BY: lhawkins


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. 


Avoiding Burnout

Manage Your Time or It Will Manage You

The Center for Youth Ministry Training supervises lots of young youth workers. One of the components of the program is that each graduate resident receives a veteran youth minister who walks with them during the three years of our program. One of the key ingredients to the coaching program is time management. If you don’t learn to set boundaries around your time, your time will manage you and you will lose your life to the church. It is important for you to learn that you cannot do it all. There will always be more to do. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that you can take a day off or a vacation when you get it all done. You will be more productive at your job if you are rested and physically and mentally healthy. Find a time management program that works for you. CYMT uses the rhythmic week with our students, which forces them to find one full day (three 4-hour blocks) during the week that is down time. The blocks can move around during the week, but they cannot go away! Be sure to share your rhythmic week with your supervisor so they have a clear expectation of when you are working. 


Manage Expectations

CYMT students are supposed to work twenty-five hours a week. Have a conversation with your supervisor to make sure they understand that you are part time. Do not be afraid to advocate for yourself that you will not be working more than twenty-five at least until you finish the program. If they want or expect more after you graduate, they need to pay you more. Be clear about what work you will be able to accomplish within that twenty-five hours. Ask your supervisor what their expectations are and how they plan to help you accommodate for when there are special events such as a retreat coming up. For example; if I have a weekend retreat planned, since I normally don’t work Fridays or Saturdays, I am encouraged and allowed to take a few days off the next week. Be sure to clearly communicate with your supervisor when you plan to take time off to accommodate for over working during retreats etc. Also, be sure to communicate with your community when your days off are and what boundaries they should have when it comes to reaching out to you. Make sure there’s a clear understanding of your hours, payment, and time off allowed written in your job description. This way, if your organization’s starts to demand more responsibilities or time you can direct them back to your job description and what was agreed upon. 


Have a Life Outside of Your Organization

It is essential that not all of your relationships and your spare time are rooted in your organization/church. Relationships and activities outside of your work give you space to reflect and have a healthy perspective on the world and your organization’s role within the world. It’s also personally healthy to have relationships and spaces outside of your organization in order to get a mental and emotional break. Find a friend and a hobby that has nothing to do with work. This will give you joy and bring new life to your soul. It also helps you gain a broader perspective of your community at large. 


Sabbath Accountability 

You aren’t meant to do it all and this is why God commands us to Sabbath. Even Jesus walked away from people he could have healed or helped in order to rest and reset. The most important reason to Sabbath is to keep us in our right place. Youth Ministers tend to have a saviorism complex assuming they can be everyone’s hero. Making time and space for Sabbath is what keeps us humble and reminds us to trust God is in control. Choose a day or a few half days that you will make time to give rest to the weary parts of your soul. Rest looks different for everyone. This may mean you go for a long run, do yoga, bake something, nap, stare at the sky, take a bath, read a book, work in the garden, paint, write a poem, go for coffee with a friend outside of work. Do something that’s restful and rejuvenates your spirit. Invite God into that space and ask the Holy Spirit to be present with you in your rest. Turn off your phone during this time and disconnect so you are not sucked back into the rat race. Invite a friend or coworker to help keep you accountable in making this time a priority. 



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