Three Essentials to Prevent “Flaming Out” on Our Family and Ministry
It was a Saturday evening in November and the temperatures were starting to fall. His parents were out of town for some reason or another, his car had broken down and the snow was beginning to fall. It was 9:45pm when I got the phone call.
“Can you come and help me?” He wasn’t sure who to call but he knew I’d help. By the time I had a tow truck called and got him safely home, it was nearly midnight.
This is just one example of the kind of phone calls youth ministers get that test the boundaries we attempt to set, ever striving to create a healthy balance between our family and our ministry.
It seems that just as I think I’ve got the hang of maintaining that balance, I experience a new challenge that throws everything off. How do you maintain a healthy balance between family and ministry when specific students in your care aren’t sure whether to call you “Kris” or “Dad”? When your daughter has friends over to the house who are also kids from church, do you have your youth pastor hat on, your parent hat on, or some weird hybrid of both?
No matter how long you’ve been in youth ministry, you will always feel tension around how to maintain a healthy balance between family and ministry. No matter where you are in your student ministry career, here are three essentials that are necessary for true family and ministry balance. Without these three…it’s only a matter of time before you flame out, or your family resents your work.
1. Make and keep friends who have nothing to do with your ministry and the church where you serve.
It’s hard to make friends when you’re a youth pastor. You have a weird work schedule. You enjoy hanging out with middle schoolers. And other adults are always afraid you’ll ask them to help chaperone the next lock-in.
But having friends who have nothing to do with your ministry or the church where you serve gives you a place to be honest with your struggles, a space to enjoy new things and cultivate interests unique to you. These relationships help you maintain a healthy, objective, unfiltered perspective on life, your identity, and your ministry.
Having friends outside of your ministry and your church also has the byproduct of helping you see your church and work for what it really is. It may help you to see and identify dysfunction that you’re otherwise too close to recognize. Or it may help you see the goodness and beauty of your place when it’s so easy to only see the frustrations that make it so tempting to uproot and look for another job.
2. Take your Sabbath rest seriously.
There’s always more stuff to do. There’s always more events to plan. And there are always more students who need to hear the Gospel. Yes, all of these things are important, but even God rested after six days. He commands us to rest too. Andy Crouch says in Playing God, “There is perhaps no single thing that could better help us recover Jesus’ lordship in our frantic, power-hungry world than to allow him to be Lord of our rest as well as our work.” Can we really say we trust Jesus with our work, if we won’t even trust Him with our rest?
Practically speaking, when we make space to rest, our families get the best of us, not just left-overs. Physically, our bodies and minds are able to repair, to regain strength. When we rest well, we look forward to getting back to work, and when we work well we can enjoy the rest God provides us.
3. Remind yourself that you are not the Savior of your students.
John the Baptist provides a poignant model of this important reminder for every youth pastor. John had a pretty successful and growing ministry, lots of people showed up every Wednesday night (so to speak) and he baptized a ton of people. Then Jesus came on the scene and people started going to Him instead of John. John’s disciples said something like, “We need to do something about that, our attendance numbers are starting to dip.” John’s answer was rooted in his sense of who he knew he was in light of who he knew Jesus was.
Since he was born, John knew and understood who Jesus was. Knowing this released him from the desire for status, power, and influence. He knew that he must decrease so that Jesus could increase (John 3:30).
As youth pastors, we must remember that it is not our talks or conversations with kids that change their lives. It’s Jesus. We must remind ourselves that Jesus was working in their lives before they came into our ministries and He will continue to do so after they graduate. We must fight to see Jesus as He is and to see what He has done for us. Doing so will enable us to see ourselves more clearly, and free us from the pressure and burden of feeling like we need to solve every problem that students in our ministries encounter. This freedom to make room for Jesus as the Savior of our students should naturally also free us to enjoy our family without the “burden of ministry.” For it is not really our burden at all.
Maintaining a healthy family/ministry balance is essential for our health. Yes, it will likely improve the possibility that we continue to do youth ministry into our forties and fifties (and speaking from experience, we need more “old” youth pastors). In addition, our families need and deserve the very best of us. Most importantly, a lack of balance between our ministry and our families is a strong indicator that we are making ourselves into little gods of our little kingdoms and denying Christ His rightful Lordship over all parts of our lives.
This is our first article in a series, “The Phases of Ministry,” in which we explore the blessings and challenges of ministering to students during various seasons of life.