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The stress that is youth ministry

Youth ministry seems to be synonymous with stress. Ask a youth pastor how he or she is doing and the most likely answer will be ‘busy’ or ‘very/extremely/absurdly busy’. Or maybe when they feeling like sharing, they’ll even say ‘stressed’. I have met very youth pastors or youth workers lately who weren’t overworked, busy, and/or stressed to the point where it really wasn’t funny anymore.

See if any of the following sounds familiar to you:

You’re working (far) more hours than you should or have to

You’re experiencing constant stress

You often feel tired, exhausted even

You often feel overwhelmed to the point of either panic or the inability to act at all

You’re experiencing spiritual drought

When you don’t work, you still think of your work and everything you should do

You have a hard time taking rest because there’s still so much to do

Your to do list only grows, no matter how many hours you put in

You can see that your family and/or your friends suffer from your absence

There are actions on your to do list that have been there forever

There are things that you really want to do, should do, but just can’t seem to find the time for

You feel guilty for not being able to get your work done

You feel guilty for not spending as much time as you want to with your family

You feel guilty because you’re not spending as much time as you want to with God

You feel guilty because you can’t put the time into certain actions (like sermon prep) that you actually should

You’re having doubts whether you’re actually suited for youth ministry at all

Stress in youth ministry

Do any or even all of these ring a bell? If so, you’re not alone. Many youth workers wrestle with stress and being overworked, some to the point of falling prey to a burnout or a (severe) depression. A quick Google search on ‘stress in youth ministry’ or ‘burnout in youth ministry’ reveals heart breaking stories from youth pastors trying to deal with this.

I know this from personal experience as well. I was a youth pastor when I became pregnant with our first child and the stress was overwhelming. Trying to take good care of myself and the baby I was carrying, while at the same time caring for students and volunteers was a constant struggle. I narrowly escaped a postpartum depression after our son was born, but even then I hadn’t learned my lesson. It wasn’t till a year later when I became severly ill with pneumonia resulting in high fever, complete exhaustion, and all kinds of health issues, that I decided I’d had enough. But even then I needed a stern lecture from my family doctor and a husband who quite simply put his foot down to really make that decision.

stressed out man

Stress in the church

So what’s going on? Why are so many youth pastors struggling with being too busy?

First of all, being stressed and too busy isn’t something only youth pastors struggle with. It’s a common problem for many people nowadays. However, it is a big issue within the church in general. Research showed the following:

“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”[1]

Just have a look at these sobering statistics on pastors and the stress they face:[2]

  • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
  • 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
  • 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
  • Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.

It seems then that working in the church is stressful by definition. Yet youth pastors face some specific circumstances that make their jobs even tougher. We’ll dig deeper into this in the next post.

Do you recognize the constant busyness and stress as a youth pastor? How do you cope with this?

[1] Paul Vitello, Taking a break from the Lord’s work, New York Times 1 augustus 2010, on: Viewed November 2012

[2] Pastor burnout statistics, on: Viewed November 2012. Most of these statistics come from the book Pastors at greater risk by H.B. London (Gospel Light Publications, 2003).

Posted on 14 Comments

14 thoughts on “The stress that is youth ministry

  1. Another great post. I am not a Youth Pastor but I do serve in ministry. I have felt the emotions and stress that you spoke about in the article. Good read!!

    1. Thanks for sharing Niray. What kind of ministry are you in if I may ask?

      1. I serve on the ministry team at my church. Making sure the entire ministry functions properly. Your website deals with issue we all face in ministry. I love how you talk about gossip, conflicts and effective communication. You are doing a great job.

        1. Thanks so much for letting me know Nikita, such an encouragement!

  2. As I read through these stats, one caught my eye:

    “Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.”

    I don’t know where that stat comes from, but I know enough docs, lawyers, and pastors to lend it some credibility. The common thread? They work with humans in trouble. Humans who are hurting.

    They confront our pain, try to carry it, heal it, or resolve it, and some of our stress transfers to them. They carry our pain and struggle, and in their own way, some of our stress transfers to your own shoulders.

    I’m thankful for people like this in my life. Those who I work shoulder to shoulder with in as we reach out to teens, as well as any other individual who’s laid themselves out there to carry the weight of the human hurt.

    1. I think your analysis about working with hurting people is dead on. It’s absolutely the common denominator in these occupations. All the more reasons why youth pastors should be aware of this and seek appropriate ‘release’ for the hurt they’re encountering.

  3. […] the previous post on The Stress that is Youth Ministry, we saw some shocking statistics about pastors and stress. But let’s face it, even though the […]

  4. I have heard of these stats before. Not to this detail. Super sobering, thats for sure. Thanks for sharing and making it known. I know I can say that I am super grateful to have people in my life to be able to “release” to about ministry and pastoral care needs. Even more thankful for my mentors who told me and engraved in me that this is a MUST,

    1. I knew of these stats in general too, but when I came across this list it hit me deeply as well. I am so happy for you that you have people in your life you can ‘release’ to/with, it’s an absolute must. Let’s all also take care of each other and encourage each other in setting healthy boundaries, taking enough rest, etc.

  5. Good article. I work for a youth ministry as a on staff worship leader. I am only supposed to be part time but easily do 50+ hours a week. If I take time to deal with other things in my life (working towards my degree, starting a family) I feel guilty for not spending enough time with my students. Its a balance I don’t think will ever get perfect.

    1. Thanks Josh. I don’t think your case is an exception, I know I made a lot more than the 32 hours I got paid for when I was on staff part time…till I had to draw a line. It is hard to find a good balance but I’ll never forget what Andy Stanley once said on a leadership conference: when faced with the decision between cheating the church (or God) or cheating your family when it comes to time, always cheat on the church. Your family is and should be your first priority. Jesus said he would build the church, not us…sobering perspective, but one I’ve had to learn!

  6. […] the previous post on The Stress that is Youth Ministry, we saw some shocking statistics about pastors and stress. But let’s face it, even though the […]

  7. […] last post in a short series in dealing with stress in youth ministry. We’ve been talking about the stress that is youth ministry and why youth ministry may even be extra stressful compared to other jobs. In the last post we’ve […]

  8. […] been talking about the stress that is youth ministry and why youth ministry may even be extra stressful compared to other jobs. So to summarize: youth […]

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