Keys To Youth Ministry Longevity: 5 Essential Boundaries

How can you hang in the long haul and be successful in your church ministry situation? If you have been in youth ministry even for a short time, you have likely heard the statistics for ‘youth ministry burnout’ or know someone who has lost their passion for ministry.

Even though youth workers are passionate and committed to their ministries, it’s equally as important that they are committed to healthy boundaries.

While boundaries might sound defensive and rigid, they actually benefit your church greatly, since you will be healthier for your students… And you might just stay at that church longer too…

5 Essential Boundaries

ONE: ‘Devotional’ Boundaries: When it gets busy it’s easy to allow our devotional time to get edged or become a lesson plan. Staying fresh spiritually requires us to have a committed regular time to fill the tank personally. I think this should be a given, but how are we really doing in this area?

TWO: ‘Family’ Boundaries: If you can’t take care of your family first, how can you know how to take care of the family of God? (1 Timothy 3:5). At times I confess I have put ministry ahead of my marriage and family. Of course, there are certain seasons of craziness, but they must only be seasons. Your children (if you have kids), need you to invest in their life and faith. There are many people who can invest in the students you work with, but there is only one person in the whole world who is called to “mommy” or “daddy” to our kids… In the same way, your spouse (if you are married), needs your best, not your left-overs…

THREE: ‘Time’ Boundaries: How many hours a week do you do ministry? My mentor, (I mentioned him in my previous post), has been in ministry 30 years now. He insists that “every hour over 50 hours a week is likely to be an inefficient use of your time in a normal ministry week.” In other words, we become tired and less efficient when we hit a certain amount of hours. We will be serving our churches better if we were to take our day off and rest and return more refreshed.

Editors Update: Scheduled hours = 50 Unscheduled  usually 5-15 hours… I usually schedule myself for 50, knowing I will add in many last minute meetings, emergencies and phone calls…

FOUR: ‘Financial’ Boundaries: There was a time when I bought every coffee, coke, breakfast, lunch, video camera, computer etc, out of my own money. The only problem was: I couldn’t afford it long-term and we struggled financially.

If your church has a budget make sure you use it! If you don’t have a budget, get creative! If you need greater resources, then ask for them!

FIVE: ‘Ownership’ Boundaries: You can’t ‘own’ every problem a family faces. You are called to partner with families and invest in students lives to your best ability, but you are not Jesus. So often I see youth workers beating themselves up when a  family complains that the youth ministry is not meeting their family needs. Sometimes we need to step back and see the bigger picture of the family system. The students you and I work with are part of a family that has shaped them and continues to shape their every day lives. Sadly, when students struggle, parents are desperate for ‘fixes’ to their kids and sometimes can have unrealistic expectations on the youth worker instead of looking in the mirror… Bottom Line: Owning someone else’s baggage will weigh you down and burn you out. Own what you can and move on…

Sadly, I can admit that I have been burned by not always having these boundaries in my life and ministry. However, they have now become healthy boundaries that keep me hanging in the long haul.

What boundaries are essential to you? How have boundaries been a life saver for you?

Phil <><

6 Responses to Keys To Youth Ministry Longevity: 5 Essential Boundaries

  1. David Vollstedt August 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    Good post! But Point 3 – “Time Boundaries” Brings up a question I often wonder about and have concerns about.
    It is this statement, “every hour over 50 hours a week is likely to be an inefficient use of your time in a normal ministry week.” that causes me concern because I hear it a lot from folks in paid ministry.
    In my experience, most “lay” people work, at minimum, about 50-60 hours per week at their “real” job. Many of them serve God in a wonderful way at whatever they do for work. But in addition to their 50-60 hour work week, they also give many hours in worship, ministry and service to God outside of their work.
    I know many people who regularly work 50 hours or more each week, but devote several hours throughout the week–Sunday morning services, mid-week services, committee meetings, etc. to participate in the life of their church. Many of these people also volunteer in ministry and spend even more time doing that–for instance, I know some volunteer youth leaders who regularly give 20-30 hours of prep time and meeting time for Sunday school, youth meetings and other ministry.
    We live in a society that has placed an extremely high value on leisure time. Perhaps too high a value at times.
    I am not trying to be argumentative, but I think these questions need to be raised:
    Should paid church members participate in ministry beyond their 50 hour work week? (point 3 suggests they should not).
    Should paid church members apply that same standard to unpaid church members? If not, then why not?
    Many lay people have jobs that are as spiritually, physically, intellectually and emotionally demanding as the job of a paid church leader. Yet most paid leaders seem to expect those lay people to be willing to give their time outside of a 50-60 hour work week. If one believes that is unhealthy or leads to inefficient ministry, then it seems wrong to have such expectations–and even more wrong to encourage such use of time.
    While I do think time boundaries are important, I have too often seen paid church members who are unwilling to give time outside of work. Or they include in their “work” time, activities they expect unpaid members to do outside of their work time(such as lesson prep, participating in church services, Sunday school, meetings, Bible study/prayer/devotions, small groups, visiting the sick, etc.).
    I’ve been in churches where pastors confine their own ministry to their paid time. I’ve also been in churches where pastors minister outside of their paid hours in the same way the unpaid members do. In my experience, the difference in the spirit, attitude and effectiveness of those churches would indicate that limiting ministry to fit within one’s paid hours is not as effective as ministering as a service to God.
    Again, I don’t want to start an argument, but I think if one truly believes that ministry becomes ineffective after a 50 hour work week, then paid staff should make sure that their unpaid members are following the same guidelines they set for themselves.

