Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry: God is in control!

Ministry is exhausting. It can crush your bones, numb your mind and suck every ounce of emotional energy from your spirit. Ministry is so very exhausting for three simple reasons:

1. You are working with people. People who, like yourself can be flawed and demanding, sinful and unpredictable, and insensitive and rude.

2. You always need to be ‘up’. By this I mean that you must constantly be ‘up’ for the events of this week (church, youth group etc.). You must always be the role model. This comes with an inevitable degree of wear and tear.

3. There is an inbuilt importance to what we are doing. It is so very important that we must not give up or give in. This sometimes causes us to push ourselves when we should slow down or even stop for a rest and recharge.

An added dimension that can sometimes make youth ministry harder than most other ministries is simply because we are ‘under’ so many others. Think of all those groups whose opinion matters to our job wellbeing. 

  •We must work under a senior minister and/or elders. You may say “I work with him/her” but the fact of the matter is, they are still over you in the Lord. And, can have a big say in your longevity at your present job.

  •We must aim to work with and even for parents—we are, after all, working with their children. Therefore, their opinions matter greatly.

  •In addition we of course work with the youth themselves.

We need to listen to so many opinions, so many preferences, so many ‘helpful bits of advice to further our ministry.’ Youth ministry is, as a result, filled with workers who are barely hanging in there. I see it in some of my colleague’s eyes—they are the walking dead, are they hanging in by their nails? Nope, they left their nails in the cliff’s edge a long time ago. 

This is the second in a series of post designed to offer some guidance towards “self care: staying sane in youth ministry.” The first post offered some practical advice. This one is going to be a bit … trickier. Your second rule for self care in youth ministry is while you must take great care to work hard and to work smart, God is in control. GOD IS IN CONTROL!

Staying healthy in youth ministry rule #2[1]: You must (MUST!) realize that God is in control!

I have met a lot of youth ministers. There are some who, quite frankly, are lazy. They are lazy in their actions and they are lazy in their minds. However, it has been my experience that they are the minority. The majority work hard and are eager to get better at their craft. Many of them are the exact opposite of lazy—they are driven.

The problem is that in this desire to get things done we become … control freaks. This is one of the most unhealthy aspects to ministry and it is also one that, in the end, will cause you harm.

Now, there are those of us who are aware of this fact, and if you are a control freak you really must acknowledge this fact. Failure to do so will almost certainly cause you suffering and fatigue. Sure we want to see things get done—important things, but we must be very careful. Consider these well-known words from the Apostle Paul:

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.  Colossians 1:28-29

Notice that Paul works hard, very hard. However, he realizes that it is Christ who is working in him. It is God’s power, not Paul’s. This frees Paul up to relax even while “laboring and struggling”, knowing that the results are up to God.

With this in mind, I want to leave you with three simple thoughts:

  1. Be faithful, work hard. Leaving things in God’s hands doesn’t equal an excuse for laziness. We must be faithful with the gifts that God has given us and use all our energy to see his Kingdom built.
  2. Be smart—do things God’s way. I have written about this copiously in the past so I won’t say much else here. Bottom line; if your church or youth program is producing unhealthiness in your spirit (and body), it may be an unhealthy program.
  3. Know that it is God who brings the fruit from your ministry. Ultimately we must stand with Paul when he says “I planted, Apollos watered, but God brings the growth.”(1 Cor 3:6-7). God brings the growth … not us. This must mean that the fruits of our ministries are totally out of our control!

What does this mean for me?

Can I take a day off and not do one scrap of work? YES!

Can I turn off my phone and feel guilt free for not responding to texts? YES!

Can I say “no” to a 6:00 am prayer meeting (especially when I’ve had a small group Bible study the night before)? YES!

Do I fret when kids just don’t seem to get it? NO!

Do I worry about the numbers game when I have parents or elders breathing down my neck? NO!

In the end, I have learned to examine myself in the present and make sure that what I am doing is faithful, smart, and healthy and that God is in control of the results. I have learned to look back and to see how the Lord is gracious and compassionate and uses my feeble efforts to build his Kingdom. This frees me from my natural tendency toward control freakdom.


[1] Rule #1 = run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out.

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