By Mackey Baker
Burnout. The ugly seven letter word nobody wants to talk about in youth ministry. I am not talking about the kind of burnout that happens when you burn the candle from both ends for your first year. Or the kind of burnout that happens when you have 25 kids in your ministry and no volunteers. I’m talking about a different kind of burnout. A career youth ministry burnout. A burnout caused by absolute boredom. A burnout caused by frustration, the inability to express yourself, and a lack of spiritual nourishment.
Before you tell me to read a book or go on a vacation, know this: Working in a church is terribly isolating, particularly for a single person. As I write this, I am the only person in my office. I have been the only person in my office all week. No human interaction as I complete administrative tasks, plan camps and retreats, or wrap gifts for graduating seniors. Only the soothing sound of U2’s Greatest Hits to fill the empty space.
On Sunday morning there are 400 people in this building. Many want to corner me, ask questions, complain about nuances in their daily lives, or recruit the youth to do something for them. It should be a given that Sunday morning is the worst time to tell the church staff something important, but people do it anyway. My memory is short so I make to-do lists during worship. My mind wanders. My soul is hungry, but I cannot seem to pay attention to what is going on in the room. Surrounded by church members, I struggle to live authentically with them. They can’t know my doubts, my problems or my setbacks because it might cause them to be bias toward my ability to do my job well. What I mean to say by this is that even in the house of believers, I lack community. I have not been to church in eleven years.
Once a week my spirit becomes alive as I interact with the students who come through our doors for youth group. Who I am to them is in fierce dichotomy to who I am to church members. They know the “me” I can’t be on social media. They know my doubts in my faith, my absolute acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community into the Kingdom, and albeit, my liberal political persuasion. Oh, conservative right wing leaning parents, if you only knew the disturbing Gospel of grace and love I am teaching your impressionable youths. My students have walked with me through exciting highs and my lowest of lows. We have served together. We have grown up together.
I have given some of the best years of my life to this ministry so I could be the ONE different in their lives. The one person who stuck around for the long haul and made a lasting difference. So far it has proven successful. When they graduate from high school, we become fast friends. And yet, the feeling of burnout lingers. I wonder if any hope can be found in this? Perhaps my hopefulness is this group. Maybe the Christian community I am looking for is my youth group. It may be that this is my church. But is it enough?
What about you? Have you felt this burnout? Do you have spiritual community outside of your default church community?
“An authentic life is the most personal form of worship. Everyday life has become my prayer.”
–Sarah Ban Breathnach.