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Sep 16

5 simple truths of time management for youth workers

I was in a mentor meeting recently with a wonderful, young youth worker and we fell upon the common subject of time management. He is creating a lively youth ministry, but at the cost that he has very little free time, can often be found sending emails into the early hours, and often finds himself working on his one day off in the week. This is such a common conversation for me. From both sides of the table.

timeI can remember being a young youth pastor, full of hope and expectation; aware of so much that I wanted to achieve, and to be part of all that God was doing in our community. It’s an exciting place to be. It also becomes quickly an exhausting place to be. I had to realise that God is doing more in my community than I could be a part of, and that’s a good thing! What I had to do was to discern which parts he did want me to be involved in, and to stay well clear of those he didn’t.

As I was chatting in our mentor meeting, we started to talk through various truths about using our time wisely, which no one will tell us, but all make sense and can benefit enormously if we take them seriously.

Since our meeting, I have reflected on how often I have this conversation with those I mentor. The reality is those who work in youth ministry are usually people who are activist by nature; they have high drive and are bounding with energy. Self leadership can be the hardest task, and is often overlooked. And the reality is that most people in the church won’t understand if you say you are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. The simple truth is that if you haven’t worked for a church, it is impossible to understand the conflicting thoughts you have, the weight of pastoral ministry, the importance of having time off from church. It is so confusing that I came up with 5 simple truths of time management to help those in full time youth ministry.

1. You cannot do everything (You are not the Saviour)

Saviour mentality is a recognised condition of leadership. The desire to meet everyone’s demands, to be the solution to every problem. But the reality is that you can’t be and, if you try, you will eventually burn out. Jesus is the Saviour and we need to point people towards him, not to confuse ourselves with Him. We need to take time to ask of God, our church and ourselves, what is it that we are supposed to be doing. What have we been asked to do? What is it we want to do? How can we do it without overworking? You cannot do everything so choose wisely what you will do, otherwise your health and your relationships will start to suffer the consequences.

2. You cannot live by other people’s expectations

This is especially true for leaders in a new role. There is a desire to please, to prove our worthiness of the (often) sacrificial giving of the church to fund our position. We, therefore, start to do whatever we think people might expect of us. I say, ‘we think’ because often the expectations are never voiced, but we imagine that people must be thinking them.

For example, the personal prayer life of the leader can often be the first to suffer when someone enters youth ministry. They are more concerned with achieving and doing, than spending time at the Father’s feet. I have been told that people want them to do something, to make a difference so they get on. My retort is always that I don’t believe there is anyone in their church who doesn’t expect them to pray about what they are doing, to spend time with Jesus and to be fuelled for whatever he is asking them to do.

On the other hand, sometimes people can have very unrealistic expectations. They expect youth workers to be these charismatic, people-magnets, who magically transform the whole life of the church by making dozens of young people appear, fully mature in Christ and impacting their community. Believe me, these extremes are not far off from the truth often. If a youth worker lives with these expectations, and the belief that they have to deliver on these, then they will not last in the role very long. They will soon discover that they cannot achieve it all, and will end up leaving: either by burning out and quitting on medical grounds, or by resigning due to feeling that they are not adequately equipped for the post.

3. You will function better when you rest well (the Sabbath isn’t just a good idea)

This is a hard one because youth workers tend to work on a Sunday, when most other people are resting. The leader just needs to find another day when they can take a Sabbath day. This is one of the ten commandments, so we should be encouraging all our church leaders to ensure they take this time.

Rest is so important because it reconnects us: with God, with those close to us, with ourselves. It gives us space to remember what is important, to reflect on life, to pray and to worship. It gives us the energy and motivation to keep going. Take these days away and we soon lose all of that.

The temptation can be to believe that everyone else in the church works in a full time job and then gives voluntarily hours to serve the church in various ways, so we should be expected to work on our day off, as they serve on theirs. I understand, to a certain extent, the logic of this but I believe it is very dangerous thinking.

For starters, there is truth in the expression ‘a change is as good as a rest’. So the church member who works Monday to Friday as an accountant, and then serves on the church leadership team, is doing something so different that they feel refreshed.

I do think that church staff should serve voluntarily in their church as well as do their job. So it might be that the youth pastor is employed for 40 hours per week. I think it could then be expected that they serve voluntarily for a few hours each week, perhaps on the worship team, or in some other capacity. If we treat all we do at church as our profession, we can get into dangerous territory.

What is certain, is that rest is not optional. We need good, regular sleep, and regular time off. One day is essential, two days would be better. I believe it is important for everyone to have two days off a week because you then can use one day to do all your personal chores (shopping, cleaning, pay the bills etc) and then one day for real Sabbath rest.

4. Knowing where your time goes helps you to use it more wisely

As I chatted with my mentee, we discovered that he was spending 27 hours (out of a theoretical total of 35) every week on fixed meetings and appointments. When we added them up it was no wonder he was feeling exhausted! That only left 8 hours to prepare for the meetings and youth sessions, to meet with young people individually and to invest in his team. Impossible!

I’ve lived like this. I find myself with lots of evening commitments, and yet think nothing of starting the day at 9am, feeling that was the expectation of others on me. But to work from 9am-10pm, with little reprieve, is a one-way ticket to exhaustion.

It reminded me of my wise training I received when I was studying with Oasis College: break each day into three sections (morning, afternoon, evening) and work for two blocks only. So if you are working an evening, either take the morning or afternoon off. Easy in theory but hard in practice, simple because we think other people will think less of us. But if we do actually live by this, we will have more energy and more passion and so will be more effective in what we do. Stop doing too much!

5. Living on purpose is more rewarding than living with the flow

Finally, you need to know what you are really trying to do. Sit down with a weekly calendar and schedule in all you have to do. What meetings and appointments do you have this coming week? Put them in. What do you need to prepare? What paperwork do you have to do? Timetable these in too. Block out time to pray, to read your Bible, to have fun, to exercise, to shop. Then live your week as close to your plan as you can. It will never be identical, but living with a plan will more likely help you to be more effective.

Self time management is so difficult as we feel that we should always be doing more. If we are struggling, the temptation is to work longer rather than sharper. It is unlikely that someone is going to tell us to ease up, so we keep on going. But if we want to see longevity in our youth ministry, it is an essential skill to master. If you can’t do this alone, find someone to be accountable to; show them this blog post and work through it together. I promise you it will make your life more fulfilling.