Anxiety in Youth Ministry

Over the past several days I’ve started to put words to what I’ve been observing: The tribe of youth ministry is anxious.

2009 has been a ridiculously hard year. Last October when Tony Campolo spoke in Sacramento he said something like… “Church, as we know it today, will collapse with the economy. And we will shake ourselves off and ask, ‘what do we do now?

Prophetic words.

A year later we have to step back and acknowledge that in many ways Tony was right.

  • A down economy has forced tens of thousands of churches to re-evaluate how they spend money. Not a bad thing, but has caused stress at all levels of church staffing.
  • A shifting culture, and the owning of the reality that traditional youth ministry programs are fading in their effectiveness… more stress for youth workers.
  • Time to think, causes that stress to bubble to the surface.
  • The length of time things have been stressful (for some, 2-3 years now) causes this stress to manifest itself.

And the manifestation of what we are all feeling is this anxious elephant in the room at the National Youth Workers Convention. It’s the tears shed as we go to worship. It’s the hunger in conversation. It’s the sleep in the hallways. It’s the lack of eye contact. It’s the nervous laughter.

We are an anxious tribe. We fidget. We wring our hands. We bang our heads against the wall. We wonder what to do with ourselves. We wonder what the future of youth ministry is. We hypothesize. We position ourselves. We take our stress out on others. We blame ourselves. We blame our leaders. We blame our calling. We blame God.

For me… recognizing this tribal anxiety and the disorder that goes with it is 90% of the battle. All of those symptoms in our tribe, I don’t know what to do with them. But anxiety, I know what to do with that.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

6 comments

  1. This is dead on. I’ve noticed I’ve had more issues with anxiety in the last two years than ever. We hear reports that giving is down and wonder who will be the first to go. We often times take the brunt of the congregation’s anxiety- “people arent giving, so it must be the staff,” when, in fact, people arent giving because there’s no money to give. We try to scale back, but we’re still expected to have the incredible programming we had before, so we spend nights awake looking for balance or trying to think of cheap alternatives. As someone who graduated right before the economy mess happened, there have been times where I’ve wondered if this is what i signed up for.

    Then i think of my kids, i think of the ways theyve grown, of the ways their families are fighting too, of this new wave of reliance on God, and I have to believe that there’s a reason for the storm. It’s a refocus on family, a reliance on community, a reestablished connection with humanity. And while the road has been RIDICULOUSLY stressful, sometimes that’s what it takes.

    Thanks for posting this. I appreciate your willingness to go after the things we all hide under the rug.

  2. Exactly. The “we can’t afford staff” talk at businiss meeting and the “we can do it ourselves” mentality is highly frustrating especially when it is clear from the number of damaged and hurting kids coming to youth group seeking answers and love continues to increase, at least in our little church. I’m looking forward to nywc as a time to recharge and reconnect. And hopefully realize that I am not alone inthis struggle.

  3. Hit the nail on the head. Perfect articulation. I think having anxiety is great thing for youth workers. Why? Anxiety calls action. Youth workers have every right to be anxious. Although the question is: what does a youth pastor do with his/her anxious feelings?

    The statement of:
    “A shifting culture, and the owning of the reality that traditional youth ministry programs are fading in their effectiveness… more stress for youth workers.”
    is so true and excites me tremendously. The problem is some youth workers are still in denial and pretending that there brand of YM is working, which means when the church really does collapse they will experience an intense anxiety and anger.

    In my limited assessment, the “youth ministry tribe” is also experiencing anarchy. In a general sense there are two types of youth ministry tribes, namely the progressives (mavericks) and the traditionalist who are really duking it out and blaming each other for their anxiety and the current state of ym. The youth ministry market is wide open and some YPs are fighting to maintain their ground and others are fighting to conquer.

  4. To Jeremy: You said “In a general sense there are two types of youth ministry tribes, namely the progressives (mavericks) and the traditionalist who are really duking it out and blaming each other for their anxiety and the current state of ym.”

    I’m fairly new to youth ministry (about 2 years). Could you explain what these 2 groups look like? What are their characteristics? How are they similar/different in their approaches to ym? Thanks!

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