Burning Out Before Burning Up (Part 1)

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One of my favorite aspects of summer is the evenings spent by the campfire. Fire is absolutely mesmerizing to me. In full honesty, I would say that I’ve stared into a fire without moving for over half hour periods at a time. That’s saying a lot considering I’m both a busybody and a pyromaniac. Besides, who doesn’t love sticky hands and golden brown marshmallows?

I think every youth pastor shares the burden of finding his or her job, at times, stressful. In many ways, it’s part of our work. We deal with students wrestling with who they are or who they want to become. Add to the equation peer pressure of acting, looking, or smelling a specific way plus hormones and you’re left with a very messy, yet beautiful organism. I think our work can be, and is, some of the most compelling and rewarding work available, but that doesn’t excuse the gnarly themes woven into our jobs. Now take the student, and add the parent to the equation (I’m assuming I don’t have to unpack this one).

Our primary earthly mandate as youth pastors and ministers is to ensure that everyone is brought together for the purpose of Christ’s Kingdom.

Doing that with students is one thing.
Doing that with parents is another thing.
Doing that with parents and students becomes an entirely new measurement on the Richter scale of stress.

In my experience, this stress leads to frustration, insecurity, confusion, and inevitably: burnout. A close colleague and friend recently advised me: “If you can do any other career before ministry, pursue that first.” And this may seem dangerous, reckless even! How could someone advise a pastor to move on to some other line of work?

What I love about the above advice is that it doesn’t point out negativity. Yes, it can be read that way, but I see the advice as affirmation. In so many ways, I have spent time fleeing this line of work. Either in my personal walk with God or my professional advancement. And as much as I’ve run in the opposite direction, God has lead me back to this work — ministry work.

That calling is what must keep us going as youth pastors. An earthly mandate may set us up for stress, disaster, maybe even failure. But God’s mandate does not. In fact, if we are faithful to God’s mandate, His Word, The Spirit’s work, the sincerity of the Gospel, then we will most certainly succeed.

What we do with burnout will be unpacked in part two next week. In the meantime, ponder your own personal calling with these few questions:

  • When is the last time you read scripture or prayed for a reason other than Bible study or ministry?
  • How much quality time have you spent with your family or friends without your “To Do” list distracting you?
  • Do you find rest, or does rest find you?
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