Protecting Volunteer Leaders from Burnout

Volunteers are perhaps the most valuable people in youth ministry! Great volunteers who hang in for long haul will make a lasting and impacting difference in the lives of students.

Sadly, the most common reason that I have seen volunteers cease to work with students is not their lack of passion and calling –  it is rate of burnout and being tired out…

In my previous post I talked about the importance of protecting volunteers in general. Today I want to focus on one area I mentioned briefly:

How can I help protect my volunteers from burnout and exhaustion?

1. Create a Healthy Ministry Schedule: Asking most volunteers to serve on a weekly basis is already a challenge for many in their busy lives. For many parent volunteers in particular, making youth group once a week and staying in contact with their small group is a big deal. Therefore I try to commit to scheduling our ministry with healthy breaks and bear in mind my volunteers schedules. a) During Christmas break we do not meet. b) We do not meet for Spring Break. c) Summer is changed up significantly and we have a “come if you can” policy. We need significantly less leaders with our summer schedule, so this works for us. c) We schedule events in a way that they are spread out significantly.  We would rather do a few ‘big” events well, rather than many “poor” events that can tire out volunteers (and students).

2. Insist That Family Comes First: This often can take a while to sink in for my volunteers. Again and again I need to remind them that ministry needs to be a win for their family. Anytime they call me to miss a program or event because of family, I insist that “family always comes first…” In their minds they are often feeling guilty for “calling in”, but it’s my job to affirm healthy family. I have also found that when I take this approach with my volunteers, it actually creates greater loyalty since they I know care about them and their family first. It’s not just about “getting ministry done…”

3.  Model Healthy Boundaries Myself: It’s important that I set the example for healthy boundaries first. Leaders are looking to us for more than just direction in how to minister to students. They need an example of healthy boundaries in a world that tells us to keep running fast until we fall. Ultimately, our students will see us and leaders as their model for what is healthy too. What kind of example are we setting them?

4. Give Them Grace To Miss When They Really Need To: Every year leaders hear from me about the importance of a consistent commitment and being regular at the programs. However, I also emphasize that if they really need to miss anytime, they just need to let me know and I will be fully supportive of them. I just ask they give me as much notice as possible. Sometimes this is not possible due to emergencies. It is during these phone calls that we need to clothe our words with grace and support and not only consider the “loss” of the leader not being able to attend. It’s interesting to see how God provides for our ministry as we look to take care of the volunteers first. We have had weeks when we are a little short, but when I care for volunteers first, God always provides enough…

5. Challenge Them To Pursue Personal Growth: This should be a given, but sadly we often focus on the “business” of youth ministry and forget to challenge our volunteers to grow deeper in their relationship with God. In my one on one meetings and in many volunteer meetings I try to emphasize the importance of ministering from a deep well of personal growth. Although this is number 5 on my list, I encourage you to make it number one on your personal list as well as your volunteers… Burnout happens most when we are running on empty and trying to do it in our own strength… Burnout happens when our faith walk becomes a crawl…

What ways do you protect your volunteers from burnout? What can we do to ensure that our volunteers hang in for the long haul and keep impacting students for eternity?

Phil <><

2 Responses to Protecting Volunteer Leaders from Burnout

  1. Sharon Hoover December 15, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Amen to this post! We the church tend to guilt and burn out our leaders…in the student ministry and other ministries. One additional thing we do is to “release” all of our volunteer staff in June. This allows a graceful departure for those feeling called to serve elsewhere. And the ministry then does not have the reputation of never being able to leave. We LOVE having them back if they choose to return. Our student ministry has a very high rate of return adult leaders. Praise God!

  2. Phil Bell December 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    Sharon, that is fantastic to hear! We do the same thing once a year. I have a “firing” BBQ with my leaders and release them at that time. I am so glad to hear that you are having a great success in getting them to want to come back! That really points to many healthy things you are doing in your ministry! Keep up the good work and keep loving those volunteers!

    Phil <

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