In a nearby coffee shop, a pastor told Kim*, a youth minister, that he hoped she enjoyed her “summer break.” Kim promptly pulled out her phone and texted her outrage at such a comment to Sam*, another youth minister. Sam replied that a church member recently said to him that summer must be so much fun “since all you do is go to camp.”
Before you make the mistake of saying something like this to a youth worker like Kim or Sam, I want to give you a look at their summer plans.
Kim’s summer is made up primarily of the eight weeks from the beginning of June to the last week of July. During these eight weeks, she has three trips planned: two mission trips (one senior high and one junior high) and a trip to camp. Summer trips are chosen months in advance and a great deal of prep work goes into registration, recruiting, and planning before summer arrives.
But for every trip Kim goes on, there is prep work that is usually equivalent to the same number of days everyone will be gone. For all three trips, she has supplies to buy, vans to pick up, calls to make to confirm reservations, stuff to pack, rooming lists to finalize, and then a leader calls to say he or she can’t go—and this will likely happen for each trip. There is nothing more stressful than having a leader drop out a few weeks (or days) before the trip. It is very difficult to find someone who can take time off to participate with short notice. But at least one adult will drop off some trip during the summer. Then there are youth who drop off the list as well as those who, despite knowing about the trip for nine months, decide two days prior that they have to go, too. Most youth ministers are tired when they get on the bus to leave for the trip.
While on each trip, Kim is responsible for 15 to 25 youth. (If you’re a parent, pause and think about the challenges of being responsible for just your own teenagers for a moment, then multiple that by 15.) Kim will work hard all day on the work sites or leading camps. Then she will deal with stressful issues from homesickness to rule breaking. She will lead worship by the power of the Holy Spirit because she couldn’t do it any other way. She will stay up late trying to get everyone to bed and then get up five hours later to make sure everyone else gets up and gets ready for the day.
When Kim comes home, she is physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted. And then no one helps her unload the van! If you love and appreciate your youth minister, please show up on time to pick your kids up after a trip, thank him or her for taking your kids and bringing them home safely, and then show your appreciation by helping the exhausted youth minister unload all the stuff and clean the vans before you leave! Youth ministers want to go home and relax, too.
You would think pool parties, amusement park trips, lake days, ultimate Frisbee at the park and all the other summer activities would be fun for Sam. Those activities are fun, but they, too, take a lot of work. Riding roller coasters with your youth can be fun. Standing with them in line provides valuable time to talk with them about everything from Harry Potter to their faith. Going skiing at the lake or swimming with them can be loads of fun as well, but always keep in mind that Sam is carrying the responsibility of taking care of the group. If you have ever been in charge of a group of teenagers, you know how draining this can be.
Sam will make sure that some form of devotional time or Bible Study continues throughout the summer. The struggle here is not preparation but disappointment. Poolside parables and breakfast devotionals simply do not produce the same number of participants as the regular programing throughout the year. Although Sam knows that numbers will be down, it takes a very mature youth minister to not be a bit frustrated.
Like most youth ministers, Kim and Sam each have a love/hate relationship with the summer. They love all the transformational opportunities that come with mission trips, camps, and retreats. They hate the exhaustion that comes at the end of a long summer just in time for school to start. But for most youth ministers, summer is like a good workout. We are physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted, but it feels good because God has been at work.
So instead of thinking that it is all just fun and games or a nice vacation, please thank youth ministers like Kim and Sam for all their hard work. They love doing it, but they really appreciate when their hard work is acknowledged! Have a great summer and remember to help unload the van!
*Names have been changed.
CYMT is proud to announce the expansion of our original initiative into Theology Together 2.0. CYMT aims to develop a curriculum to be used in local congregations and ministries. Taking what we have learned about engaging youth in deep theological reflection during missional experiences and embedding those processes into congregational youth ministries.
"I hope students come away from my courses with the ability to think more deeply, richly and theologically about their youth ministry practice. I think a lot of what happens in youth ministry happens unreflectively and can be deforming to young people, and my courses are intended to give students a theological framework for evaluating and reforming their youth ministry practice."
Of course, I want students to drink deeply from the academic readings, lectures and discussions, and I want them to be informed by the academics. But more than that, I want them to see that youth ministry is a calling of God, an important part of God’s mission in the world, one that should give them pride and evoke humility at the same time.