How to Keep Boundaries in Ministry

This week I have the privilege of writing for the Orange Leaders blog, which is one of my favorite blogs in the world.  The post is about maintaining boundaries in ministry.  Here’s a snippet:

Real questions I’ve been asked by students and parents…

  • So, what’s your real job?
  • Umm . . . what do you actually do all day?
  • So, you just take the summer off then?
  • How was your vacation to Mexico? (It was a mission trip, you Jerky McJerkyson.)

For whatever reason, some people think that family ministries staff don’t work very hard or very often. This of course, is utter nonsense. In fact, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain appropriate boundaries in ministry. The events, problems, conversations, camps, crises, retreats and everything else happen day and night, on the weekends and always on holidays. I mean, always on holidays.

So, how do we keep ourselves from burning out? How do we maintain healthy boundaries so that our families aren’t negatively affected by our ministry? And, how in the world do we keep ourselves healthy?

You can check out the rest of the post here.

1 Question To Keep You From Burning Out

My boss likes to ask me hard questions.  It’s his thing.  And, it’s a good thing because his questions often keep me from doing dumb stuff.  He recently asked me to take a week and identify my stress indicators.  In other words, what are the things in your life that when they pop up, you know you are stressed out.  Why did he ask me this?  Because, stress free people don’t burn out.  We burn out in ministry because we ignore stress and act like we can handle it…until we can’t.  And then, it’s too late.

So, what are my stress indicators?  I’m glad you asked.  Here you go:


I’m sort of a ninja at sleeping, which is awesome for me and not so awesome for my wife.  You see, we have 5 kids.  She hasn’t had a full night of sleep in 10 years.  Meanwhile, anytime she goes away the kids sleep all night.  Or at least, I sleep all night.  To be honest, I don’t really know what the kids do.  All I know is that when I wake up at 6:00 am they are all staring at me.  It’s kind of weird really.

Anyway, what I mean to tell you is that I’m a ninja at sleeping unless I’m stressed out. In stressful seasons, I have awful dreams and wake up in the middle of the night and then can’t fall back to sleep. It’s essentially the worst.  Here’s a catalogue of the weird dreams I’ve recently had:

  • I’m at church and someone asks me if I’m ready to preach.  I totally forgot that I’m preaching.  I wake up hyperventilating in a cold sweat.
  • I’m at church and someone asks me if I’m ready to preach.  I totally forgot that I’m preaching.  I wake up hyperventilating in a cold sweat.
  • I’m at church and someone asks me if I’m ready to preach.  I totally forgot that I’m preaching.  I wake up hyperventilating in a cold sweat.

As you can see, my weird dreams are directly related to work stress.  It’s a stress indicator.


I’m not terribly proud of this stress indicator but it is a very clear sign that I’m running on fumes.  I like to think of myself as a fun dad.  I like to make my kids laugh, play with them and patiently listen to their 45 minute descriptions of what happened at elementary school recess.  But, the truth is that when I am stressed out, I’m a total crab.  I don’t listen well.  I get irritated easily.  I lose motivation to actually play with my kids.  Crabby Daddy is a stress indicator.


When I was a kid there was this character on Sesame Street named Forgetful Jones.  His game was pretty simple:  forget everything important.


I’ve noticed that when I’m stressed, I drop the ball.  For example, when you get a call asking if you’re still going to show up and speak at the Baccalaureate service in 10 minutes and you totally forgot and don’t even know what you’re going to speak on (obviously, this is a story about someone else), you might be stressed out.

Normally, I have a pretty solid memory, but I’ve found that one of my stress indicators is forgetting important details.



So, what about you?  What are your stress Indicators?  If you can’t identify them quickly, it might be worth asking people close to you what they are.  You might be surprised by what you learn.

Also, what exactly do we do when it becomes clear that we are stressed out?  My boss simply says, “Don’t keep doing the same thing.  Do something different.”  For him it might be as simple as changing the scenery.  Adding a walk into his daily routine or holding a meeting outside.

