Youth leaders face a ton of pressure. Unrealistic parental expectations, teen apathy, stressed marriages, low pay, overpacked schedules and under-appreciated efforts are all contributors to youth leader burnout. According to The State of Youth Ministry Report commissioned by Youth Specialties, the average youth leader stays in their position for 3 years.
Over the last 25+ years of equipping teenagers to share their faith through Dare 2 Share I have met countless youth leaders who were on the brink of burn out. During these times my role has had to switch from evangelist/trainer/preacher to counselor/shepherd/friend with my hurting brothers and sisters in Christ.
My heart breaks for youth leaders close to being burnt out. Most of them love God passionately and love teens deeply but their frustrations and disillusionments have begun to boil over in their souls in visceral and painful ways.
Of course there are many factors in youth leader burnout but, after talking to thousands of youth leaders over the years, I’m convinced there is one overarching reason. It’s simply this… most youth leaders, down deep inside, are not convinced they are making a lasting difference in the lives of the teenagers they are ministering to on a weekly basis.
There is a gnawing feeling in the center of their soul that whispers to these youth leaders that they’re not really making the spiritual impact they thought they were. This whisper is bolstered by the statistics that say the majority of teenagers who currently go to youth group will bag their faith after they graduate from high school.
How discouraging is that? You pour your life into a group of teens, do your best to teach them the latest curriculum, relentlessly encourage and counsel them, teach them week after week in youth group and small group and Sunday school and, after all of this, most of them will check out spiritually after they leave high school!
So what’s the answer? I’m convinced we need a new model of ministry (that’s really not all that new after all) that will give us the sense of impact we are all longing for as we minister to young people. Teenagers need to be called to something more significant than just showing up to youth group every Wednesday night. They need to be invited to join a movement of Gospel Advancing, disciple-multiplying activists who are unleashed into their schools to reach their peers with the hope that only Jesus can offer.
This sort of youth group environment will not only increase the spiritual impact you are making with your teenagers, but it will give you a sense of legacy. This will lead to a growing confidence that you are really making a difference in the lives of your teenagers and will increase your longevity and decrease your chances of burnout.
In the movie The Water Boy, Adam Sandler’s character, Bobby Boucher (pronounced “boo-shay“), moves from a not-so-bright water boy to a one-of-a-kind defensive player who can tackle the biggest and baddest opponents. All this happens when Bobby finds his “tackling fuel.” To help him do this his coach has him picture all of the people who have hurt him over the years and then take out his boiling fury on the other player. This mental exercise transforms him from a mild-mannered water boy to a rage-fueled tackling machine.
When you make your “tackling fuel” a Holy Spirit inspired passion to make and multiply young disciples you transform from a typical youth leader to a supernaturally charged one. Imagine every lost teen in your community having every last chance to hear the Gospel through a Christian teen you’ve helped to equip. Choose to Gospelize Your Youth Ministry by applying 7 values in the book of Acts. Marinate these values into the meat and muscle of your youth ministry and relentlessly pray for God’s divine power to tackle the huge vision of seeing your community transformed through an army of teenagers.
This will give you the tackling fuel you need to fight through every problem and push through any discouragement. Yes, there will still be long days, hard times, unrealistic expectations and, most likely, low pay. But the excitement that erupts from seeing lives changed and souls saved will give you all the tackling fuel you need to keep on keeping on in the power of the Holy Spirit.