Setting Up Boundaries for the Long Haul

by Samantha Tidball 

I remember wanting to wow the first church I worked for by making big impressive plans! I also didn’t want to let anyone down. Therefore, I often worked more than twenty five hours a week that I was supposed to as a CYMT student. This was easy to do in an area where youth group was what most kids did in this Southern town. It was a tight knit community where nearly all my students went to the same school. Teens and their families showed up eager to participate in whatever I planned and often asked for more. My inflated ego and my fear of disappointing people kept me saying yes to more.  The more we did, the more the youth group thrived. Surely this enthusiasm from my teens and the growth of the youth group meant I was following God’s will! But then why did I feel so empty? 

When I became a Mom for the first time, it was the awakening I needed to finally say no to the demands being placed on me that were never in my job description to begin with. However, this caused tension between a few key leaders who happened to also be parents of youth. Eventually I quit because overworking myself was not sustainable for me, my family, or the church in the long run.  

This truth especially came to the light when I moved to Michigan and worked at a church in a college town. My first year of working there, I planned more events and programs assuming it’s what everyone needed to grow into a close knit community. I quickly realized church wasn’t a priority and neither were the events I planned. My student’s lives were already consumed by activities and academics. I had to reevaluate all the “best” ways I thought I knew how to do ministry. Creating more programs and events was not going to work in this context. I came to two conclusions. 1) I could quit. 2) Or throw all my expectations out the window. I decided instead of coming in with all the answers, I needed to take a listening posture first to God and then to the needs of my community. During those times of prayer, I felt like God was saying to me, “Be faithful with the limited time you have by showing my love to whoever I send your way. It’s not up to you to make anything thrive.” It felt like God was telling me to release my control and come back to the basics of ministry. Be present, be faithful, reflect the love of Jesus, and invite the Holy Spirit to take the lead. This would be enough. 

I can’t tell you this fixed everything or significantly grew the youth group. But I can tell you that I have been doing youth ministry for the long haul now and have grown into a role as Assistant Pastor. Instead of feeling burned out, I feel energized because I have grown in wisdom, faith, and maturity when it comes to establishing boundaries and expectations. It also helps to work for a church where the staff supports and encourages my overall well being.