Here are a few things that recharge me:

  • Work from a coffee shop (I’m an outgoing introvert so productive alone time is like gold)
  • Go off the grid (For me, a a day or two of not even getting out of my PJs will get me back on the right track)
  • The Cottage (My aunt has a cottage in Northern Michigan.  It’s literally the best.  A weekend on the water cures just about everything for me)

Pay attention to your stress levels.  The only people who burn out are those who attempt to run too long with too much stress.  Pay attention to your indicators and act on them.  Do something different or do something that recharges you.  Your church, your ministry and your family need a healthy you.


image credited to Vural G. via Flickr

How to Quit Student Ministry

About 12 years ago I innocently walked up to the volunteer table in the lobby of our church and offered to help out with youth group.  I thought it would be a fun thing to do for a while – hang out with teenagers, lead group discussions, and maybe have a sleepover or two.  I figured I’d do it for a couple years and then try something else. I mean, no one commits 12 years to a ministry right?  You’d be INSANE to spend that long in student ministry right?  RIGHT?

Here’s the thing about student ministry; you need to be all in if you want it to matter.  I’m the type of person who jumps in with both feet.  That means that there were times I laughed so hard my sides hurt (and maybe one time I actually choked and threw up.)  Conversely, there were times that I cried, was angry, had my feelings hurt, and wanted to quit.  You really don’t get one without the other.  With the ups and downs, the 12 years I spent as a volunteer and church staff member were the happiest years of my life.

There does come a day, though, when you know it’s time to step down.  Contrary to what Def Leppard wants us to believe it’s not, in fact, better to burn out than fade away.  You should know when the time is right to let someone else take your place.   And, if you don’t know, the people around you do and are probably dropping hints like Acme anvils.  I knew it was time for me to go and didn’t want to overstay my welcome.  I wanted to be Derek Jeter, not A-Rod (If you’re not a baseball fan you won’t get that but I’m not sorry because you should be a baseball fan)

So, I said good bye and cried a lot and headed off into the sunset, never to be heard from again.

The thing is though, that didn’t happen.  Let me tell you what did happen.  I led my last mission trip and then unretired like Brett Favre because my students begged me to. Then, I led another trip the next summer, then I hosted a house group.  And you know what else, it turns out students, leaders and parents don’t care that I’m retired and still constantly text and call me.  I meet for coffee and go to college sporting events and talk parents in off the ledge when everything seems to be falling apart.  I run into kids where they work and get quick hugs and I reassure college students that they are smart and strong and are loved by me and their Heavenly Father.  I snuggle the babies of leaders when they watch my daughter play volleyball.  I attend weddings and funerals and graduations.  So much for retirement.

It turns out student ministry is relational…as in relationships…as in with people.  And so, I’m still all in and wouldn’t have it any other way.  These are my people and I love them and those kids are my kids and if you mess with them I’ll break your face.   So, I guess that means I’m semi-retired?  To be honest, it feels like trying to retire from the mafia – a good, friendly, spirit-filled mafia.  You wouldn’t understand unless, of course, you spent 12 years in student ministry, in which case, well, you know all about it.













Christina Thelen has been serving in student ministry for 12 years.  When she isn’t hanging out with students she can usually be found planning epic events or posting photos to her dog’s Instagram account.

Dumb | Speak Up!

This week I’m blogging about a presentation I gave to West Michigan area youth workers about the top ten dumbest things I’ve ever done in student ministry.  Last week, I posted about being over scheduled, the dangers of being a student ministry rock star and trying to be amazing at everything.   I’ve broken my dumb mistakes down into three categories:  burned out, ineffective and disqualified.  Here’s my #7 dumbest mistake:


Burned Out

Speak Up!

I don’t know about you, but I like to get along with people.  I’ve always been very accommodating.  As a teenager, I was able to float between all sorts of social groups because I never rocked the boat.  I knew how to make everyone happy.  Whenever conflict came I buried it. I always kept my hurts and anger inside because I discovered early in my life that to let them out was dangerous to relationships.

I know what you’re thinking:  “Well, that’s not very healthy!”  Hey, slow down!  I didn’t know that yet.  Besides, you’re ruining my punchline.

