Yesterday, I asked one of my youth leaders what he appreciated most about me as a leader.
His response was quick: “You’re organized.”
Not, “I really love the way you deliver heartfelt, engaging devotions,” or “You’re really good at making kids feel comfortable and welcomed and you have a passion for people”.
Just two words…”You’re organized.”
That’s precisely why you don’t go fishing for compliments. Sometimes you hear things that don’t quite live up to your expectations of what you think people will say about you.
It got me thinking about who I am as a leader, however. What makes me tick? What do I do when I’m under stress? What do I enjoy about my role as a youth leader? What really bothers me? How do I handle myself when I’m angry? How do I work with other leaders? How do my teens see me? What am I best at in my job, and where do I need improvement?
I think it’s worthwhile for every youth leader to take some time to assess himself or herself as honestly as possible. And on occasion, it’s helpful to seek insights from those around you–including those leaders and students you work with–to help you learn more about yourself.
While I would be the first to say that you can’t base your entire opinion of yourself on what other people say about you or how they react to you, I think it’s worth it to carefully consider these things and attempt to draw some conclusions from them.
In my experience, I’ve been running full-steam in youth ministry since a month after I graduated college. And since the day I started my first job, the best comparison to how it usually feels is to imagine how it feels to jump into the ocean wearing a ball gown and attempting to hold a 25 pound sack of flour up over your head as you tread water.
Which, for the record, is something I’ve never actually experienced. I don’t want you to assume I’m a former Navy SEAL or anything.
My point is that everyone I know in youth ministry–myself included–is going a million miles a minute, almost all the time. We’re treading water and attempting to hold up many things all at once–our jobs, our health, our finances, our families, our relationships and our own spiritual lives.
We often don’t make it a priority to think much about ourselves. In general, the majority of people who go into ministry have a deep desire to serve others, and this means we end up last in line after everyone else is taken care of. Many of us neglect ourselves and don’t have time to think about our own well-being.
Some of us consider this selfish. But just as while flying, a flight attendant explains to us the importance of securing our own oxygen mask in the case of an emergency before we attempt to help others, sometimes we need to realize the importance of taking care of ourselves before we serve others.
As a new year has already dawned, I feel like it’s a good time to take some time for yourself. Study yourself and attempt to learn more about who you are. Ask yourself some serious questions. Perhaps ask your family or close friends–or even trusted youth leaders or students–if they can give you some insights.
Maybe it’d be helpful to take some intentional time away from your hectic life and spend some time in a quiet place where you can actually concentrate. Whether you’re a volunteer leader or full-time professional, it’s always beneficial to have a bit of a retreat away from your everyday schedule.
After all, as Matthew 6:6 reminds us, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” This doesn’t mean you should always pray in secret–but there is value in spending time alone with God.
As I’ve written about before, I once saw a poster that stated, “If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” As someone who’s busy pretty much all the time, I can see the seriousness of what a constantly overloaded schedule can do to your spiritual health.
Make sure you regularly worship, hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament, since these are the ways God strengthens and sustains us for our vocations. If it is not already your practice, consider regularly receiving personal absolution in private confession. This is especially important for those whose work is to minister to others. I think we can all benefit from spending more time in prayer and devotional reading of Scripture. I, for one, need to set aside specific time to do these things and to take the time to sift through my schedule and figure out the best time. But I also recognize that this is more than a time management issue. This is a repentance issue, in which my old “me” must daily be drowned in Baptism and die so that a new “me” might arise to serve those around me.
I wouldn’t say I’m a stickler for making life goals, but I’ve found value in taking the time to make some goals for my year and my life. I also try to write out goals for my year in working with youth–usually broken up into 3-month increments. Make a concerted effort to include opportunities for personal and spiritual growth in these goals–for instance, “I’ll spend 30 minutes every day reading Scripture,” or “I’ll spend time every day doing something active”.
Take the opportunity this year to take care of yourself by understanding more about yourself, spending time alone with God and reassessing your schedule. It’s not selfish, and it’s not taking away from your service. Think of it as a way to be strengthened in order to better serve the world around you as you fearlessly share an incredible God.
What do you have to lose? By my estimations, you lose absolutely nothing. How do I know? I thought it all through and carefully weighed the pros and cons for you.