“Down and Out in Youth Ministry” (Kellen Roggenbuck)

As a youth ministry coach, I have been receiving dozens of emails and calls revolving around the same issue and it’s important to talk about it as a community. Right now, and I know you are tired of hearing it, we are still in “unprecedented times.” 

Many schools and church groups are still meeting virtually, those in-person are struggling with numbers and participation, your body isn’t ready for the reintroduction of such high levels of pizza – and it’s taking its toll on your as a leader!  Your teens might not be attending like they used to, or the old format isn’t cutting it anymore, or perhaps there’s just an attitude of disrespect you can’t seem to shake.  In any case, you are not alone in this feeling and I’ve compiled a list of thoughts to help you shape the way you move away from down and out and back into thriving ministry.

  • Take care of yourself.
    Make taking care of your mental health a priority.  Debrief, unwind, pray like crazy.  Give yourself permission to take time for yourself and develop strategies to cope with life, family, work, ministry…all of it. Take walks, drink lots of water, eat as healthy as you can, get your body right so that you can begin to process what is happening.  Keep your prayer life steady and steady your spiritual center.  If you aren’t well, you can’t begin to move forward through this time.
  • Consider the youth.
    Remember that your students are in this too, and are likely battling depression and other stress-related issues as well.  Be patient, be prepared for a swell in negativity or lack of focus, and compensate for it.  Be overly and deliberately positive.  Structure your meetings in smaller bursts and allow for interruptions.  Remember that the fun is as important as anything else right now.
  • Revisit your structures.
    Consider changing things up.  This is the time to review what you’re doing and consider what might need to be revamped.  Take an inventory of what you have at your disposal and your mission, vision, and goals.  Change has already happened, so this might be a good time to try new things for new results.
  • Reach out to people.
    Find a group of peers to connect and discuss new strategies.  Find a mentor or coach to learn from and talk through these new situations.  Find time to connect with your leaders to talk through what they are seeing and feeling through this process.  Spend time talking with people removed from the situation, outside the ministry to reflect and grow.  Keep it productive, forward-thinking, reflective and mission-driven, without devolving into endless vamping or complaining.  Lean on one another and build community.
  • Let your mind wander.  Find a mindless or different-minded distraction for the post-youth time.  Watch tv, play video games, go bowling, do a puzzle – find something that takes your focus away from youth when it’s stressing you.  Rehashing it and venting can help sometimes, but it can also amplify and escalate your feelings before bed.  Being able to put your mind to rest will help you get a good night’s sleep, relax, and start again tomorrow.

There’s no one way, silver bullet way to a mental health or ministry reboot, but there are best practices that can get you closer.

There’s always hope, so keep the faith.  Youth ministry is worth the fight, your youth is worth the fight, and the call to disciple the world is worth the fight.  Develop strategies, stick to them, and be fluid to try new things if these aren’t working.  And have fun, because that’s part of what youth ministry is all about.  We’re all in the same storm, let’s ride it out together!

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