Finding a sustainable rhythm has three elements:
This may look like a cheesy word play, but it’s really not. Let me explain exactly what I mean.
Finding means trying, exploring, actively searching for something that works for you. I’m not a big fan of the ‘if it works for you it’s right’ approach, but in this case it’s the right one. What works for me in balancing life and ministry, doesn’t necessarily have to be the best approach for you.
When I started doing youth ministry, I didn’t have kids yet. That means I could invest more time and be away from home more than I can now. Youth leaders with busy families, or complicated family situations will have to scale back even further. Your first priority is and should be your spouse and/or your family. And if you’re single, that means yourself and your friendships.
Try different work rhythms, methods, and approaches to see what allows you to put your family first and God second, followed by youth group and/or church. That’s the right order. I’ve tried doing the Sabbath on Sunday for instance. Didn’t work because it was basically a work day with all the ministry related events. So I moved it to Monday, later Saturday. Worked way better.
For some ideas on things you can try, read through our Time Management in Youth Ministry Series or check our my book The Effective Youth Worker: Proven Strategies to go from Surviving to Thriving.
Sustainable means it’s a rhythm that you can sustain (continue) for a long period of time. Youth ministry is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and you need to approach it as such. Too often we think we just need to get through this one week, this one month, this one busy season. But if we do that, we’re fooling ourselves.
Youth ministry will always be busy. There will always be a crisis that demands our attention, a new project, or a new event. We need to find a rhythm we can sustain over the years and that means allowing ourselves enough breathing room and time to relax, recover, and recharge. Working ourselves to the bone does not honor God, on the contrary!
The third aspect is one it took me a while to fully understand. A rhythm means it’s flexible, adaptable—not static. I used to think more in terms of ‘life-ministry balance’, but the word balance implies it’s a static thing, a get-it-exactly-right-thing where ther’s only one way to find that precarious balance. The word rhythm shows it’s way more dynamic than that.
I’ve just returned to work after the summer break, a period where I can recover from a season of hard work. That’s a rhythm that’s connected to my son’s school rhythm, which in turn is tuned into the rhythm of the seasons. Life has a rhythm as well, think of the crazy busy years with young kids, or the busy seasons of youth ministry like around Christmas.
Finding a sustainable rhythm means adapting yourself to the ebb and flow of life, of your family, of your ministry. It means working more hours when it’s needed and scaling back when you can. You move with the rhythm so to speak, not against it. But that also means slowing down when you can or when you have to, to avoid burning out.
So far, I’ve mostly talked about finding a sustainable rhythm for you as youth worker, but the same is true for your leaders and your students as well. Make sure that you set a pace with your youth group everyone can maintain for a longer period of time. If you require your leaders to be doing multiple events each week for instance, are you taking them away from their family too much?
One of the best decisions you can make is to program less, do less…and be more. Trust me. Been there, done that.