  2. Phil Bell August 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    David, you bring a great point and one I have struggled through before. I should have given greater clarity, but when I refer to hours worked, I am talking about scheduled hours. Typically, my week always have phone calls, unexpected emergencies and meetings that last past their scheduled time.

    Scheduled hours = 50 Unscheduled usually 5-15 hours…

    Also, keep in mind that working with families and students is draining in an emotional and spiritual way. Many (not all) of our volunteers have been engaging in work in other ways and therefore volunteering is a different way to engage. Many of my volunteers are not pastoring people and working in the trenches of ministry for 50 hours before they show up to volunteer. For many of my volunteers, they share how wonderful it is to engage in ministry and ‘work’ with a different focus. If you were to ask them to work another 5-15 hours a week in their job without pay or choose to volunteer in the ministry, I know which one they would choose 🙂 We have to be realistic that full-time ministry is emotionally and spiritually draining without good breaks or rest. What is paramount here, is not how many hours, but how effective and how God honoring.

    David you are right on! Of course, I would encourage every paid youth worker to volunteer just as he or she expects his or volunteers to do so… I enjoy coaching my girls soccer club and within her school.

    Does that bring better clarity? I would love your input!

    Phil <><

  3. David Vollstedt August 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    Good points, Phil! That does bring more clarity.

    I ran my comment by a couple of of folks who have worked in paid ministry (after I posted it). They shared some of the same thoughts in your reply.

    I doubt that many pastors ever “abuse” boundaries. But I have seen one or two who do it. My guess is that they’re working outside their calling.

    The vast majority of pastors do go above and beyond in ministry and I agree that there are more who need to cut back some on the time they give as opposed to those who should be giving more.

    Thanks for all you do!

  4. Jason Chenoweth August 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    Phil and David,

    This is a conversation we have at our church. We live in a blue collar community, where people work 40 hour work weeks, and then beyond that is overtime. Our expectation is to work 40 hours a week, and then volunteer 10 hours a week in the ministry. These are our planned hours. We often have weeks where we exceed this when there are crisis, emergencies, or planned events (camps, retreats, weddings, etc.)

    I think another facet of this conversation that needs to be had among Christians of all vocations is one about health and time management, which Phil I think you are calling us to. David, I can hear from your tone you are asking honest questions, not looking to prove a point necessarily, so it seems we are all on the same page. But the values of how to set appropriate boundaries in a culture that values excessive work and burnout is difficult across the board. We are working with a generation of students who don’t buy it. They’ve seen the sacrifice their families have made, and personally paid the price for it as children. Many of them don’t want it. So, this discussion, and Biblically how to approach it is paramount. We have to bring in issues of Sabbath and what that actually means in Scripture, we need to discuss pursuit of happiness over holiness, and a ton of other issues. So yeah, it’s a big one. Thanks Phil for bringing it up and encouraging us all to deal with it.

  5. Christopher Wesley August 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    Great post, and great conversation happening here. I think it’s important for us as youth workers to be concerned whether or not we are working our volunteers too much. To avoid this you need to make pouring into your team as a number one priority. While I’m a youth minister I know I need to serve my volunteers first, students second.

    For ourselves, it’s important to make sure that we see the difference between work and ministry. As youth ministers you can easily blur that line. I lead a small group of guys in my youth ministry and while it fills me it’s still work. Outside of work I mentor young men in prison, that’s a ministry because it does not directly affect my job at my local church. It’s important to know when work ends and family, ministry or God time begins. In the end nothing is black and white; therefore, we just have to live in the tension and keep talking this stuff out.

  6. Brandon August 14, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    I think you are right that ministers should be held to at least the same standard as those who are not employed by the church. Some ministers may need to have a stronger work ethic. In my experience, I have seen a greater need for a richer prayer life, family discipleship, and intentional activity. This is a quality time strength not a quantity. I have never had to track my hours at work, but one summer I did and found that I spent 218 hours working during my busiest two week span. Needless to say, I don’t feel bad about the special time I take with my family during the other parts of the year.

    There is a big need for relational boundaries. The best series on this is Andy Stanley’s “Guardrails” series. It should be required for every minister.

    Thanks Phil for this post!

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