Combat the Ministry Blues

We love the students in our ministry, don’t we?

They cause us to laugh so hard we cry. They challenge us to staring contests with billboards (we always lose). They come up with the wackiest ideas, and they try their very hardest to keep us up to date on the latest slang (bless their hearts).

We would do anything for them.

They are the reason our cell phone is on loud next to our bed at 3:30 in the morning. We have cried tears of bitter pain on their behalf and along with them. They have shown us the incredible amount of hurt in the world, which seems to be exposed to our high schoolers at younger and younger ages.

I know I am not alone in saying if I could, I would give my students the world. I would take away the pressure of being skinny enough, of making the baseball team or of finding the perfect date to the prom in a heartbeat if I were able. But I can’t.

Youth ministry (or any type of ministry, really) can be just plain emotionally draining. We feel it – the ache, the tension, the joy, the excitement. A text from a student can change the entire course of our day. A Wednesday night at youth group tires us out in ways we didn’t even realize were possible. Sometimes, we come back from youth group and want to share the amazing ways Jesus was working in our students’ hearts in such a short amount of time, and sometimes we come back and just want to throw a pizza in the oven and have our backs rubbed.

Both are legitimate.

Youth worker, your emotional health matters. Because each day has the power to be filled with such intense emotions, we need to recognize the mood swings and learn how we respond to them. It is downright difficult to lead a student who struggles with depression if your own depression is out of control. It feels like the straw that breaks the camel’s back when a student makes a joke about how “old” you are after a long day of fighting for more funding for your summer mission trip. Sometimes, stress from our own personal life causes us to have to take the night off, or the month off, or the rest of the year off.

Learning to cope with the different mood swings you will have in youth ministry begins with recognizing that this is not an easy task. Retreats and Serve trips can make it seem like youth ministry is a lot of fun, and it certainly is. However, if we are only in it for the fun we get to have sporadically throughout the year, I would argue we are in it for the wrong reasons. High school is hard, and it tests our kids. Being an adult is hard, and it tests us in some pretty significant ways as well.

So when the hard times come, and they frequently do, it’s important to have an action plan in place for yourself to combat the ministry blues. Treat yourself to some alone time, and do what it takes to recharge there: buy yourself a cup of coffee, take a walk, or take a nap. Make time for those you are close to outside of ministry: leave your phone in the car when you’re out for date night, binge watch your favorite series on Netflix with a friend, or call your parents.

Know that your emotional health matters equally as much as that of your students. Do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy for the sake of your family and friends.

The Case for Well Rounded Kids

photo credit: 12 via photopin (license)

We live in a day when adults are pushing kids to discover their strengths and focus their lives. Thanks to the Gallup organization and author Marcus Buckingham, we have learned to concentrate on building strengths and to only play in that space. Not surprisingly, this has caused parents to hone our styles and launch our kids into football, ballet, piano, theatre, tennis or gymnastics at five years old. As a result, a lot of our kids today have the notion that they can just sharpen their skill until they go pro. We’ve embraced the idea of mental focus.

While this represents progress in many ways, it’s also had its downside. I’m not so sure we’ve embraced the idea of emotional health. Over the long haul, we’re now seeing the outcomes of our leadership styles. Parents, who are convinced they are raising the next Derek Jeter, or Tiger Woods or Serena Williams, push their children to make the grade, make the team, make the dream.

In our work with students, I’ve seen the problem surface in a handful of ways:

1. The Oversized Gift*

Young people cultivate a single gift (or talent), and it becomes their source of identity (sometimes, the sole source). The gift becomes bigger than they are. Soon, they begin to wing it in other areas of their lives, thinking they really don’t need to develop skills in other areas. After all, they’re an incredible ________________. (You fill in the blank: tennis player, singer, actor, musician, dancer, etc). Their growth

becomes distorted and lopsided. Later, when that gift is no longer able to carry them, they’re in trouble.