Anyway, I carried this understanding of conflict and relationships into college, marriage (which is a whole other blog series!) and ministry.  The thing about ministry is that it is loaded with conflict.  I mean, it is just riddled with it.  I once heard a seasoned senior pastor say that ministry is a “series of difficult conversations.”  I think that sums it up pretty nicely.

So here’s the thing, in my early years of student ministry, I skirted around conflict.  I chose not to confront co-workers or superiors when I had been hurt and I surely didn’t have conversations with volunteers who weren’t meeting expectations.  In short, I didn’t rock the boat.  I kept everyone happy.  And the thing is, everyone was happy.  I was getting glowing reviews, regular raises, and the student ministry was growing quickly.  The only thing was that I wasn’t happy.

The problem is that people disappoint and hurt each other.  This is normal in friendships, marriage and church work.  It’s the nature of things.  When volunteers, co-workers and superiors disappointed and hurt me and I said nothing.  I thought it was best to keep the peace.  What actually happened is that over years this disappointment and hurt grew and evolved into something dark and incredibly heavy.  In fact, it became something so big that I lost control of it.  I became bitter and jaded.

We all know that person in ministry who is jaded.  You can hear it in their tone of voice and in words dripping with bitterness.  Their boss is an idiot.  Their elders are out of touch.  Their church is dumb.  The church across town is has sold out.  So and so author is a heretic.  Don’t become that person.  How do you become that person?  Easy.  You simply don’t speak up when you are disappointed and hurt.  When you choose to keep it inside, you choose to drink the poison of bitterness.

What I’ve learned, the hard way, is that it is far better to speak up in two ways.  First, seek to clarify hurtful conversations.  Most of the time, when I get disappointed or hurt, it is because I misunderstood something someone said or something they said came out in a way they didn’t mean.  By simply asking clarifying questions releases 90% of my disappointments and hurts.

Secondly, I’ve learned that careful confrontation is crucial to healthy relationships.  We’re all broken.  The thing about relationships, whether a friendship, marriage, or working relationship, is that they gravitate toward chaos.  It’s the nature of trying to relate in a fallen world.  You have to fight for healthy relationships.  I’ve learned that in order for a relationship to work over the long-haul, it must involve calling each other out when we get disappointed and hurt.  Ignoring this truth will inevitably lead to either a superficial or broken relationship.

In the end, I left my first church, in part because I had become frustrated, bitter and jaded.  What I’ve learned is that if I had clarified hurtful conversations and carefully confronted when necessary, I’d probably still be there.  It is a great church, with great people but because I functioned in relationally unhealthy ways, I allowed myself to become jaded.

What we do in student ministry is far too important and life-changing for us to become bitter and jaded.  We must choose maturity and maintain healthy relationships so that we can serve and lead for the long-haul because that’s what it takes to grow a great student ministry.  Don’t be dumb.  Speak up.



image credited to ceratosaurrr via Flickr


Dumb | Over Scheduled

This week I’m blogging about a presentation I gave to West Michigan area youth workers about the ten dumbest things I’ve ever done in student ministry.  Over the last few days, I’ve posted about the dangers of being a student ministry rock star and trying to be amazing at everything.   I’ve broken my dumb mistakes down into three categories:  burned out, ineffective and disqualified.  Here’s my #8 dumbest mistake:


Burned Out

8.   Over Scheduled

When I began my first student ministry job, things in the high school ministry weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders.  They guy who was the youth pastor before me is a great guy but for whatever reason, he and the church didn’t click.  To put it bluntly, the high school ministry was basically dead when I was hired.  I felt an enormous amount of pressure to revive the ministry, so I went all in.  We’re talking three programs a week–all year long, two fun events a month, three retreats a year and 3 mission trips a year.  Oh yeah!  Maybe that doesn’t sound nuts to you, but it is.  Trust me.

Did my approach work?  You bet!  The attendance jumped up, the church leadership and parents were pumped, it was a huge win…for a while.  Then, I completely fried.  I exhausted myself.  The truth is, no one can maintain a schedule like that.

