Have you ever been in a room where you know the speaker has the entire audience hanging on every word? I had that happen recently. It was at the Youth Leaders Conference at Blackhawk Church, and April Diaz was giving her talk as the keynote speaker. Looking around, I saw that all 700+ youth workers, volunteers, and Young Life staff in attendance were soaking up everything she had to say. What was she talking about that was so universally important to all of us? Self-care.
You see, being a youth worker is tough. Deceptively tough. While there are plenty of external pressures put on us- connecting with every student, growing the ministry, not spilling Mountain Dew everywhere- the internal pressure that we put on ourselves is what is slowly burning out youth workers across the country. We all know how important our work is and how God can do amazing things in the lives of teenagers, so we end up working crazy hours and giving up more of our free time than we should. We find weird ways to justify it, like “Every youth worker does this”, “It’s just my calling” or, my personal favorite, “I’m doing Kingdom work.” Maybe that’s why the average youth worker only lasts 18 months.
But you know what the worst part is? That kind of pressure seems to be the norm, and the horror stories of burned-out youth workers isn’t the exception, but the rule. So when there are times that I feel at peace about my work, when I don’t feel overly burdened or stressed, I start to wonder “Am I doing this right? Shouldn’t I be giving more of time to my work? If I have any more to pour out spiritually, isn’t that worth it- making myself empty to fill others up?” That’s a dangerous slope for me. It’s an invitation to danger- of losing myself spiritually, exhausting myself physically, and draining myself emotionally, all for the sake of ministry.
I believe that Jesus invites us into a better way of life. No one has ever cared more about ministry than he did, and yet he frequently took the time to rest, to get away from the crowds and just be with the Father. There were always people who needed him, and yet he realized that he needed rest if he was to continue his marathon of ministry. If Jesus can take a break, we can too. Often we turn busyness into an idol, as if answering the question “Are you keeping busy?” with an exhausted “Yes” ought to somehow be our goal. I think we can strive for more than that.
“A life of ministry can be fulfilling without being all-consuming. God never intended us for us to sacrifice the family He blessed us with on the altar of the ministry He called us into. God didn’t instill in you the desires of your heart to then compress them with a destiny that feels more like a burden.” -Frank Bealer, The Myth of Balance