2. Early Burnout

Young people who are pushed in a single area often burnout early. They get sick of softball, gymnastics, you name it—and end up quitting the very activity they once loved. It was too much, too soon. They needed to have a childhood where they played a variety of games, but they never got it. It may just be my opinion, but kids should never “burn out” in middle school. They should be exploring at 12-13, building general, personal skills that’ll be relevant, regardless of where they end up.

3. Emotionally Unhealthy, Angst-filled Young Adults

Young people who are pushed too soon and too much are vulnerable to a lifestyle of angst and emotional depression. As their brain develops during adolescence, it becomes challenging to navigate the emotional highs and lows of hormone changes and intense competition. It’s especially sad when it’s mom or dad pushing them—simply because they enjoy the competition—but have no idea what it’s doing to their child.

Because we work with several NCAA Division 1 athletic departments, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of coaches, and more of them than ever are telling me they now recruit athletes from multiple sports, not just theirs. The reason? They believe they get a healthier student athlete, one that is more balanced and able to handle the ups and downs of wins and losses. In addition, they get an athlete who isn’t burned out, but one who’s ready and able to give a lot to the sport at 18 or 19 years old. They get happy, well-adjusted players.

Their Source of Stress

I have written much about how stressed out American high school and college students are today. 94% of college students say the number one word they use to describe their life is overwhelmed. In a UK survey, they report that their number one source of stress is their parents. This is negatively affecting everyone.

Dr. Eric Herman, a clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, tells us that when a parent pushes too much, the result is an overwhelmed child who is too stressed out to get things done. Your child needs to relax and have fun. It will help him recharge his batteries, just as relaxation helps you recharge your batteries.

For the past decade, Daryl Capuano, educator and founder of The Learning Consultants in New Haven, Conn., has been counseling parents on understanding key igniters in motivating children and the harmful effects of nagging. When a child hears a message repeatedly, she starts to view it as a big negative. If you often tell your child, “You are not going to get into college if you don’t study harder,” she might avoid studying or any discussion of college. She could begin to slack off on homework or even skip school. This pressure creates a significant motivation deflation, warns Capuano. Even a very young child can lose interest in playing baseball if he fears he’s not measuring up to his parents’ expectations.

A Balancing Act

I am simply arguing that we must strike a healthy balance in the lives of our students. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach or youth worker, we must balance:

1. Helping them find and develop their strengths so they can be productive.

2. Helping them mature emotionally and live healthy, balanced lives.

Here’s to developing well-rounded kids who become well-adjusted adults.

*(“The Oversized Gift” is a Habitude from Book One of the series.)

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Tiredness – Young Adults as a Solution

My goal, as a pastor to my congregation, is not to reinvent the wheel, but rather to inspire and equip new leadership, to facilitate conversations between young and old, and to help them see Christ’s presence here in my congregation and city.


As I had conversations, I began to hear a theme of “tiredness” more and more frequently from our Old Guard. For many years, they’ve been shouldering the tasks and workloads of many different church functions – among them, hosting Serve. Their passion is still just as vibrant as it was years ago, but their energy is not.

At the same time of these conversations, I had my ear bent to the voices of our young people, a dormant demographic in many churches. As I heard the stories of highlights from their upbringing in the church, it became clear to me that Serve is one of the ministries that shaped their faith and commitment to Christ’s church.

These two threads of conversation have, I think, for many years been running parallel to each other. Most recently, the two threads collided at our classis meeting. One of the members from previous Host Teams here in Thunder Bay expressed a desire to see us host Serve once more and wondered what I thought about it.

I responded with, “Let’s ask the Young Adults, because I’m already striving to build them up as leaders in the church and they have already expressed interest in hosting Serve in the future.”

Upon asking the Young Adult’s, they responded with, “Yes! We’re happy to do the work!” and then there was an explosion of ideas.

The Old Guard expressed that they would love to support this new Host Team.

As Thunder Bay prepares to host Serve 2014 this next month, we do so seeing Christ bringing these two threads of people together to help equip a new generation of leaders in His church. Praise be to God!