By Jeff Brumley
Ministry burnout is far from being a new concept with even the most hard-working pastors and demanding congregations admitting it can happen to them and their clergy, too.
But one group often left out of the equation when leaders consider burnout is youth ministers. Andrew Noe said he understands why.
“A lot of time people look at it and think it’s fun, going to high school basketball games, taking kids to lunch and fun weekend retreats,” said Noe, the student minister at Rosemont Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.
“But what they don’t see is I’m working a lot of nights and weekends while my family is at home, and that I don’t get to be there for all of the special moments with them,” he said.
“Oasis: A Spiritual Retreat for CBF Youth Workers” drew nearly 70 ministers from Hawaii to Florida, double the amount attracted last year when held as part of a ChurchWorks conference, said Fran Patterson, president of the Fellowship’s Youth Ministry Network.
Based on the response, the Feb. 18-21 retreat hit the spot for its participants, Patterson said.
“Evaluations were just phenomenal,” said Patterson, the minister to youth at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. “It was ‘thank you for helping me take care of myself.’”
Others have noticed the need for teaching self-care to youth workers, too.
The blog site YouthMinistry 360 says there are several built-in factors that can make burnout very likely in the calling. Among them are dealing with seemingly unending problems in youths’ lives, working nights and weekends and high expectations from parents and pastors but with relatively low pay — all resulting in high levels of stress.
Focusing on self-care
The site urges youth ministers to accept that sometimes things are not okay, to step back by taking time off and confiding in a trusted friend, relative or fellow minister.
It was to offer just such a perspective that the CBF Youth Ministry Network was created in 2012, Patterson said.
During the planning stages for the organization — which is the only one in CBF life that charges membership dues — it was envisioned as a resource where youth ministers can receive pastoral care and fellowship, teaching and activities resources and, eventually, annual educational and spiritual retreats.
“So this year we focused on self-care and just nurturing each other,” Patterson said.
The Oasis retreat accomplished that with sessions on different kinds of spiritual disciplines. Participants spent time learning a given technique, then another period practicing them. Chair massages and yoga classes were among the other offerings.
The presenter and guest speaker was Mark Yaconelli, a youth minister and author who wrote Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus.
Even those who helped planned the retreat said they were refreshed by what they learned.
“I always thought you had to be a monk and do a year of silence” to benefit from spiritual practices such as contemplative prayer, said Passport President David Burroughs. “But he [Yaconelli] made them approachable and healing, and my plan is to go back and dig in and do these practices.”
Passport used part of a $750,000 Lilly Endowment grant to help finance the Oasis retreat. A portion of the grant was earmarked specifically to nurture the spirituality of youth ministers to enhance their ministry effectiveness, Burroughs said.
While the president of the network, Patterson said she attended mostly as a youth minister who knows what it means to be under constant pressure to fix others’ problems, work long hours and often forget her own spiritual walk.
“I am a lot better minister and a lot better person after that week because I remembered the importance of taking care of myself,” she said.
Noe said the network and its annual events will be key to his career because he is called specifically to youth ministry.
And Oasis — specifically learning about silence — is already helping him with that.
“Back home with TV and e-mail, a little bit more silence is helping me spend time with myself and hearing what’s going on in my life and what God is trying to say to me,” he said.