It was the Fall of 2007 and I was a new hire at a parish school in Queens, NY, just four miles from where I was living. I was eager and excited for challenge, wouldn’t you be? Soon as events went better and the program grew, more responsibilities fell on my lap. “Can you help on the parish council?”, “are you free on your day off to give a talk to the confirmation group?”, “We have a three day long Christmas tree sale, can you organize teens and stand in the snow and rain and sell trees ?” Of course I jumped at the chance to serve! The problem was without the right amount self-care, things quickly began to spiral and the stress of the ministry caught up with me. Have I completely overcome it? No. But here are some tips that I use to handle the stress of the ministry better.
Prayer: I cannot stress this point enough, but I will try to keep it short. Prayer is often over looked by many ministers. This isn’t to say that they do not pray, but that they (we) aren’t praying the right way. How often do we find ourselves saying, “yea, I pray. I brought the teens to holy hour 3 weeks in a row, how can I not pray?” Praying with teens is not only good, I would say it is necessary in our line of work. However, we need to intentionally set aside prayer with ourselves and our families. If we are only praying when our teens pray, we are only doing part of what we need to stay spiritually strong.
Support Team: The biggest mistake anyone can make (and I have made It on more than one occasion) is to believe that I can handle all the ministry work on my own. The reality is that good youth ministry is rooted in a faith filled team approach. As Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, we all have different gifts to make up the mystical body of Christ. This means that individually we can only bring so much to the table. We NEED others to support us, compliment and supplement our God given gifts with their God given talents. This will keep burn out far away. It will give you peace of mind that you don’t have to do it all alone.
Take a Break: After a big event, a retreat, a lock-in, a mission trip, I find it important to take a break from the ministry. I do not mean hop on the first flight to Disney, although, that would be great, but to take a step back to appreciate the work. I recall an annual event my office held three Novembers ago. The event had just ended and it was a success. Our spiritual director and I were wrapping up and all I could do was comment on how we can make it better next year. He reminded me that although assessment is good, it is also important to appreciate the good work our team did, to think of the accomplishments, let it all sink in. Not to praise ourselves, but to understand what our role is and so that we do not become overwhelmed with the work.
These are just a few ways that I try and keep myself in check to make sure I do not get burnt out in the ministry. A burnt out minister doesn’t do anyone any good. Let us pray that each of us can find ways to keep ourselves fresh and strong to accomplish the good work that Jesus Christ as called us to do.