Burnout Blues: Finding Balance Between Ministry and Family Life
People who work in youth ministry often struggle with the concept of rest. There’s always kids to Facebook or text, phones buzzing, paperwork to do, trips to plan, parents to calm, meetings to attend, and people to see.
These things are necessary, yet many youth workers, their spouses and churches don’t schedule times of rest and Sabbath amidst all the chaos. This lack of healthy boundaries is taking a huge toll on the marriage and family relationships of clergy members.
A number of years ago Jake worked as a part-time youth minister for a church in New England. It was a part-time job but the church expected programs and youth attendance that only full-time hours could accomplish. Jake loved his job and the church desired a program, so no one really took the time to consider just how much he was working. (He had a second part-time job as well.)
Jake worked 80-ish hours a week and became completely burnt out physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. The effect this had on our marriage was devastating.
This was not a healthy situation for us and Jake has since moved into full-time youth ministry at another church. It took a year after the move to get our marriage back on track. Burnout is serious and it has long-lasting consequences.
One of the best ways to ensure your ministry stays healthy is to make sure your marriage stays healthy. Not only should your family relationships take priority over work, but the teenagers you work with will be ministered to by seeing a loving, strong, and supportive marriage. Teens gravitate towards stability and desire to see families stay intact.
Here are a couple of key ways to begin implementing rest into your life and ministry work schedule.
1) Ideally, a Youth Worker/Pastor should have one day off and one “flex” day a week.
Monday is our Sabbath. We try to avoid checking e-mail, stay away from work and Jake even turns his cell phone off…all day! We also try to avoid doing errands or paying bills on this day. Monday, as best as we can swing it, is our day of resting and fun.
Saturday is our “flex” day meaning that normally it’s a day off from work but we get errands, yard work, bill paying, etc. taken care of. Jake does do events and other youth activities on some Saturdays, will keep his phone on, and check work e-mails. This is a built-in day to allow ministry if scheduled, but also to protect the true day of rest from being cluttered with household duties/chores.
2) After a longer event or trip, it is ideal to have two days off.
Jake tries to make this work as much as possible, and luckily our church is supportive. This time is important to recharge energy levels, relax and have quality time for our marriage relationship. We’ve found that these intentional pauses in the midst of a busy month are crucial to ensuring an overly fast pace doesn’t become too normal.
If your church is uneasy with two days, try for one. Any time off will be beneficial.
3) It is not necessary to have Internet and email on your cell phone.
This one might sound a little crazy, but we’ve learned that having constant email access prolonged the workday and prevented us from relaxing at home. Additionally, constant vibrations and dinging all evening doesn’t encourage attentiveness to your spouse and family. We made the decision to ditch the data plan two years ago and rarely miss it. In its place, we’ve found more time of uninterrupted connection and peace.
4) On average, a Youth Pastor shouldn’t work more than 50-55 hours a week.
Most youth workers will agree that their schedule and hours fluctuate on a week-by-week basis, which is pretty normal. However, you should strive to have an average workweek be about 50-55 hours. The world only needs one Savior and they already have Him…and just to be clear, it’s not you!
5) A full-time Youth Pastor needs at least three weeks vacation.
We’ve found that a week’s vacation during the summer and one during the winter helps to avoid overworking and burnout. The other week of vacation is split up between the holidays, graduations or other special events but in many cases those times involve a bit of stress and shouldn’t take the place of de-stressing, relationship building vacations.
6) Have a date night once a week.
Try to pick one night a week and make it off-limits to technology, work and chores. We have found it best to make it a set evening (Thursdays) because trying to adjust it week by week puts priority on our busy schedules rather than spending time together. You don’t want to be legalistic either, so if something comes up, that’s okay.
In marriage and family life, we all need time to talk, connect, relax, and rejuvenate. Our culture (and especially church culture) emphasizes busyness and involvement, which tends to leave youth workers battling their churches and often their own workaholic natures in order to have time for themselves, families, and marriages. By realizing harmful ministry practices, encouraging fellow ministry workers, implementing good boundaries, and possibly moving out of an unhealthy position to one that supports family and balance, youth workers can bring about change and growth...and avoid burnout!