Some days having a 9-5 job sounds ideal. You clock in, clock out, and then you are on to other things. No worrying about an unexpected phone call, a late-night meeting, or a crisis in the middle of the night. Sounds great, right? For many of us I am sure there are days or moments that we think this would be the type of job, or at least work hours, that would provide us the lifestyle we would love to have.
But it is not our reality in ministry. And ultimately not what we feel passionate about or called to do. I think when we pause to spend time pondering that 9-5 career, we quickly begin to see the drawbacks in the type of work we would be doing.
We have been called into ministry.
We care about people, their spiritual health, and we find building relationships with others and with our God vital. The drawback becomes that in ministry we are always “on.” Always available for a phone call, a conversation, an opportunity to share God’s love. I call this the “Ministry of Presence,” because wherever you go, in whatever you are doing, you are available to minister to others.
Sounds wonderful and beautiful…but the reality is it can be lonely. To those who don’t serve in this setting I am sure that statement is baffling. What do you mean it’s lonely? You are with people all the time?
Yes, that is true. I am with people, engaging in conversations, showing love and support, ministering to all around me. But who ministers to me? Who do I share my struggles with, my burdens with? Who truly are my friends?
It can be hard when you serve in a congregation to establish a system of support within the community that you are serving. You can be out to dinner with friends from your congregation who quickly turn the conversation into the youth program or their frustration with a lack of volunteers in the church. Then all of a sudden, we have gone from “friend’s nights out” to “back to work.” No mal intent from your friends, but it is not always understood the position you are now put in.
So what does a support system look like for a youth minister?
One of the first questions we should ask ourselves is, “What communities am I connected to outside of my congregation?” It is important for our emotional health that the place we serve is not the only community we engage with on a weekly basis. Do you have passions or hobbies that help connect you to other communities in your area? If not, here are some ideas: join a book club, find a gym, commit to a kickball league, sing in a community choir, take a sewing class, go to trivia night, etc. Engage in other social groups that connect you to people outside of where you serve.
Now I am sure in some communities it would be hard to get away from church members just by plugging into other groups in the area. So it is important to be clear in your goals for this. If you run across someone from your church on a kickball league and they want to talk about “church stuff,” be assertive and ask to carry on the conversation at another time. Let them know your goal in being part of other groups outside the church and how important that is for your spiritual and emotional health. In that moment you are not only teaching them something about yourself but you are modeling healthy boundaries for church workers.
In a congregation I served our Senior Pastor formed an accountability group for himself. He was intentional in asking 4-5 people to meet with him once a month to hold him accountable to his own physical, spiritual and emotional health. He handpicked people from the congregation that he trusted and that he was confident cared about him as a person. He would be honest with them about the amount of time he was working, how he was spending his days off and what he was truly struggling with personally. This small group of people cared about our pastor, encouraged him, showed him support and at times confronted some of his behaviors. Our pastor was vulnerable enough to say he needed this and worked to be honest about his weaknesses.
Are you willing to be vulnerable? Jesus walked this earth with His disciples. A group He handpicked to surround Him, learn from Him but also show Him support. He felt safe enough with them to fall asleep on a boat, invite them along in His desperate moments and to entrust His family members to their care.
We too need a support system that we feel safe with, can learn from and trust enough to be vulnerable. We cannot be effective in ministry if we are not allowing ourselves to receive the same care and love from others that we pour into those we minister to. So I challenge you to look outside of your church for communities to engage with. Be bold in prioritizing relationships that you will be vulnerable in and take an extra step to establish an accountability group for yourself.
Ministry of presence can be a lonely place. It is our job to recognize this, build a support system and work to be honest about our struggles with those we trust. If you have a community of youth ministers around you, work to meet regularly with them and encourage them in their own care for self.