3 Tips for Prioritizing Rest as a Youth Pastor
When you work in ministry, you’re never really “off”. For every crisis, every life change, every tragedy, you’re the person people know, even if they don’t really know you. While it comes with the calling, it doesn’t get less exhausting. With youth, emotions are even higher, angst is off the charts, and prefrontal cortexes aren’t yet fully formed. For a lot of your students, you might be one of the only, if not the only, reliable adult in their life. It can feel like a huge responsibility to shepherd all these young people, but it’s one you don’t have to shoulder all on your own.
So how do you prioritize rest and establish boundaries with your ministry so you can serve your students the best you can?
1) Make Rest with the Holy Spirit a Daily Habit
In John 15:5, Jesus says, “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’” You are not meant to love all of your youth out of your own private stores of affection. If you’re like the rest of us, you just don’t have enough. And kids can be annoying. Thoughtless. Cruel. They can be hard to love. But when we’re attached to the vine — aka in tune with God — divine love can flow from the creator, through us, to the people in our care. If we ourselves are empty, we won’t have much to give. But when we are connected to the source of love, we can overflow out of God’s power and we can do things we can’t do on our own.
So how do you “attach to the vine”? While it might sound radical, it’s important that you take the time to be nurtured to the same extent that you are nurturing others. Figure out what fills you up. Maybe that’s early mornings with Scripture and a cup of coffee. Maybe it’s long runs in the woods, spending time with animals, or boating out on the lake. Maybe it’s long conversations with trusted friends, or maybe it’s a combination of these things or something else entirely. Whatever it is, protect it. You only have as much to give as, well, you have. When you invest in your own rest and restoration, you can continue to love hard without burning out. The key here is to make it a concrete daily habit – find a routine of activities that make you feel rested and connected to God and do it daily.
2) Rely on Your Team of Youth Counselors
While you might (or might not!) want to build personal relationships with each of your students, it’s not always a possibility. And, even more so, you yourself might not even be the person each student needs. That’s why you have a team of trained, passionate youth leaders. You aren’t supposed to do it alone, and a strong team of other adults with a passion for young people are there to build deep relationships with different students so everyone can feel like they have a person who is truly in their corner.
You don’t just have to rely on your leaders for connecting with students, you can also enlist them for tactical support. Part of discipling your leaders is delegating tasks that they are suited for and allowing them to step into more responsibility. Make a list of all your tasks, and then see which of those responsibilities only you can do. For the rest, delegate. Whether it’s developing the youth worship program, getting snacks for weekly service experiences, following up with connection cards every week, or anything else, let your volunteers take ownership over the ministry in real ways.
3) Schedule Your Breaks Before You’re Ever Burned Out
Even when you’re investing in your rest and relying on your team of youth leaders, there will be times when you need larger breaks to reset and cast vision. Don’t be shy about scheduling vacations and sabbaticals, and scheduling them well in advance of when you’re feeling the burn out. Just like with your daily moments of rest and restoration, having annual (or biannual! Or quarterly!) breaks scheduled will keep your spirit refreshed and help you be more present with your ministry when you’re on the clock.
Youth pastors, we see your hard work and we appreciate you. Especially during this time of isolation, your work is more important and more challenging than ever. Thank you for the ways you invest in the next generation. Our prayer is that you have the courage to take care of yourself as well as you care for those around you.
About the Author
Emma Tarp is a writer and worship leader based in Minneapolis, MN. On her best days, she's highlighter-deep in a good book or teaching herself to sew. On her other best days, she's helping passionate folks and inspired businesses put words to their work. Find out more at emmatarp.com.