Pace and Sustainable Youth Ministry


We all have a workload threshold. Even the most focused down-to-business-type-A-workaholics out there have a point of exhaustion. The pace at which we operate in life, and especially in youth ministry, matters a ton. Burn out helps no one, and it is our responsibility to preserve our health.

Sustainability is a good thing. Ultimately, the pace of our lives and ministries are up to us to structure and maintain. The question is how do we do this? How do we maintain a sustainable pace in ministry?

The national average for youth ministers to stay at a church is around two years. This is a significant amount of time, but most transitions in ministry happen so randomly that I wonder if part of the reason is the pace we operate with. We just can’t keep up.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have senior leadership that enforces strict boundaries for your ministry and life. But don’t count on it. Everyone is busy and delegation is a freeing thing. If you don’t speak up, you might find yourself with plenty of extra duties.

Your pace is ultimately up to you to guard and protect. This means you have to be willing to say “no” when it comes to ministry tasks and obligations.

This is easier said than done.

If you are a people-pleaser and have a affinity for saying “yes” a lot, people will take advantage of this on a regular basis. I’m not saying they do this out of spite or cruel and wicked ulterior motives. The truth is, the more you say “yes,” the more you will be asked to fill in. It’s just how it works.

So, how do you practically maintain a sense of pace and sustainability?

The answer, in part, is to create margin in your life. And there are two specific areas where you can do this: with your schedule and with your accessibility.

So, the first one. How do you create margin in your schedule?

If you aren’t taking time away from the grind, then you will burn out. If you aren’t taking regularly scheduled days off, then good luck not falling apart.

Take entire days off. And a day off doesn’t mean you don’t go to the office, but still meet up with students. Nor does this mean you put sermon prep aside, but you’re still sending messages and organizing upcoming events.

It’s true–some of us are Leslie Knope types, always chomping at the bit to work. We have a never-ending to-do list and the thought of taking more than a minute moment of time off, causes us to have a nervous breakdown.

Fight against the drive and take time away from work. Maybe this means scheduling something that causes you to have to be away (date nights, day trips, vacation, and scheduled time with friends). It helps when you have something other than work in place to fill your time, so you don’t end up working on days off.

Also, have “make up” days off. If you work on a day you normally don’t, then take a different day off. Coming back from a week at camp? That equals a few extra days off. Take them unapologetically. If people complain, smile and quote obscure Bible verses. It works like a charm.

Finally, be okay with saying “no” every once in a while. The church is going to be fine. Other people can fill in too.

Now, what about creating margin with your accessibility?

Ministry has weird hours. Anyone whose been in the game a while is used to that by now. Sometimes you work late; other times you work early. You’re not a banker. You don’t get to clock in at 9 and out at 5. It just doesn’t work like that.

Emergencies call for us to be there. We show up to the hospital. We take the phone call from the stressed parent. We meet with students. But sometimes we don’t.

There are times when we are unreachable. And that’s okay. If it is serious enough, we will be notified eventually.

Breathe deep and practice a little self-care. Creating margin in your life is a healthy practice for everyone in your ministry.

Turn off the computer.

Put the phone down.

Recharge and rejuvenate.

Rick Warren once said we should look to Divert Daily, Withdraw Weekly, and Abandon Annually. In other words, end the work day, have a day off every week, and vacation every year. That’s a pretty good formula for longevity in ministry.

Again, no one will set the pace or enforce boundaries that help us be sustainable. We get to do that. Surviving is worth it. Hold onto that and fight for pace. You’ll be glad you did…and so will your ministry.

*What are some ways you create a sustainable pace in ministry and establish margin in your life?

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1 Comment

  1. Denise

    You remind me of the words of a supervisor. I was anxious about a case and she advised me on how to leave it at work and not compulsively check my voicemail — creating a margin of availability. She said I wasn’t responsible for keeping anybody alive. Cut my sense of power and responsibility right down to size.

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