It has long been the common wisdom in youth ministry circles to stress the importance of developing a team of volunteers to serve the youth. This very wise advice moves from a goal to be achieved, to a necessity when the professional youth minister needs to take a leave of absence.
A leave of absence is expected for an event such as the birth or adoption of a child or recovering from surgery. Here are some tips to help you and your Parish prepare:
Invest in your Team: In the months leading up to your leave place a priority on developing your team. Things that you have always done now need to be taught and delegated out to someone else.
Plan: Really think through your calendar. Are there some youth ministry events that could be moved to before or after your leave of absence? Do not do this to ALL events. Ideally youth ministry should not shut down just because the youth minister is on leave. Some expectations may need to be adjusted though.
Communicate, communicate, communicate: Set up communications you regularly use ahead of time. Is your website up to date? Have you pre-written and scheduled your emails and social media posts? Does the Parish staff know what is going on while you are away and who to contact with questions?
Educate Yourself: Take the time to educate yourself on the diocesan leave policy. Will you be using sick leave, short-term disability, paid vacation? Do not be surprised if other people in your office don’t know how to handle the situation. Be sure to fill out all the proper paperwork. Do not feel guilty about being paid during this time. This is a social justice issue and one that it is wise for us to understand.
Unfortunately circumstances may arise that initiate an unplanned extended absence such as health issues or taking care of an ailing parent. When these situations arise there is not as much time to get ready. So investing in your team, your staff and your parents is always a good idea. If we do that consistently they will be at the front lines ready to step in should this occur. Some things to consider.
Ask for help: Immediately begin contacting those who can help. Make specific asks. “Can you take the lead on the Life Night on February 3?” “Can you be the point of contact for the soup kitchen service outing?”
Be realistic: Events were planned assuming the youth minister would be present. If some events cannot fly without you then cancel or postpone. People will understand.
Take Care of Yourself
Taking leave is about taking care of ourselves and others. Youth Ministry is not our primary vocation. If it helps, look at the time away as an opportunity to grow in virtue and compassion. When done correctly this time can form us and shape us into better youth ministers. Done incorrectly could lead to burn out, bitterness, and poor health.
Celebrate Your Return
You’re back! Remember this was only temporary. Let everyone know how happy you are to be back. Communicate to the whole Parish how grateful you are to everyone who stepped up while you were away. Lastly, use this time to evaluate what worked during your absence and what needs improvement for “next time.”