Reflections about overwhelmed Youth Pastors


December 7, 2012 by eimrick

A teen is cutting herself. They’ve entrusted you and you only with this information. You promise to text them every day for accountability. You tell them to call you day or night. It’s the reasonable thing to do, right? You’re a trusted pastor and you want to help. They begin to take you up on this gracious invitation. You feel good.

Another teen entrusts his struggle with pornography; “I haven’t even told my parents”, they say. You hook them up with xxxchurch and begin receiveing daily emails regarding their internet activity. You promise to stay on top of them. “Text me or call me whenever you feel vulnerable. I want to be an encouragement to you.”

You can not be everything to everyone. And this approach to ministry is not a healthy sustainable one.

If you have a youth group of only these two students, you have now got a full time job. Problem is, you now have little margin in your life for influencing other students for Christ. You’re exhausted, feeling pressure to grow the youth group, and you know your pastor is wondering how they can justify a salary for what you do. The students are not changing and you have no idea how to really help them find new life in Christ.

You feel stuck. You feel overwhelmed. The peace you’re promising to students isn’t alive in you. The biblical answers you are giving to the teens feel cliche and hackneyed. You don’t even really believe them yourself.

This is NOT what you had in mind when you became a youth pastor.

What do you do?

Twelve years ago, this was me. Here were some of the issues that were going on in my own heart that I needed to repent from (and still often do). These issues might resonate with you and maybe not, but I’ll share honestly (in no particular order) a few of the things I was struggling with.

1. I believed I was more important than God, but didn’t realize it.
Before you skip over this one, think about it for a moment. I was running myself ragged because I wanted to be needed.
I wanted to be their Savior rather than pointing them to a real Savior.

2. I was struggling with loneliness.
I was trying to understand the issues of students, but no one understood me. I filled my time helping others to cover
up the sin that was in my own heart.

3. I began to believe the lie that Pastors have to have it all together.
I have to be altruistic, right? I’m not allowed to let others know that I had struggles. What kind of role model would
I be for others if they knew that I struggled with much of the same things these kids struggled with?

4. I felt inadequate to do anything else.
Youth ministry HAS to work out. What if it doesn’t? Feelings of failure, whether or not I’d be able to provide,
whether I was even good at anything at all flooded my heart and mind.

Leader, this is not the end for you. Maybe you’re in your early twenties and all you’ve felt is shattered dreams. Maybe you’ve been in ministry for 20 years and have somehow figured out a way to mask all of this. You read blog posts of other pastors who are so successful, but don’t buy into that lie. You are not alone. I’ve been there. I can easily get there at any moment.

God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.

Here’s my advice to you.

1. Find another pastor or friend in the area and share openly and honestly the struggle that you’re having.
2. Sit in your loneliness. God might have something for you to learn about Him and yourself.
3. Understand that Pastors who have it all together are deceiving themselves and are full of pride.
4. Believe that God has a plan and that your “failures” may actually be God’s refining purposes in your life.

I’m sorry that you are struggling. I’m sorry that you’ve bought the lie that you can change the world by creativity, cool slogans and fancy twitter names. Faithful, fruitful ministry that has a sustained longevity actually has nothing to do with any of that.

Lifeway states that 70% of “first time youth pastors” have an experience like the one we’re describing and burn out within 3 years of ministry. 50% of them never return. If you’re a youth pastor who responates with this post and has been in ministry 15 years and can befriend a new bible college graduate, please do so. If you’re one of the guys really struggling as described in this post, please don’t think you can figure it all out on your own.


10 thoughts on “Reflections about overwhelmed Youth Pastors

  1. Rick Duncan says:

    Thanks, Rick. Someone once taught me that as pastors we are responsible to our people, not responsible for our people. We are simple under shepherds and are commissioned to point them to the Good Shepherd. We will fail the people, but we serve the One who will never fail them. So, the pressure is off us. But maintaining this perspective is tough. We tend so easily to get our sense of worth and value from being needed. I must remind myself that Christ is all in all – not only for those to whom I minister, but to me, too! I am glad you are blogging!

  2. eimrick says:

    Thanks, Rick. What you shared in that paragraph is great insight and should be read by all newbies in ministry. It’d save a lot of struggle if we all really believed that.

  3. Kate says:

    It’s easy for ministry to become your identity. It’s not. Redeemed image bearer child of God is your identity. Ministry is your mission.

  4. Mel Walker says:

    Great post, Rick. Exaclty right. We must guard our own walk with God before we can truly help others in their walk with God. Thanks for sharing this excellent reminder. Blessings.

  5. Michael Misja says:

    Rick-thanks for your thoughts. Sometimes we forget that we play a role, sometimes very small, in a person’s journey. We think that because we are asked for help we need to play the featured starring role-that’s when our “stuff” really gets in the way. It is God who is at work. He has many ways of reaching those in need. When we think we are the essential piece in someone’s healing, burnout is right around the corner. I appreciate your honesty about your journey. You give hope.

    • eimrick says:

      Thanks for your insight. I’ve found in the past when I tried to play the “starring role” in someone’s life, I would get in the way of what God was doing. May God continue to show all of us who are caregivers, mercy.

  6. Jess says:

    My youth pastor did this. I lived with him and his wife kuz my family and me in general was messed up as heck. Boundaries were over-stepped in him trying to ‘save’ me and we ended up in an affair and now hes lieing about it saying I’m a slut and came onto him when he kissed me first when I least expected it. I had to leave my home town and all my friends turned their backs on me and started making up random stories. Can’t bring myself to darken the door of a church or even listen to a podcast again. People throw you away without even a second glance in those places.

    • eimrick says:

      Jess-I don’t think I know you, but it sounds like you’ve been really hurt and wounded by people in the church. I don’t know your situation any more than you wrote, but I’m so sorry. It’s obvious that you’re in a lot of pain right now. I know it’s a risk to do, but I’d encourage you to sit down with a Christian counselor at your new location and talk openly about the scenario and see if you can get more specific encouragement. What happened to you is wrong and the way you’re being treated is definitely wrong. I’d like to see if any women on here would have specific encouragement for you as well. Is there anything else you’d want to share on here?

    • Kate says:

      Jess–My name is Kate and I work with a church in Ohio. What you have been through breaks my heart. And I’m even more broken as to how often things like that happen in and out of the church. I know dozens of hurting and abused girls. It’s terrible. But don’t blame God or the church. Don’t believe that all churches are bad because a man messed up and did something evil to you. That is not what Christians do. The church is a place where people are supposed to be loved and justice is supposed to be given. I’m so sorry that you were hurt by this person. Please feel free to contact me

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