I distinctly remember the moment when I realized how over-committed and exhausted I was.  It was a Sunday morning.  I was sitting at my kitchen table in a panic because in a mere two hours, I would stand before 100+ students and preach a sermon I didn’t have.  I had no plan whatsoever.  I had been so busy during the week that I hadn’t studied, written or practiced anything.  This was bad.

Needless to say, that Sunday morning sucked.  In the aftermath, as I came to terms with the fact that I had neglected my most important duty, I finally realized that I needed to cut back.  I had created a monster I couldn’t maintain.  Yes, the student ministry was rocking but the pace and schedule had crushed my soul.

The thing about profound exhaustion is that it doesn’t go away overnight.  When you are exhausted on a soul level, you need a season of rest.  Sadly, I couldn’t recover in the role I was in.  In the end, I quit and took a new job that had a much smaller focus.  My new job was team oriented and specialized.  Also, the student ministry wasn’t schedule heavy.  The sad thing is, the church I left is a great church, with solid leadership and great people.  I was the one who created the problem with my unrealistic expectations and over-committed schedule.

If I could do it all over again, I would use one word to govern my student ministry practices;  sustainability.  A sustainable pace and schedule is absolutely crucial to longevity in ministry, and longevity is crucial to effective ministry.  I firmly believe that great student ministry takes years to grow.  Our students desperately needs pastors and volunteers who will commit to them for years at a time.

Is your schedule sustainable? Are you sprinting toward exhaustion?  Cut back!  Slow down!  Great student ministry takes time to develop and what we do is far to important for us to burn out.  Take the long view and run at a sustainable pace.


image credited to Dafne Cholet via Flickr

Dumb | Amazing at Everything

This week I’m blogging about the dumbest stuff I’ve done in student ministry.  It’s my sly way of talking about what really matters.  I’ve broken down my big mistakes into three categories:  burning out, becoming ineffective and disqualifying yourself.  Yesterday, I posted about the dangers of becoming a student ministry rock star.  Here’s my #9 dumbest mistake…


Burned Out

9.  Amazing at Everything

I’ve always been a bit of a control freak, and I love the spotlight.  Because of this, in my early days of student ministry, I did everything.  I was the teacher, worship leader, volunteer coordinator, keeper of the budget, leader, event planner, strategist, counselor and basically everything else.  I guess I just thought that a youth pastor should do all these things.  Maybe you’ve been there.  Maybe you’re still there.

It took me a while to learn, but eventually, I discovered that I’m not awesome that all of these things.  Shocker.  I’m a little slow, I guess.  Let’s just say, I was one of the last to learn what was obvious to everyone else.

Honestly, no one is amazing at all of these roles.  I discovered that I’m only an A+ at one or two.  In some of them, I’m a solid B and a few I’m an F–I mean just turrible.  The trouble is that because I was trying to be amazing at everything, I was amazing at nothing.  My Fs were Fs, my Bs became Cs and my A+s became Bs.  In other words, the student ministry wasn’t as strong as it should have been because I was trying to do too much.

Where were the volunteers you ask?  Good question.  They were there, patiently waiting for me to give them something meaningful to do.  I kept the volunteers, and many of the students on the sidelines for too long.  When I finally woke up and began handing off meaningful roles, our student ministry became stronger, and my A+ strengths reemerged.  I admit it.  I was dumb.

Sometimes, the most important leadership lessons are hiding in plain sight, right in the Bible.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Ephesians 4:11, 12)

Student ministry, or any ministry for that matter, will always be better when leaders equip others to do the work.  Also, when we focus on our A+ skill areas and empower gifted people to do the roles that we are weak in, everyone wins!

Why is it so difficult for many of us to learn this lesson?  I think there are two main reasons.  First, we too often find our identity and worth in our work.  When the spotlight is on us, we feel that the credit is clearly ours.  When our work defines us, we aren’t free to delegate and empower because to do so would mean that we are less valuable.

