the art of managing your youth ministry…learning to reprioritize

Recently I was stressed at the amount of “stuff” I had to get done. I thought once I finished with graduate school, my work load would drastically decrease and my time in front of the TV increase.

not the case.


case in point!

I remember back in college having to read youth ministry management books that gave us rookies ample advise and tools to organize our youth ministry in order to maximize effectiveness. They all read like operational manuals or business plans and clearly focused on the administrative aspect of our roles.

While these types of books can be helpful, I believe that finding a healthy balance and “managing” your ministry has more to do with priorities than specific organizational methods.

After I actually got a job as a youth pastor and had my desk piled high with a laundry list of to-dos, I started taking a more critical look at what I was supposed to be doing.  I soon realized that my priorities were out of whack, thus causing the unnecessary and often overwhelming sense of stress and burden.

I still have much to learn and a long way to go.

Just to give you an idea, here is what is on my plate for the week (and why sometimes I lay awake at night very restless until the day breaks and I can begin chipping away at the pile)

1. Update my youth budget and somehow get rid of an extra $1,500 that the board tells me I can’t have and apparently no longer need!

2. Revise our job description and requirements for a director of middle school ministries

3. Update my facebook account with over 200 pictures (which also need to be scanned)

4. Finish putting together my monthly parents e-newsletter (which means writing a few more articles and scanning even more pictures and articles from magazines)

5. Sending out my weekly email to parents and students about youth group this week

6. Registering for our weekend winter retreat, school break ski trip, and weekend mission trip, and distributing the forms for those.

7. Try to plan out my spring calendar of lessons, activities, and games.

8. Send my secretary my bulletin information for our youth insert this Sunday

9. Prepare a brief overview of our 2009 youth ministry expectations for this Sunday’s annual meeting.

10. Make sure we have enough party supplies and food for our Superbowl party

11. Trying to actually write this blog and update and post another 5 articles I am currently working on.

On yeah, and if time permits, working on my 2 youth lessons and Sunday school/bible study lesson for the week.

and the list goes on…I’m not kidding!

For many of you, this sounds all too familiar. For some, you hate the office part of your job. Many of you have gotten fired for a lack of “administration” skills, because somehow they are put on par with the other spiritual gifts needed to serve God and minister to students.

But there might be some of you who love sitting behind a desk full of papers and watching the time tick on the mounted clock in your office.

But let me ask you a question, do you notice anything strange or particular about my to-do list?

Not one of these” important” tasks is actually ministering to students!

Now, let me ask another question:

Are the still important?…they can be.

Emails, text, newsletters, websites all can facilitate conversation and growth, but they never replace actual conversations, meetings, prayer, and one-on-one mentoring.

I’ll be honest with you here…

There have been weeks when Monday would roll around and I would be in the office at 8am sharp (crazy for a youth pastor, right?)

busy. busy. busy

Working on all these ministry tasks (which should be better labeled administrative chores)

Tuesday-same thing

Wednesday-same thing ,until I realize that I only have a few hours before youth group is going to start and I needed a lesson!

These “tasks” had often take precedent over my lessons (both pray and prep time), and that should never have been.

But I also know a few ministers whose message/lesson prep time takes complete priority over actual ministry to and with others…and this should not happen either.

I have learned that when preparing for God’s word takes time and energy away from spending time in it, that is never a good thing.

When writing articles and emails about students and about ministry becomes more important then getting together with them, that is also not healthy.

Now, some of you may be at churches where they measure your productivity basically by how much administration work you do.

The bigger the pile on Monday the better…that kind of thing.


While that may look and feel right in the business place, remember youth ministry is not a business nor should not be run like one.

Secretaries, executive pastors, marketing committees..all of this lingo seems to portray that we are in some kind of business..maybe like paper production (shout out for The Office!)

(Which before and after youth retreats, you might think you are in the paper business)

But the only “business” we are in is forming the spiritual lives of students.

And that does not happen at an office, behind a computer, or in front of a stack of papers.

So, let’s learn together to re-prioritize…our schedules, our time, and our workload.

Let’s focus on the more important things (and yes, I am going to bring out the classic Mary vs. Martha thing for a moment)

I have truly learned that  spending time at the feet of Jesus and helping students do the same…these are the more important matters of our faith.

Our schedules, priorities, and ministry tasks should reflect that.

Keeping so busy at the office that we have little time for students, lessons, prayer, and Jesus does not reflect that.  Pretty simple, right?

If youth ministry is stressful, it should be because we realize that lives are truly at stake.

We can rightfully get stressed over an abusive situation, a student suffering from an addiction or illness, or that angry parent who didn’t like the fact you talked about masturbation.

But let’s not get stressed over paper products which ultimately get deleted, shredded, or filed away in some musty box somewhere.

Let’s not be stressed because we failed to set aside adequate time to fully prepare for the lesson, especially if it was because we were too busy playing video games, chatting on-line, or caught up doing all that “busy” work.

And no matter what your day or week looks like,  remember that students are more important than paper!



3 thoughts on “the art of managing your youth ministry…learning to reprioritize

  1. True. And I’m also learning this tough lesson that in order to really do youth ministry as the paid professional you actually spend less time with teens. It’s a tough reality. We get into this profession because we love teens and then we’re stuck doing budget reports and calendar printing.

    This would be taking away from opportunity for ministry if we were one of the only ones doing the ministry. However, if our administrative time in the office frees and equips other people for ministry then I think it is time well spent. We just have to learn we can’t do it all. I’m learning this lesson one day at a time.

  2. Sadly administration will always be a part of ministry, at least how the church functions now. But if you can admnistrate your time well you should never have a problem finding time for the more important things in ministry.

    My church is all about paper work, permission slips, even documenting what goes on at my meetings, and anything else you could possible think of. But I have not found all that to take away time from what we as youth pastors are really called to do and hopefully will never allow it to.

    Sometimes you have to think outside the box to avoid more paperwork. For example I spent a whole day reading through my church policy/rules and found out that if we do events at the church, someones house, or if the event is organized by the students, no permission slips or any other paper work is needed.

    So how does this guy do ministry now, at the church, somone’s house, or nudge one of my more mature students to rally the troops and get together. The parents have also been a big fans of the decrease in paperwork, giving me a few brownie points.

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