Hints and tips to cope in Youth Ministry- from other professionals!

I am on holiday this week, well technically i am on annual leave from DYFC, because i have got holidays that i havent been able to take this year for one reason or another. Not because of work demands, but more trying to take the time at suitable times during the year. And though the week has been filled with a variety of ‘non’ work related activity such as preaching in my local church, a few church meetings, a night of voluntary detached youthwork this evening (cant keep a detached worker indoors) and obviously doing alot of writing for my MA (though i have taken a few week break from writing blogs, and a break from social media in the main).  It has felt like a bit of a week to recover and energise a bit even with a few responsibilities throughout the week. Over the last few weeks I have written about some of the personal challenges involved in being in youth ministry and i wanted to add some practical guidance to pass on to others, especially as thus far ive written about the challenges, but not some of the coping strategies.

I wrote about how a youthworkers Passion for their work might mean that they neglect their self care in this article, one based on Tania de St Croixs new book: http://wp.me/p2Az40-ID

and sometimes the self inflicted, or situational reality of being alone in youth ministry here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-J8

In this article I proposed a few gentle reminders for youthworkers of the importance of looking after themselves: http://wp.me/p2Az40-FO, at the time it was as I started to do some lecturing with a group of gap year students on professional and personal boundaries, on the EQUIP NE course.

What I havent yet done is to provide too many hints or tips for youth workers and Ministers to enable them to cope in youth ministry, and because my own example of taking time off to study is an appalling one 😉 I thought today i would ask the great and good youthworkers on social media to pass on their tips. Their responses are fascinating;

So i asked the question: ‘how to cope with the challenges of youth ministry’ these are the responses from some of the social media youthworkers, great and good:

  1. Take your holidays (yup guilty as charged)
  2. Have proper friends that arent youthworkers or church leaders or young people
  3. Be more than your Job
  4. Join a union
  5. (in faith settings) Worship somewhere other than the church you work in at least once a month
  6. Deal with your own issues, 1) get counselling
  7. Get a Spiritual director
  8. Dont do it alone
  9. Lead yourself before leading others
  10. Pray
  11. Name the issues and deal with them
  12. Put in a strategy so that you’re not alone (because you will be alone)
  13. Remember your opinions arent necessarily as valuable to others as they are to you! (Maybe this was a personal comment..;-))
  14. Get your head around the idea that the spiritual growth of the young people does not rest with you
  15. The young people’s highs and their lows do not rest with you
  16. Find safe people to be real about the struggles
  17. Find a mentor and mentor another
  18. Have time outside church interests, especially if you move area its easy for your whole life to be church
  19. Have a coach, spiritual director and line manager and they should all be different people.

I havent edited or sifted out any that people said so that you get an idea of the gist of what people were emphasising. Some of the challenges in youth ministry are in the day to day, and especially as one person said, if you’re new in an area, or new in youth ministry being able to find people who are ‘safe’ or willing to take on the roles of mentor, spiritual director or coach can be a challenge in itself. There can also be challenges when the people who self appoint to be these roles are also the very people who we might have problems with.

A few i will add to the above list;

  1. Do one thing a week just for you. And stick to it, and make sure its healthy/good for you too
  2. Take more of the credit when something goes well, God has given you gifts to use, use them and recognise that you have these gifts – dont give God all the glory for achievement, but only blame yourself for when things go wrong – this is a ministry condemnation/self image downward spiral.
  3. Find spaces of learning that challenge you, it might not be the expected conference or resource.
  4. Visit someone elses practice, not to revel in what they’re good at but to spend time learning and appreciating what they’re doing, to be inspired,  and also how your practice is distinctive.
  5. Be realistic about what you can achieve every day. The phone will ring, the do list might be endless, but set realistic goals and try and focus on the not so urgent but more important things every day.
  6. If you feel like you’re continually fire fighting. Then you will burn out. Balance reacting with strategising and preventing. That’s not just you personally but also maybe the organisation/church you’re working for….
  7. Make a decision not to compare yourself with others, and challenge a comparative culture. Its your mission, your call, your context, find a culture of support and understanding for your ministry and person, not a place of comparisons or achievements.
  8. Connect with people who are ‘ahead’ of you in terms of time/experience in youth ministry – if they’re willing ask them to be an external supervisor! (or coach type person)
  9. Avoid the numbers game, and if others are playing it dont join in
  10. Eat healthy, do exercise. Respect your body in regard to alcohol, food, sleep and excercise.

There isnt anyone who is going to look after you better than yourself, and if you know you’re the kind of person that might need others to help you with this, then sadly, it is your responsibility before things overwhelm, or burnout occurs. It is tragic, seriously tragic when workers forget themselves in the process of their work or ministry, and its as true to the year out volunteers who can get burn-out before the end of the whole year, because in a year they dont think to stop at times or have many many activities thrust on them, from a local church, the organising organisation, and elsewhere and in a year its difficult to create the kind of supportive relationships outside of a scheme to be able to cope, such as those suggested above.

Its a tough world out there in youth work and ministry – only the supported and those in community with others survive the long haul, however gifted you might be.

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