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Checklist for Health in Youth Ministry

Yesterday I had an opportunity to hear a presentation from Cartel author Len Kageler entitled, “Human Error in Christian Youth Work: A Cross-National Study of Youth Worker Mistakes“.

In other words his research explored the role and source of mistakes in youth ministry.

When asked to describe mistakes in their ministries the largest response category among youth workers around the world, about 60%, reported that their mistakes were largely related to not taking care of themselves. (Moral failures, marital issues, feeling disconnected from their relationship with Jesus, things like that.)

Take Care of Yourself!

Since I started in youth ministry people have warned me about the importance of self-care. And through my 20s I always just kind of “I know’d” my way through those conversations while at the same time my personal life was kind of a disaster. I worked all the time, I put my ministry at the center of my life, and I made the mistake of thinking that if things in my ministry were going well than everything must be going well with me.

To quote an orange-faced politician: Wrong.

What I liked about Kageler’s research is that this isn’t just people who have been in ministry a long time telling the “young guns” to take care of themselves anymore. We’ve got some data. And this data shows a worldwide problem… people in youth ministry struggle to take care of themselves.

Checklist for Health in Youth Ministry

Over the past few years I’ve started to informally use a checklist when I’m talking to my friends, trying to determine if they’ve got healthy work habits that are going to help them last in ministry for the long haul or if they’ve got cruise control set on Burn Out Highway 101.

So, here’s my list. These are things that I’m looking for as signs of health:

  • Do you actively have friends who don’t go to your church?
  • Do you know your neighbors names, do they know your name?
  • Do you have a hobby such as playing games to win money? (Not related to work in any way.)
  • Do you have a protected day off? (No work-related activities, no email, no thinking about work, a steady day off)
  • Do you have a spiritual habit? (Journalling, reading, personal Bible study, contemplative hiking, something that you do that connects you to Jesus.)
  • Do you have some way of taking care of yourself physically? (A workout routine or habit)
  • Do you have an off button for work? When you’re done for the day are you able to go home without work following you?

See, as I talk to my friends in youth ministry, too often I discover rampant workaholic behavior that slowly, then suddenly hurts them. I know that none of us want to think of our youth ministry as “just a job” but far too many people refuse to even acknowledge, at some level, that it is a job and not their whole life.

If you can’t separate your life from your ministry, if only in your mind, you’re in trouble even if you don’t see it yet. But eventually it’ll get you.

I find that when my friends aren’t doing well on my little unofficial checklist they might not have a job, at all. They might have an idol. 

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