Burnout is no good. We’ve all been there at one point or another, and it’s no fun. Maybe you’re there right now? Worn out, just-gotta-survive, doing ministry because that’s what needs to get done that week?
Doing ministry out of an overflowing heart rocks. I hope you’ve been there, too. That place where you honestly can’t get enough of who God is, what He is doing in this moment, and what he is going to do in the future.
So what do you do when things aren’t going great, or you just aren’t “feeling it”? Our walk with the Lord goes way beyond feelings – it has to, because our feelings get pretty messed up some time. But discouragement is something very real that we wrestle with. There’s no one “this is always going to work answer,” but there are a few things that I’ve found make a difference when I’m feeling discouraged.
Spend Time with the Lord First Thing Every Morning
Quit times! We all know we need it but sometimes we just don’t take the time for it. Some friends of mine used to name their pillow “the word” so they could say they spent time in the word that morning. One guy in college named Ho Hos “quiet times” as a joke and passed them out to anybody that missed their quiet time that morning! (I wouldn’t try this with a youth group though – you don’t want students skipping quiet time so they can get a Ho Ho!)
I have always noticed a distinct difference between the days I have a real quiet time (not counting Ho Ho quiet times), and the days I don’t. Have you? A simple 20 minutes before the Lord, reading His Word and lifting up the day to Him, has more of an impact on my day (personally and in ministry) than anything else. Not to mention the fact that I really, really, really need some supernatural intervention if I want my day to mean anything for the Kingdom!
Stay in Community
I’ve heard this a lot and used to think it was a little cliché: “God designed us to live and work in community.” I would think, “Yeah sure, community is good, but good old-fashioned hard work is important too!” Sometimes that meant I worked too much, and didn’t spend enough time connecting with those people right around me.
Well just like quiet times, I’ve seen a really clear difference between the times in my life when I am well-connected, and the times that I am not. When my wife and I are super close, sharing lots of laughs and spending a lot of time talking about our days and what we’re learning, I have a lot more to offer when ministering to others. Same goes for church community. Ministry and community might not look connected, but they are.
One youth pastor in Round Lake, IL told me that if it wasn’t for his networking group, he would have quit youth ministry his first year. He was struggling with an overwhelming task list, but one of the other youth pastors in town would actually show up at his church every month and drag him to Starbucks when the network met. At first, he resisted, until he realized just how much he needed the time to unwind and connect with others that faced the same challenges he did.
Say “No” (Don’t Over Commit) and Set Realistic Goals
If you are in youth ministry today, there’s a pretty good chance you’re crazy – the good type of crazy. Being crazy helps us think up the wackiest games and strange sermon illustrations that actually make sense. But it sure doesn’t help us stay organized.
Here are two things every youth pastor needs to remind themself every day (myself included!): Say “no”, and set realistic goals.
You’re going to come up with a lot of great ideas. Say “no” to the good ideas. Don’t let yourself get caught up in every pipe dream you have, or every suggestion your parents or leaders have. Focus on the great ideas. And only focus on a couple of them at a time.
Then set realistic goals. Sure, it might be really cool to organize a huge outreach around the concert you just heard about that’s happening this weekend. Can you pull together something that big in 4 days? Probably not. Why not bring a couple of students this time, and see what’s coming up in the next few months? I’m sure there’s another great outreach opportunity that you can realistically blow out of the water – and if you plan ahead, you’ll probably reach a lot more students, too.
Burnout stinks. The joy of the Lord is awesome. Great is His faithfulness! His mercies are new every morning! My prayer is that we can all remember His kindness and love every day so that we will lead our ministries from an attitude of gratefulness, expectation, hope, and joy.
Nate Dame is the founder and president of Called to Youth Ministry. His life-long ambition is to provide amazing online training for youth pastors everywhere, anytime. He lives with his beautiful wife and rambunctious son in Lake Geneva, WI.