Early in my youth ministry career, I used to get a little guilty as I drove off for a couple hours of surfing in the morning. On the way to the beach I would pass all the suited up businessmen, harried moms with school kids in the van, and everybody else who lived a “normal” life. I’d paddled out to sit in the line up with waiters, beach bums, retired old guys and a few guys supposedly on disability leave.
You see, my day started much later than most people’s and came to a fever pitch once the end-of-school bell rang. Dragging into the house at 10pm or later was common many days of the week. Most of the other guys on the church staff showed up to their desk around 8:30 in the morning. I stumbled in after lunch, maybe — unless I was running around with a pack of kids.
Going surfing in the morning was — and still is — a way that I balance my life. So, I don’t feel guilty anymore. The idea of sitting down to a nice relaxing family meal five or six nights a week was foreign to me. The more common scenario was to horse down something quick, kiss the kids goodnight (’cause I wasn’t going to tuck them into bed) and bolting for the door. And this was on the lucky nights when I wasn’t out on the road picking up kids.
But, I was there at lunch. Even when they went to school, I could show up and have lunch with my kids. Not too many other dads could pull that one off.
I worked hard and put in lots of hours when students were available; I made up for all those hours when students were in seasons where they were busy. Even to this day, I barely work almost the whole month of December. My kids think this is normal. This is just the balance of family and ministry.
Doing youth work well is all about balancing the various things in life and ministry. In fact, I’ve found that, because of all the various elements that most youth workers must deal with, the ability to handle the spinning plate balancing act without losing any of the fine china is often the difference between burning out of youth ministry and having a nice long run.
- It is about balancing wife, kids, and ministry.
- It is about balancing the need to have a private adult life with the public mania that comes with knowing every kid in the mall.
- It is about going after the unwashed kids in the neighborhood without losing the church kids.
- It is about loving and serving the geeks as well as the jocks.
- It is about having the cutting edge renegade sassiness that brings fun to the church community and at the same time being able to carry on a meaningful conversation with Mrs. Methuselah.
- It is about knowing when to control the kids and when to let them go nuts.
- It is about figuring out how much abuse one should expect the church van to suffer, and when to strap all the kids onto the roof rack.
- It is about being able to have fun, and to have impact.
- It is about knowing what about your ministry to tell the congregation and what to keep quiet about. (Wiping the four letter words written in shaving cream off the bathroom mirror would be one of those adventures not worth mentioning.)
- It is about having to be tough and loving at the same time.
- It is about having the trust of the kids, but being an advocate of the parents as well.
Balance is not always easy. We often let the demands of the squeaky wheel, the whims of our emotions, or unrealistic expectations tilt us. Balance means learning to say “No.” “No, I won’t take on the college-age class as well as the youth ministry.” “No, we won’t be coming to Saturday morning mens prayer breakfast because we will be playing paintball with a bunch of ruffians.”
Balance also means learning to say “Yes!” “Yes, I think we can find a night to be part of a small group even if it means I will be out five of seven nights most weeks.” “Yes, I will try to find some high school girls to babysit for the women’s ministry — and yes, I will ask them to ‘do it as unto the Lord’.” (But I hope the Lord is planning on at least tipping them.)
Dig in your heels and refuse to meet in the middle. Go overboard on one thing or another while neglecting other vital areas of youth ministry and you won’t last long. But learn balance, negotiation, the art of win/win, and the skill of an ecclesiastical shortstop — and my guess is that your career in youth ministry will not only be long and fruitful, you will enjoy the heck out of it.