Secondly, we aren’t inviting feedback.  Many of us simply don’t know what we’re terrible at because we haven’t been told.  Honest feedback always makes us and our ministries better.  Who is giving you honest feedback?

If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t be dumb.  I would focus on my two A+ roles, and empower others to do the work I struggle with.  The ministry would have been better and healthier much sooner.



Dumb | Rock Star

Recently, I spoke at a gathering of student ministry pastors and volunteers about what really matters in student ministry.  The thing is, nobody likes a “know it all”, so instead of talking from a pedestal of expertise or success, I talked about the top 10 dumbest things I’ve done in student ministry.  Let’s be real, people would rather hear fail stories than success stories.  Also, using your mistakes as a platform to talk about what really matters is a brilliant strategy.  Just admit it.

Anyway, I began with this idea:  What we do, as student ministry pastors and volunteers, is far too important for us to become burned out, ineffective, or disqualified.  Students deeply need good student ministries that connect them to Jesus and meaningful relationships with spiritual mentors.  We can’t screw this up!

So, thought I’d spend a few days sharing all the dumb things I’ve done.  Who’s pumped?!?!

Burned Out

10. You’re Not a Rock Star

Being a student pastor is a little like being a rock star.  Sure the stage is small and the audience’s brains are still developing, but being a rock star, even a small one, is exhilarating!  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s intoxicating.

For me, my first student ministry role very quickly became the Aaron show.  It was all about me–my singing, my speaking, my events, my wisdom–me, me, me.  In a shocking twist, this wasn’t good for anyone, particularly me.  For one thing, I began to gauge my success in ministry based on claps and compliments.  Did they love my worship set?  Did they tell me afterward how amazing my talk was?  Was this the best event they’d ever been too?  If these things didn’t happen, then I would feel like I bombed.  And, if they did happen, then I felt like a rock star.  I’m telling you, this quickly led me to a bad place.

Now, I may sound like a horrible person to you right now, but this is a very real thing, especially for those of us who are natural entertainers or performers.  We don’t need any more examples of egotistical pastors falling from grace in American churches!  One common theme among all these fallen pastors is that they became rock stars.

What gets lost in the pastor as rock star phenomenon is Jesus.  Wait, isn’t this whole thing supposed to be about Him?  Well, yes, of course, but I found myself in a place where I was more interested in students falling in love with me than with students falling in love with Jesus.  I would have never verbalized this, but looking back, I know that it was true.

I know that some of you, who are serving in or leading student ministries, know exactly what I’m talking about.  The danger in all of this is that students would miss Jesus.  As good as it feels to be needed and esteemed, we need to be very careful here  What’s the solution?  Well, in my opinion, it’s community.  Invite your community into this conversation.  Give them the freedom to tell you if you are slipping into rock star mode.  Also, lead in community.  Invite others to serve in the rock star roles.  Don’t be the worship leader, teacher and game leader, and host.  Give a few of these roles to someone else.  Share the spotlight.  In doing so, you’ll take the focus off yourself an help put it back on what students really need, Jesus.  Besides, being a rock star, when you’re supposed to be a servant, does bad things to your soul.  Trust me on this one.


photo credited to Lloyd Dewolf via Flickr

How To Thrive in Ministry for the Long Haul

Is anyone else tired?  Have you noticed that ministry is exhausting?  Over the last year and a half, our church leadership has transitioned me from a high school small groups coordinator to leading our student ministry team of 13 staff.  I love my job and my team is phenomenally talented and fun.  However, the workload, responsibility and stress can be a overwhelming.  In my most tired moments, I wonder how long I can last.  Let’s be real, not many pastors are still thriving after a decade or more of ministry.  That’s why when someone who has been in the game for decades still loves ministry and leads with passion and grace, speaks about thrive in ministry for the long haul, I listen up and take notes.

Last week, our senior teaching pastor, Jeff Manion, shared a few thoughts on how to keep yourself fresh and vibrant through years and years of ministry.  He’s in his early 50s and still leading and teaching with passion.  Jeff has been leading our church for somewhere around 30 years and he has he energy of a 25 year old.  Here’s what he shared about thriving in ministry over the long-haul.


