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This is the hardest part of writing a youth ministry blog...

 by Aaron Helman | @aaronhelman | loading comments...

4 ways to tell if you're headed toward a case of ministry burnout.Every month, 6-10 people unsubscribe from the SmarterYM Community mailing list.

That doesn't bother me too much.

After all, for every ten that stop reading, there are thousands more who keep reading.

But what really makes me upset is the single most common reason that people unsubscribe.

Go ahead. Take a guess. I'll wait here.


The main reason that people STOP reading SmarterYM is because they STOP doing ministry.

All that talk that you hear about burnout? It's real.

And if you're not actively doing something to prevent your burnout, then you're a candidate to be the next person to remove yourself from my list.

I don't want that to happen, not for my sake, but for yours, and for the sake of your students and congregation.

Work against burnout starting right now.

That might mean taking an extra day off or going out of your way to spend more time with your family.

It might mean skipping Monday Night Football so you can get some sleep or talking to someone else about the problems you've been facing lately.

No matter what, make sure that you protect your passion for ministry so that you can keep doing it for a long time.

How can we expect to positively impact someone else's spiritual life if we continually neglect our own?

Remember these aren't necessarily the things that cause burnout, just the symptoms of a problem that's already there. I care about your spiritual health, and you ought to care about it too.

You waste more time than usual.
We all lose a little bit of time here and there courtesy of Facebook and YouTube. But if you notice that you're losing hours - or whole work days - to inane distractions, it's a sign that you're headed down the path toward burnout.

What's happening here? You're exhausted, and even though you're dragging your body to work, your mind isn't getting engaged, so you spend too much time doing mindless things.

You're sleeping too much.
There's nothing wrong with the occasional nap, but if your naps are stretching into hours, that's your body's way of telling you that it's done putting up with what you're giving it.

This is especially true if you used to wake up excited for ministry, but now sleep through your alarm for an hour or two. For this one, more sleep isn't the answer - try a vacation instead.

You're not sleeping enough.
It seems like too obvious a statement to write, but if you're burning the candle at both ends, you will absolutely wear yourself out. It's one thing if you stay up too late during a particularly busy week. But if you keep that pace for a month or more, that's evidence that you're nearing a burnout episode.

You've lost your standard of excellence.
It's important to me that I give my best, but during weaker moments, I don't seem to care so much. If you find that you're blowing off your prep time or that you're letting your youth room stay a little messier every week, there's an excellent chance that burnout is in your near future.

These four things have come up more often than anything else when I talk to struggling (and former) youth workers. More than that, they're completely true in my own life and ministry.

But enough about me. Will you leave one comment to tell me what your burnout symptoms are? And more importantly, what do you do about it?

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I'm not telling anyone I'll pray for them this year. Here's why.

 by Aaron Helman | @aaronhelman | loading comments...

You're a youth worker, so you always hear all about students' problems, concerns, and issues...

...and most of us respond in the same two ways.

We offer advice, and we promise to pray for them.

I'll keep doing the first thing, but I'm done with the second, and it's because I think I know a better way.

Instead of promising to pray for someone later...

...I'm just going to stop whatever else I'm doing, and pray with them, wherever we are.

Here's why you should do the same thing.

Praying with students can be more impactful than praying for them.

Your students have almost certainly told friends and family they'd be praying for them before, and while some of our students are disciplined keepers of prayer journals, most of them aren't.

That means they have plenty of experience with prayer promises as a thing you say, but not that you keep.

For many people, "I'll be praying for you..." is a throwaway phrase used to end uncomfortable conversations about problems with no solution.

That's a bummer.

But when you offer to pray with them now, that's a different thing altogether.

Praying WITH students should be as much a part of
your ministry as praying FOR them.

For some of us, praying with a student (or a few students) can be awkward and uncomfortable, but I'd recommend taking the steps to get over it. The impact is to great to be missed.

Here's why I prefer to pray with someone now instead of for someone later.

I'm forgetful.
I'm not lazy or undisciplined, but if I'm in the middle of a busy morning, I certainly can't guarantee that I will remember to pray for all the things I said I would pray for.

It's memorable and impactful.
You'll quickly forget someone's well-intentioned promise to pray for you, but you'll remember the time a mentor placed a hand on your shoulder and prayed with you.

For a student going through a difficult time, remembering that they are cared for and prayed for is more important than we realize.

We can engage students in their own prayer responsibility.
This is the most important piece of the puzzle, and in fact, it's the largest reason that I prefer to pray with students instead of for them.

When I pray with a student, we usually BOTH pray out loud.

That's because I want them to assume and practice their own responsibility to be in prayer for the concerns of their life...

...instead of offloading it to a paid professional who will take care of it for them.

If you've ever prayed for requests around a prayer circle, you should know that oftentimes, you're lifting requests on behalf of students who have never intentionally lifted those same requests themselves.

Students should feel comfortable bringing their concerns to God themselves, and while I'm thrilled to pray over them, they need practice doing that for themselves too.

My goal for this school year is for our team and our students to become a more prayerful youth ministry.

Developing the skills and the courage to pray with each other, in the open, in the moment, is our very first step in getting there.

Is that a goal you'd like to see in your ministry? Leave a comment and let me know if you're in.

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And here's the secret sauce of a successful youth minister

 by Aaron Helman | @aaronhelman | loading comments...

There's no secret to success in ministry, but longevity helps.
You could spend months debating the best strategy for your group.

But the truth is, it doesn't matter...

...if you're not around long enough to make it happen.

Culture change and systematic growth are things that take years, not months.

Does that mean that the secret sauce of youth ministry success is just hanging around for a while?


There is fruit to be gained from longevity if you stick around long enough to pick it.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the amount of time it takes to become really successful at something. His answer?

10,000 hours.

It sounds like a lot of time, but 10,000 hours is actually represented by just five years of full-time employment.

On average, a youth worker lasts about four years. Does that mean that too many of us are getting out of ministry just before we make it over that tipping point?

It's possible.

One lesson from Moses is this: Sometimes the only
way to get across the desert is to keep walking.

It takes time - a lot of time - to truly understand and become a part of the larger community that surrounds your congregation.

It takes a long time to change the culture of your volunteers, students, and especially parents.

It takes a very long time to raise up an immature bunch of sixth graders into excellent upperclassmen and phenomenal leaders.

More than that, sometimes sticking around through tough times is just faithfulness to God for placing you in that position in the first place. Generally, I've found that this kind of faithfulness is rewarded.

Bottom line. The length of time you invest into your ministry might be more important than the strategies you choose to invest your time in. If you're looking for overnight success, you're not going to find it.


Burnout is the enemy of longevity.

This is the reason why I study burnout and why I write the kinds of things that are designed to help you stay in ministry forever.

Jesus was in public ministry for three years, but for many of us, we pack up sometime before year two, frustrated with the lack of results we've seen. We begin by wanting to change the world, and leave upset that it didn't happen as quickly as we would have liked.

That's why it's massively important to protect yourself, your family, and your passion for ministry.

Because, here's the thing, the greatest fruits of our labors are waiting for us, just beyond the point when so many of us give up looking for it.

My prayer for you is this:

Continue in the ministry to which you've been called. Seek Christ as the source of strength for your efforts. Then continue on again. Amen.

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