Managing the Anxiety of Youth Ministry
I remember when the band, Lonestar, released the hit single “Mr. Mom” in 2004. I was a mother of three (ages four and under), and my severely sleep deprived soul resonated with a song about a man who took on motherhood and failed. My favorite lyric of the song was:
Balancing checkbooks, juggling bills, Thought there was nothing to it. Baby, now I know how you feel when What I don’t know is how you do it.
My kids are teenagers now, and the days of diapers and crayon mishaps are long gone, but I did feel the same sense of momma-validation last summer when I watched Mr. Incredible struggle with the role of Mr. Mom when his wife, Elastigirl, went back to work in The Incredibles 2. Tim and I have served in youth ministry together for over 25 years. I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor who treats adolescents. I speak at youth events several times of the year. In fact, when Tim and I met, I was a youth pastor at a small, country church. I consider myself a youth ministry veteran. Tim is the pastor over all high school ministries at a large, multi-site church in North Carolina. When he asked me to the lead the youth ministry at one of our sites until he could find a full-time leader, I thought, “Absolutely! How hard can this be? I’m a youth ministry veteran. All I have to do is order pizza and speak, right?” Wrong. Being the leader in a room full of students and adult volunteers who I don’t know (we haven’t served this church for very long) is more difficult than I thought. Being the youth pastor...the person in charge...is NOTHING like being a guest speaker at an event or a youth volunteer. I didn’t realize how anxious I would feel. My mind raced with thoughts like:
- What if the group doesn’t grow?
- What if the group gets too big for me to manage?
- What if they think I suck?
- What if they think I’m too old, too female, or not as cool as the last youth pastor?
- What if I ruin this for Tim?
- Where did that group of 9th-grade boys just go?
- Where are the round tables for small groups stored?
- Where is the key to the ice machine?
- What’s the password to the computers?
- How do I turn on the stage lights?
- Where did I leave my notes?
- Where is the pizza delivery guy?
- Was I supposed to save the pizza receipt?
- What is that smell?
And that was just WEEK ONE! Ministering to students alongside Tim at youth summer camps or in the comfort of my well-decorated, highly therapeutic office has its challenges, but it’s nothing like the grind of weekend programming. Every seven days . . . another Sunday! To all of you out there who are in the trenches of youth ministry, YOU ARE ROCKSTARS! If I were a country songwriter or a Pixar animator, I would put together a youth worker montage worthy of your calling and name it, “I Lost All of My Receipts, and I Don’t Know What That Smell Is Either.” I’m not a country songwriter, a Pixar animator, or a youth pastor, but I am a counselor. The anxiety I am experiencing as a fill-in-until-we-find-the-full-time-youth-pastor is real! Below are some strategies for managing the anxiety of youth ministry:
1. Listen to One Voice
There is an overwhelming number of opinions, suggestions, preferences, concerns, and expectations for youth workers, and the majority of these will be expressed to you in detail 5 minutes before your programming starts. Find God’s voice, and follow it. When we seek to please God only, the fear of judgment from others will disappear. Need help with this? Memorize Proverbs 29:25 (MSG) “The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that,” and put Lauren Daigle’s song, “You Say,” on repeat.
2. Take Care of Your Soul
The work of ministry is vital to the task of working with students, but it does little for the soul. Don’t skip out on your time with Jesus. You need it, and He really wants to hang out with you.
3. Choose Spiritual Growth Over Escape
Sometimes, when people are overwhelmed with the stress of ministry, they will look for ways to escape the pain. Common escapes are food, shopping, pornography, complaining, social media, video games, exercise, work, substance-abuse, affair . . . you get the point. Ditch your escape route and choose spiritual growth. Escape multiplies the suffering. Spiritual growth helps us find strength in our weakness.
Sunday is not a restful day for anyone in ministry, so designate a day in your week for rest. Real rest. You’re gonna need it because Sunday is coming! When my kids were little, I remember thinking about Tim, “I wish I had a job where all I had to do was take volunteers to lunch and order pizza.” To Tim and all of youth ministry nation, I now say, “I could never do your job. Being a mom and a counselor is way easier!” I have been humbled. Your ministry is more than just pizza.