The overall image that Jeff shared was of being poured out.  In ministry, the work, the conversations, the crises, and everything else, require that we pour ourselves out on a weekly basis.  In order for us to pour ourselves out again, again and again, we need to refill ourselves.  What Jeff shared are three practices that refill.


Sometimes, Sabbath seems like one of those Old Testament laws that doesn’t apply anymore.  It was cool for Israel but this is America.  Jeff disagrees.  To him, the practice of Sabbath has been vital to his ability to stay fresh, vibrant and passionate about ministry.  Sabbath is not a day off.  It’s not a day when you exchange to-do lists.  Instead, it’s a day in which you don’t have a to-do list.  It’s not, “What do I need to do today.”  It’s, “What do I want to do today?”


Is there a day in your weekly schedule in which you simply unplug and do things that give you life?  If not, you may be in danger of pouring yourself out without a means to resupply.


I’ve blogged before about how ministry has a way of turning even the most die-hard extrovert into an introvert.  Ministry is about people, and it should always remain that way, but the truth is that when your entire world revolves around serving, listening, speaking, and helping people, you find yourself in desperate need of getting away!

I’ve heard this argument many times but Jeff put a fresh spin on it.  What he argued is that what is needed here is friends.  In ministry we have a million acquaintances but what we are desperate for are deep friendships.  One of the keys to thriving in ministry over the long haul is to identify the people in your life who are deeply enriching, life giving friends, and then organize your calendar around these life giving relationships–create space for them to grow.  Invest in the friendships that give you life.  Spend inordinate amounts of time with the people with whom you can be honest, real and raw.

When you have friendships in your life in which you can unplug, unwind and come unhinged, you are ready for ministry for the long haul.


I think Jeff’s most important statement in his conversation with us was this:  “The best thing you bring as a leader is not your talents and abilities but a relationship with God that is worth having.”  In the end, ministry is living out your relationship with God in front of and with other people.  Said another way, you can’t lead people where you haven’t been.


Sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s all about God and our relationship with Him.  Sometimes I get so caught up in the programs, numbers, issues, crises and events that I forget that eternal life is all about “knowing Jesus.”

So, if like me, you’re experiencing a season of exhaustion, I would plead with you to make sure you are refilling and recharging by focusing on sabbath, life-giving friendships, and the relationship that matters the most.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you’ve uncovered other ways to thrive in ministry for the long haul.


road image credited to Mark Sebastian via Flickr

bench image credited to Oliver Kendal via Flickr

Bible image credited to Ryk Neethling via Flickr

How to Survive Ministry Exhaustion

Tuesday night is my free evening.  My wife attends a bible study and after I put the kids to bed I can do whatever I want.  It’s a beautiful thing.  It’s a perfect opportunity to write, relax and recharge.  But tonight, I’m eating Cool Whip right out of the tub and playing a video game that isn’t that great.  The Cool Whip isn’t even thawed.  I just pulled it out of the freezer and started eating it.  It tastes good, like a cloud of sugar–one of those big fluffy clouds that patrol the sky on hot summer days.

It strikes me, as I sit here, mindlessly eating frozen Cool Whip, that I am, in fact, eating frozen Cool Whip.  What am I doing?  Then I realize that my shoulder hurts because I’ve been sitting in an awkward position eating Cool Whip and playing a lame video game for hours.  Yes, I’m embarrassed to say, hours.  Why am I spending my free evening so mindlessly?  This is what strikes me as I sit with an aching shoulder and a developing stomach ache.  I’d like a redo on my Tuesday night.

I’m tired.  It’s April and our student ministry team has been steadily pouring ourselves out all year long.  It’s been leading, writing, filming, counseling, editing, teaching, leading worship, traveling, mentoring, trouble-shooting, serving, setting up, tearing down, staying up late, getting up early, navigating crises, training, calming down parents, prodding parents, meeting deadlines, reviewing, confronting, encouraging, intervening, worrying, producing, acting, and managing on repeat since late last summer.  I’m tired–very tired.  When I look around our office during our team meetings I can see the weariness in all of our faces.  It’s been a great season of ministry but we are all coasting to the finish line like cars running on fumes, praying we make it to the gas station at the next exit.  Will we make it?  I think so.  I hope so.

