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youth ministry hump season, where excitement and weariness co-exist

ya know how people talk about wednesday as ‘hump day’ (a term that has always made my inner middle school boy giggle)?  it’s that day in the normal working person’s week (btw: the week of a youth worker could rarely be called a ‘normal working person’s week’) between the slow uptake of monday/tuesday, and the ‘weekend’s almost here’ vibe of thursday/friday.

right now, early august, is the ‘hump season’ for youth ministry.

some of you are still in full blown summer programming (whether that means a ramping up or a slowing down).  some of you have students heading back to school this week.  either way, august is that time in the youth ministry calendar when we’re realizing the fall season is just about upon us. and, while much of the church, and most church leaders, are coming off a season of rest, most youth workers are coming off a season of wonderful-but-draining camps and missions trips and pool or beach days and teenagers who are available 24/7.

at one of my churches, they would always do a kind of a ‘fall kick-off’ on a weekend in late august or early september.  and three years in a row, the senior pastor (an otherwise stellar leader and human being) would say to the congregation: all of your pastors have had a wonderful and refreshing break this summer, and are rested up for this new season of ministry. and every time he said that, i wanted to storm the platform and kick him in the nuts.  in fact, one year i was on stage sitting behind him, because i was hosting the service, and i actually thought about how easy it would be to get a knee-buckling groin kick in from behind without him even seeing it coming.  instead of the groin kick (see, i have restraint from time to time), i had harsh words with him after the service. actually, they were friendly-but-annoyed words the first year; harsh words the second year; and outright threats the third year.  he didn’t say that the fourth year.

here are a few realities — can we stack hands on these?

1. there really is no ‘down season’ in youth ministry, unless you intentionally plan one.  and in 99% of churches, no one will expect you to plan a down season.

2. related to that: no one (as yaconelli regularly said and wrote) will watch out for your soul when you’re in ministry. we’d like to think that our churches would do that. but it just ain’t gonna happen. and, while i could rant about how and why they should, it’s probably more utilitarian to just acknowledge that we’re going to have to protect our souls ourselves, and not expect our churches to do that for us.

3. this ‘hump season’ has an odd, almost paradoxical tension to it.  on one hand, we’re weary. so what that you’ve gotten to wear shorts more often this summer than you do during the church year, or that you’ve been outside more. the youth ministry stuff of summer, as wonderful as it is, is tiring.  it’s physical.  it’s emotional.  it required tons of relational presence and face time.  admit it, you’re tired.  but at the same time, your calling and vision and passion for teenagers probably has you amped up about what’s going to happen as the new school year kicks off.  good stuff, re-engagement, new small groups, new students.  it’s all a blast.  but it’s tiring also — so much to do, so much to plan, so much to figure out, so many people with needs.

in this last bit of in-between space, i want to encourage you — beg you, even — to pause.  breathe. pray. get silent. sleep in. go on a date with your spouse. take a play day with your kid. read a book that has nothing to do with ministry or leadership or theology or teenagers. get out of town. hang with friends (and don’t talk ministry). spend time with your savior (not doing things for your savior, just savoring your savior).

remember, this is what your savior is whispering to you: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  can you pause long enough to hear that? can you pause long enough to live into that?

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3 thoughts on “youth ministry hump season, where excitement and weariness co-exist

  1. Thank you. I was expressing the same “hump season” thoughts with my wife last night. I found myself getting angry at the calendar, at our volunteers, and at myself. I plan to take some time to catch my breath and get some rest before the church/school year begins. Thanks again.

  2. Once had a bad case of burnout. luckily my boss was a social worker, so she sat me down asked me to take out my calendar, then she said so which week this month you taking off? I was puzzled. She then explained i was burning out, and I was being offered by mgmt the opportunity of one of two types of vacations. The first one, i would use PTO and come back, the second one, Well, I would not be coming back. I took the first one.

    Only you care as much as you do for yourself. If you get burnt, you may not have the opportunity to recover or a boss who sees it and helps you out of it.

  3. Thanks for the article. I truly related to your thoughts. Definitely needed to hear as I prepare for a new season if youth ministry.

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