I’m going to take an opportunity to confess something – I blow it in ministry a lot. I am often hypocritical and selfish and really good at not practicing what I preach. Summer of 2016, I broke one of my cardinal rules that I ask of every speaker or volunteer I have ever brought along on a retreat. My rule is: spend time with the students, whenever you can. But, that summer I was hired to speak at a youth camp north of Seattle and I totally broke the rule. I was the morning speaker and instead of spending the afternoons talking and connecting with teenagers, I napped almost every day I was there. I could say I was tired from the travel or work load but honestly, I was selfish and considered my time far more valuable than hanging out with these teens. By the end of the week, not only did I feel like my messages were not connecting at all, I looked around the room of 80 students or so and realized I had not learned one single name since I had been there. I was crushed. The more I have thought about that experience, I realized how isolated I can feel when I am not in community with people, especially teenagers. In my last post, I wrote about how important relational ministry is for your teens. I would like to also suggest this idea – that relational ministry is vital for you, the youth worker.
As a psychology major, one of the things that greatly interest me are personality tests. I am always trying out some new Meyers-Briggs survey or reading about the Enneagram or trying to figure out, “What Kind of Pizza Are You?” on Buzzfeed (Here’s the link if you want to find out – http://ow.ly/x1B930gboVe. I’m supreme, btw). When I came on staff at my church, I had my DISC profile figured out and it said that I am very high in my “I” or the influential personality type. One of the characteristics of that is that I love to be around people and highly extroverted. With that in mind, I know that I am full when I am spending time with people. I also understand that for you introverted types out there, that you also need your space and quiet. Even so, I would like to suggest to you that one of the quickest ways to burn out in youth ministry is to just show up for youth group and never spend any other time with your teens.
How much time do you spend on lesson prep every week? I have to admit that I probably spend way too much. We’ve recently rearranged how we are doing our middle school ministry and I’ve invited our pastoral staff to cary the majority load of our youth group lessons. Before that, however, I was speaking or teaching 3 times a week which roughly meant I was prepping for approximately 130+ lessons last year. We have intentionally adjusted my role to free me up to spend time with students and it has been very life giving to me. What would happen to your ministry if you prepped 1/3 less of the time you normally do and instead hosted students at your house for dinner or met up with a few of them for coffee? I think you would find yourself in more spontaneous conversations about how God works in everyday life and isn’t that what we want to have with our teens anyways?
There is a direct correlation between my satisfaction with my job and the amount of time I spend in community with teenagers. The more time I spend trying to be the expert youth speaker, the less I find myself having actual Gospel conversations, and that kills me. Dear Youth Worker, stop trying to craft the award-winning youth sermon of the year and take some kids out for fries and a Coke, you’ll be happier that you did and find that God will work through you in unexpected ways.
TL:DR – Less office time, more relational time, for your sake.
Nick Olson is a 10+ year youth ministry veteran and the Director of Student Ministries at Our Redeemer’s Church in Minot, ND. He has been married to Brittany since 2012 and has three kiddos, Teddy, Tommy, and Ellie. In his spare time, you can find Nick cheering on Minnesota sports teams, making elaborate dinners for his family, and playing daily Jeopardy on the Amazon Echo in his kitchen.