In case you haven’t noticed, I have not been doing much writing or blogging over the past 2 months…and you know what….I feel pretty good about that.
Like most of you, my school year was extremely busy. Productive? Yes. But at times stressful and tiring. Besides my full time position at church, I also coached baseball and served as a chaplain for a minor league baseball team, while at the same time reading and writing. So summer came, and I took as much time off as possible.
My friend Jeremy Zach (blogger @ Small town youth pastor) wrote a great article about the importance of approaching our summer months in a healthy way. I have added the link below.
Now, at my church, we still had our annual mission trip and a few occasional fun outings (Six Flags, Beach Day, etc…). We stopped Sunday school and our regular weekly meetings, and boy did it feel good!
I needed that, and to be quite honest, I actually feel refreshed, renewed, and excited for the new school year to start. But it wasn’t always that way.
When I first arrived I wanted to impress everyone (especially the parents and elders) and so I planned jam-packed summers to keep our students busy. We took advantage of the fact that most of them didn’t have school, homework, or jobs (and some really didn’t have a life outside of our church either!)
Almost every night I would be out with the students. We had all of our regular weekly meetings, plus a fun/social outing and outreach event at least once a week. We did numerous mission trips, day trips, concerts, sleepovers, camping trips. You name and we probably did it during those summers. Now, in many ways these were highly successful summers. Our numbers actually grew during June-August (which is rare) and we did not experience that usual summer let down. By the time September rolled around, I didn’t need to do any promotion because all of the students were already in the swing of things. Parents loved that there was something for their children to do because they were able to get them off their hands and out of their homes for a few hours almost every day and for many weekends throughout the summer.
But do you know what did suffer?
Let me put it this way: Do you know Who suffered?…..
I was completely exhausted at the end of those summers. My relationships were hurting. My soul was often dry and cracking. I was in need of a sabbath rest (and a nice long sabbatical) but had to get amped up for September to come and really get things moving again. Year after year I went through this until I realized that I simply could not do it anymore. I started to dread the summers and resent my responsibilities. I knew that change had to happen, and as difficult as it was I slowly began to implement those necessary changes.
Now I know that most people work just as hard in the summers as the rest of the year, unless they are teachers. But you and I know that being in youth ministry is an entirely different ball game. There is a huge toll: emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even physically at times (4am on youth retreats sound familiar?)
Even after having made these transitions, it is still tempting for me to want to offer a packed summer schedule. Especially when some youth ministries down the road are doing it and my students are either
a) going there instead or
b) complaining and asking why we are not doing all of those activities.
But, I have also seen youth pastor after youth pastor come and go. They may have action-packed and full summer and school calendars for a year or two, but inevitably they cannot maintain that pace or approach and they simply do not last. So, I would rather take things off of my plate and do a little less, but do it well and do it well over a long period of time.
Which is better for students?
Having 4 years of crazy busy activity…but with two or three different youth pastors?
Or….developing a healthy and long lasting relationship with one youth pastor/leader while experiencing real life together over that same period of time? We can try to get them all constantly occupied and busy with “church”, but that does not necessarily reflect real life or help form them develop a mature and complete spiritual life. In some ways, busyness is counterproductive to spiritual formation.
I recently started running. I hate running and do not consider myself a runner. But nonetheless, I have been running about 4-5 times a week now for about one year. I run to stay healthy and get in shape, not to impress anyone. Therefore, I really could care less about my speed or style when I run, but I would like to build up my distance. My goal is actually to run a half marathon some day….we’ll see!
I quickly learned that if I put all of my energy into sprinting my first mile or so, I can probably run a decent time and look good, but I have nothing left for the rest of my journey. I would only be able to run a few miles every time before having to stop….before quitting.
However, if I take my time and pace myself I am able to do a few things. I can enjoy my time more and take in the beauty of my surroundings. And secondly, I am able to run longer distances each time I run and eventually work up towards my goal.
I assume by now you are getting this analogy.
As youth pastors, don’t sprint. You will never reach the finish line or your goals. Take your time and take it easy. Condition and pace yourself and enjoy the experience.
You will be healthy and ultimately a healthy youth pastor makes for a healthy youth ministry.
Perhaps reevaluate your upcoming fall schedule or at least plan to take it a bit easier next summer.
You owe it to yourself and to your students.
No need to feel guilty about doing less, if you are able to do it well and do it well for a long time.