We've all seen the disturbing statistics of youth leader turnover in the church. I've read differing numbers regarding the average stay of a youth leader in the typical church. The statistics I've read have ranged from as little as one year to as many as four. Regardless of which statistic is correct I think we can all agree that the turnover rate in youth ministry is too high.
The question that haunts me is why? Why are there so many youth leaders leaving their posts after a relatively short stint?For a handful of youth leaders the turnover is a result of a secret sin that becomes public. For others it's a matter of them finding a higher paying job in "the real world" that can support them and their families better. Some leave youth ministry to lead or plant a church. But, for far too many youth leaders than we'd like to admit, it's a result of youth ministry burnout.
The relentless stream of Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night activities combined with camps, conferences, retreats and outreaches combined with emergency counseling meetings, parent meetings and campus meetings (heck, I'm getting burned out just typing all this) can swell up like a giant tsunami of busyness that can eventually extinguish almost any youth ministry fire. Far too many youth leaders have experienced this brand of burnout and many never return to youth ministry.
So how can you prevent becoming a youth ministry statistic due to burnout? Here are 5 simple (not necessarily easy) ways:
1. Guard your personal time with God.
In the words of my friend Propaganda, be a jerk about your time with God! Guard your prayer life and your immersion in the Word. Escape the crazy busyness of ministry to spend time with your God. Jesus, who was constantly chased by the crowds and harassed by the religious leaders, escaped even ministry opportunities, to spend time with his Father:
"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." Luke 5:16
Get a consistent time and place to do business with your Daddy. Like David in the Psalms pour out your unfiltered heart to God. Like Jesus in the wilderness wage war with Satan to overcome your temptations. Like Paul in prison intercede on behalf of those you are reaching out to with the message and mission of the Gospel.
Be a jerk about your time with God! Make it a non-negotiable in your daily rhythms.
2. Spend lots of time with your spouse, kids and friends!
I once heard a preacher talk about "the myth of quality time." His point was that quality time just happens when there is enough time spent together with your family. It's during those spontaneous moments driving down the road, hiking up a trail or just chatting around the dinner table when quality time unfolds.
As a guy who is on the road a lot, I've had to be super intentional about this. For me that means an annual vacation (my wife and I have taken one every year in the 25 years we've been married), lots of mini-trips where I take a family member (or all of them) when I travel to somewhere fun, daily talks in the car when I drop my kids off at school and hardly any meetings at night when I am at home.
That's the rhythm that works for me and my family as a "traveling evangelist." Find your rhythm and make sure your spouse is part of that discussion.
In addition to strong family relationships I would add make sure you have real friendships that you're consistently cultivating. Like Jesus and his disciples, David and his mighty men, we all need a small band of brothers (or sisters) to help us navigate the tricky world of life and ministry.
Strong relationships with both family and friends will help to prevent youth ministry burnout. Actively cultivate these relationships!
3. Learn how to delegate.
If you have to be the one in the center of every aspect of every planning meeting and if you are leading the charge to get every aspect of every task done then you are setting yourself up for ministry burn out. True leaders that endure know how to raise others up, equip them to lead and then strategically hand over significant portions of the ministry work to them.
This is not easy, especially for those of us who, like me, who put the "I" in "micromanager." But those who lead like this are setting themselves up for burn out. Jesus spent his 3 1/2 year ministry inspiring and equipping his leaders to lead without him and in Matthew 28:18-20 he authorized them to take on the biggest responsibility in the history of humanity.
4. Take care of yourself physically.
If you're not getting enough sleep, enough exercise and enough of the right nutrition it's gonna catch up with you....especially in the pizza-clogged, Moutain Dew drenched arteries of youth ministry. It may not seem super "spiritual" to take care of your body but, according to 1 Corinthians 6:19, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. And some of our temples are in desperate need of repair.
I experienced this myself in the first five years of ministry. Having been a roofer for eight years before planting a church I was in pretty good physical shape. But, soon after getting into ministry, I tore my ACL. My new ministry job no longer had me running up and down a ladder with 80 pound bundles of shingles on my shoulders but sitting at a desk jotting down sermon notes. The sedentary nature of ministry combined with some bad eating habits sooned combined to make me, well, fat. By the time I was 28 years old I walked with a limp (having never completed my rehab for my torn ACL) and had ballooned to 223 pounds.
Did this affect my ministry? Yes. Everyday I had to take what I had come to jokingly call a "fat nap" because I was so tired. Although I was only in my twenties I easily got tired and this led to inner discouragement.
Finally, I got on a strict nutritional plan and started exercising. Since then I've made it a habit to exercise 5 x's a week and eat nutritious food (for the most part!) Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to win any fitness contests but, as a 50 year old dude, I have way more energy now than I did when I was in my late twenties.
Do what you have to do to get and stay in shape. Make the time in your schedule. There are more solid work out programs available today than ever before. And eating healthy, even at restaurants, is more popular than ever. It will yield benefits on many levels. Take it from me.
Taking care of yourself physically may not fully prevent youth ministry burnout but it will help. At the very minimum you won't need to take a fat nap.
5. Gospelize your youth ministry.
Youth ministry can be a demanding job. And if you're not seeing teenagers come to Christ consistently and grow in Christ personally, it's even tougher. It can seem like you've become an activities director on a ministry cruise ship to keep teenagers entertained rather than a transformational force used by God in powerful ways to advance his kingdom. Ministry is too tough of a prospect without seeing results in the form of lives changed and souls saved.
So how do you get this brand of ministry results? You apply the 7 values of a Gospel Advancing ministry in your ministry model. In other words you "gospelize" your youth ministry. I encourage you to go to gospeladvancing.com and take the diagnostic to see how you "score" on these seven values. Then start applying some of the best practices from other youth ministries and you will start seeing the kinds of results that will help prevent burnout.
Hopefully these five action steps will help you prevent youth ministry burnout. It's not a comprehensive list but it's a good start. In your opinion what other action steps could be added to this list?