by Matt Meyers
I was in my 5th year of ministry and 2nd year at a new church. My wife and I had been married for 4 years and had a two year old daughter. The ministry was growing, we had been able to hire another staff member, programs were healthy, our adult leadership team was equipped and growing, and youth were engaging in ministry at every level. Things were going great! Except that, I wasn’t doing great. I was tired, grumpy, and negative about ministry and the church. I was resentful of the time and energy I was giving. But, I loved the ministry! I loved the youth and families I was serving, working with the adult team, and doing the strategic planning with our leadership team! How could I be so in love with the work and ministry and yet have NO energy and enthusiasm to do it? What was wrong with me? Was I burned out? Did I not love Jesus enough? Was I not cut out or called to this vocation? Was I depressed? What was wrong with me?
I had heard quite a bit about burn-out and that the average stay of youth workers was anywhere from eighteen months to three years. After two years at this new church, I was thinking that, maybe I was done. Maybe Youth Ministry had chewed me up and spit me out and that I was now just another one of those statistics, and to me, at the time, that meant another failure, another youth minister that I couldn’t hack it in ministry.
So there it was! I was done… Burned-out and ready to jump ship! Until, I read a journal article about “Compassion Fatigue”. The concept was simple, and different from burn-out. With compassion fatigue a person may feel depressed, lethargic, apathetic, overwhelmed much like the symptoms of burnout, but the distinction is that a person suffering from Compassion Fatigue still cares about the work and the people with whom they serve. They are connected to the mission and vision of their vocation, but they don’t have the energy, spirit, or enthusiasm for it that had been there in the past. Being able to name what was happening for me was incredible freeing! The solution for burn-out is simple; move on, quit, find something else that restores meaning and purpose to life. Knowing that what I was experiencing wasn’t burn-out opened up other options to me. I wouldn’t have to quit to be able feel better. I loved the ministry and was so glad that I wouldn’t have to leave to feel well, and whole again. But I would have to address the fatigue I was feeling in order to do the ministry in a way that was fruitful and life giving for myself and the community in which I served.
So I got intentional about structuring ministry in a way that supported my well being and allowed the energy, passion, zeal, enthusiasm to return. I created a “self care plan”. I started clustering meetings so that I wasn’t at the church or coffee shop or athletic event or theater performance 5 nights a week. My family became intentional about going on our own retreats. I took a vacation with my family. We didn’t go anywhere special, I just checked out from the ministry for a week. I began to seek out professional growth opportunities, going to youth ministry conventions, workshops on ministry, or adolescent development, and spirituality. I got serious about a Sabbath day! I started networking with other youth workers to build support. Together we not only challenged each other, and pushed each other to grow in ministry but also to step away to refresh and renew our spirits and do our self-care. As I got intentional about taking care of myself I found resentments disappearing and my capacity for my work and most importantly, my compassion growing again.
Youth Ministry Tool Kit: As you evaluate for yourself what needs to be in your self-care plan, ask yourself:
- What is life giving about your professional life and in your personal life? – What is it that brings you joy, who are the people that you enjoy spending time with and help build you up?
- What is life sucking – what drains your energy? What makes it more difficult to do what you do? In what ways can you either delegate these things or do them differently?
- How do you recharge your batteries when you get worn down? Do you have a process for that? If you don’t, what would it look like?
- You might also ask your spouse/significant other, family members, colleagues, what they notice about these things in your life.