Stop Burning Out

First post, and I want to get real about something that we have let continue for far to long in youth ministry…. Burn Out. I have had enough of doing way over my paid hours. Enough of spending my whole day off sleeping because I have no energy left to do the things I love. More than anything, I have had enough of not talking about it and pretending that its fine.

Burnout in church youth work is a real problem, statistics vary but here are some particularly worrying one’s I came across (although I think they may be from 2012):

The average youth worker will work in one setting for just 18 months and their average total career length (before seeking a new field) is just under 4 years.

33% of urban youth workers experience post-traumatic stress

45% will experience some form of depression

66% feel underpaid for the kind of work that they do

70% of youth workers say that they have no close friends

70% feel they can do nothing to help their community

90% are classified workaholics

Ministry also has a knock-on effect on our loved one’s with 47% of our spouses suffering burnout because of our ministry jobs.

Smarter Youth Ministry Infographic:

I have been fortunate enough for the past 5 years to belong to a church that has worked hard to look after me. Yet, my job satisfaction is regularly low, feeling of failure are ripe, much of my work is done in isolation and there is a constant struggle to ensure there are enough resources available for the work.

Many have contributed to the “burn out” conversation (see resource section below), below are the intentional shifts I made to SURVIVE youth ministry (I hope to write more blogs entries in the future which reflect these areas). How about you? Feel free to use the comments section below to share your learning…

S : Sovereignty of God

It has taken me far to long to realise that “I CANNOT TRANSFORM A YOUNG PERSONS LIFE”. I am not their saviour and it is not up to me solve all of the problems that effect young people in my community. This is God’s job, so… I need to stop it.

I think this is possibly the most important shift we need to make in order to avoid burn-out in ministry. “70% feel they can do nothing to help their community” – Good! That is the humbling truth, and it is that truth that leads us to our knees in prayer to meet with the God who can and does transform, the God who is making all things new. It is He that transforms, Him alone that saves. When we are feeling burnt out we have to ask ourselves “am I trying to be God”. If the answer is yes, it is no wonder we are exhausted – like we could do His job?!?!

U: Undistorted Success

Stop measuring your success by the wrong things! I challenged our youth team this year to not mention numbers at all… AT ALL… for the rest of the year. The reason was that after youth gatherings we would say things like “that was a great session, awesome turn out” or, “not so good tonight, we were really low on numbers”. Well.. what if the measure stopped being numbers? Instead we have started sharing with each other stories of transformation. Where are we seeing God change hearts and minds? Where were the great conversations? Where are young people learning to love each other better? Where are they growing in their gifts?

A strange thing has happened, we feel less burnt-out and anxious. In fact, I would go as far as saying that we are enjoying spending time with young people more than we ever have! We are recognising growth more than ever and so excited for what God is doing amongst them.

R: Reflective Practice

My garden is a nightmare, look away for too long and weeds and trees start growing everywhere (yes, trees) and the grass gets to a height that is beyond the ability of my lawnmower. It is important that we spend time looking out the window of our ministries observing what is going on. Let’s be honest, how often do we actually do this? Sally Nash (DATE) links this kind of reflective practice with fruitfulness. If we are able to reflect on our practice, we are able to prune, nurture, water and even enjoy it. It is vital for both our health and our ministry that we make this time. Reflection allows us to take a step back and decide which tools, people and skills are required for the job and is therefore an intentional shift we need to see within our work.

V: Vision

A lot of the time I get burnt out I could probably put it down to taking my eyes off the vision. Vision keeps us focused on the task at hand, without it we stray into doing a hundred other things that need doing. Vision helps us to say no, vision helps us to celebrate, vision gives us a sense of purpose and ownership over our ministry. I have found that spending time forming a clear and concise strategy (& involving others in the process- see next point) has helped us to measure success (see point 2), we haven’t felt bad about turning down opportunities that don’t fit with it and it gives us something solid to reflect on (see point 3). Get out those post-it notes with your team and leaders and decide – what does youth work look like in your context?

I: Innovate & Collaborate

The church still talks a lot about training leaders, yet this factors very low in what young people are looking for in a church. Young people are suspicious of leaders and instead look to collaboration. Big companies such as GOOGLE have become experts at collaborative process that involve entire teams in innovation. The result of such processes is that the whole team is able to take ownership over an idea and are each able to use their skills and creativity within the development.

In my context we have adopted YouthScapes formula for innovation which starts with teams identifying opportunities, suggesting ideas, developing these together, piloting and finally evaluating. We are also adopting GOOGLE’s 5 day sprints, running these with youth team and young people 2-3 times a year to problem solve and create.

Innovation done in collaboration counters the standard way of working done in isolation in an office, it empowers others and arguably leads to a higher level of creativity. Find a way to do this! – We have now sectioned off a corner in our church lounge, called it “the lab” and stuck a whiteboard in there to intentionally create a space and a culture where innovation done in collaboration is the norm.


Live your life! The statistics above demonstrate the all consuming nature of youth work, it seems that we are unable to switch off, we are not making any friends and its likely we are a classified workaholic (90%!!). We have to stop and ask ourselves, what good are we in this state? Making the shifts described above means we should be able to get home after work satisfied and therefore able to switch off. If not, find ways to help you do this – I have found  splitting my day into three sections (morning, afternoon and evening) and limiting myself to working only two out of the three really helps me to stick to my hours. I have learnt that the unique flexibility in youth work is a real gift which gives us opportunities that regular 9-5 jobs don’t to socialise and plan fun things into our schedule. It is worth spending half an hour at the beginning of each week planing our time, blocking out space for some of the shifts above (prayer, innovation and reflection) and ensuring we have time to live.

E – Enjoy being a youth worker

Remember why you got into this! Young people are primed for learning, they are creative, fun and looking for an adventure to give their life too. Those who make and continue a faith commitment before the age of 21 are likely to continue it into adulthood. This is important work, we are on the frontline of planting heathy churches. And let’s be honest, the job has its perks, this summer I get to spend a day paid watching Marvel movies and eating popcorn with a group of teenagers.


Remember to let me know your tips for beating burn out below…

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