My suspicion is that I’m not alone.  We’re all tired.  If you are a youth worker, you are exhausted.  Maybe you thought it was just you.  You aren’t alone.

I remember, early in my career, at the end of a season like this, thinking that maybe I wasn’t cut out for student ministry.  Maybe the profound exhaustion I feel is an indicator that this line of work isn’t for me.  Maybe you feel that way.  Maybe you don’t like people right now.  Maybe you feel like hiding.  Maybe all you can think about is summer with less programming and more sand and sun.  Maybe you ate Cool Whip out of the tub last night.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for student ministry.  It simply means that you’re tired.

The danger here is that tired doesn’t fix itself.  Tired people become exhausted people.  Exhausted people burnout.  Youth workers who are called, gifted and wired for student ministry run out of steam and drop out of the game all the time.  I’m realizing that when I catch myself eating Cool Whip out of the tub it’s time for a day off.  It’s time to delegate a responsibility, cancel a meeting or schedule something that I love.  That’s why I’m going to quit early tomorrow night and play beach volleyball with a few friends.

Are you tired?  Been eating Cool Whip?  Please take a step back and rest.  Go do something you love and recharge your batteries.  Your students need you–fully energized and engaged.  You were called, gifted and wired to do this.  Stay in the game.



Burnout in 3 Easy Mistakes

Fresh out of college, I scored a killer job as a high school youth pastor at a church of 1,500.  I went hard.  I built an impressive senior high ministry.  Nearly everyone in the church was happy with my work.  And yet, five years later I was completely done.  Toast.  Burnt out.  How did I do it?  It really only took three mistakes…


My church hired me to do ministry, so that’s what I did.  I led worship, taught twice a week, counseled students, organized and led trips, events, and retreats and even kept the budget.  Along the way, I discovered that I’m pretty good at most of these skills.  Partly because it was the expectation of the church and partly because I’m a control freak, I continued to personally do everything for years.

I’m convinced that my biggest mistake was not empowering others to do the work of ministry.  I was terrible at developing and equipping volunteers.  My unwillingness to empower others for meaningful roles directly led to my burnout.


I came into ministry thinking that a full schedule of programs, events and trips was a sign of a healthy ministry.  I now believe the opposite.  My first student ministry consisted of three weekly programs, events twice a month, 2 retreats and 3 mission trips per year.  Maybe this would have been OK if I had delegated the leadership of a few of these elements to someone else…but I didn’t.  I planned, organized and led all of these things myself for 5 years.

Looking back I can’t believe I survived as long as I did.  I also can’t believe that someone didn’t pull me aside and say, “Slow down buckaroo!”  Either way, I kept an insane schedule for 5 years and then crashed.  I’ve learned that sustainability is a key concept for longevity.


I am convinced that many youth pastors burnout and become bitter because they mishandle conflict.

There have been times in my career in which I encountered conflict—not a shocker.  But here was my problem:    Instead of going directly to the people that I had issues with, I took my frustrations to my “bitter bubble”.  You know what I’m talking about—that safe place where you back up the dump truck of resentment and let it fly.

I felt like I was protecting work relationships and doing my church a favor by not introducing conflict but truthfully I was doing them and myself a huge disservice.

Conflict, when handled with maturity is always good.  It sharpens vision and actually builds trust and confidence.  Confrontation, handled well, is a gift that provides us with the opportunity to evaluate and grow.

Because I was afraid to handle conflict with confidence and maturity I became bitter—this is what happens in the bitter bubble.  Over time, this led to insurmountable misunderstanding and resentment that never should have existed in the first place.


So, if you want to stay in ministry for a good long while, I have 3 tips:

  1. Empower and delegate
  2. Stick to a sustainable schedule
  3. Be honest with your frustrations—do not participate in a bitter bubble!