the past. However, I do think that we realistically need to rethink our way of doing ministry. Maybe, if we had a different approach to youth ministry we’d see less overwork and burnout among volunteers and ourselves because youth ministry would rejuvenate instead of exhaust (though of course, there will be times of exhaustion), because it was all about community and living as the Body of Christ (and included those aspects in connection with the larger local body of believes, regardless of generation). I’d love thoughts on this. Am I crazy?

3 thoughts on “Overwork and Youth Ministry

  1. Good thoughts Calvin! Without question, the youth ministry model of “Do More Stuff” should be reconsidered. The other day I had a conversation about our ‘core’ kids and how much stuff they do in our ministry. It was actually spurred by my question about the importance of camp.

    On one hand, our core kids don’t need to be doing more youth ministry activities, but on the other hand maybe the reason we have said core kids is because they have been super involved in lots of youth ministry activities! 🙂 Oh, what to do!

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