youth ministry

The Emotionally Healthy Youth Pastor

For the past 2.5 years my job has shifted from being a youth pastor to being a cheerleader, encourager, and fan of youth workers around the country.

And, not surprisingly, I’ve bumped into a lot of youth workers with a shared story. Careers flopping. Getting fired. Financial struggles. And marriages crumbing.

As you’d expect during a down economy (mixed with a season of re-thinking ministry strategies) there are a whole lot of people in full-time youth ministry who aren’t emotionally healthy.

But I’ve also gotten to know some pretty happy and satisfied youth workers. They face the exact same struggles in youth ministry but they seem to have figured out how to manage it. (For lack of a better term)

Rather than share what I think some of the problems are… I thought it would be more useful to share a couple of things that I see, universally, that emotionally healthy youth pastors have.

Two hallmarks of an emotionally healthy youth pastor

  1. Low ownership of the youth ministry program. They tend to have Sunday school (even if they don’t teach it) and a mid-week program with some events/camps/retreats along the way. They seem less focused on being on the leading edge and more focused on doing what they are good at. They see their role as the leader of the program more than they define themselves as the leader of the program. It’s a profession and they can turn it on and turn it off. It’s not a “it’s just a job” mentality. It’s bigger than that as its a healthy acceptance of their role in students lives.
  2. Belonging to adult community. This is the bigger of the two. We are made for community. Healthy youth workers have more than just a couple of friends they see occasionally. They have community. They have a group of people in their life that don’t see them as the youth pastor but as just another knucklehead in a group of friends. This is being a part of a softball league or a fellowship of star trek geeks or even joining a small group from a church across town.

The interesting thing about these two hallmarks is that they are completely within the control of the youth pastor. These are things you can actually do and change relatively easily. You don’t even have to tell anyone. You don’t have to preach about it. You can just do it.

If you are starting to feel like youth ministry isn’t for you. Or if you are thinking that you aren’t really built to do this for the long haul. I’d suggest looking at these two things, first.

Church Leadership

Ministers Need Friends

Photo by LabyrinthX via Flickr
Photo by LabyrinthX via Flickr

This may come as a shock to people who go to church– but being a church leader is a very lonely job. Sure, if you work in a church with a large staff it probably isn’t that lonely since you have co-workers who can become friends. But by-and-large, friends are hard to come by for ministers.

Loneliness is a major issue for church staff.


  1. It’s hard to be friends with parishioners. Kristen and I have been fortunate in this regard, but by-and-large it is really hard to truly be friends with people in your church. You can be acquaintances, but you’ll never get to the point where you can go out for a laugh (or a beer) and lament about work sucking. (or just share “real life.” You have to be guarded.)
  2. It’s hard to find people wired like you. Even in large cities, there aren’t many people wired quite like a pastor.
  3. It’s hard to be friends since work hours are weird. I’ve not met a person who worked in a church who kept 9-5 type hours. It’s always that plus a bunch of nights out… randomly scattered. Makes it tough to be friends.
  4. It’s hard to have a life outside of the four walls of a church. The reason so much is said and written about balance and rest for church workers is that they suck at balance and resting! The job is just too demanding.


  1. Understand that this isn’t optional. For your long-term health as a minister in the community, you require friendships. (Not church acquaintances) You require true friendship outside of the church, in your local community.
  2. Seek permission from your supervisors. This sounds like a silly step, but you may need to hear “get a life” from your boss or board to make this a reality. If they’ve been a leader in the church for a while they will know that if you have good friendships locally you are more likely to stay in the community a lot longer. But if you are lonely, you will be a poor leader and in your boredom you’ll start looking for a job elsewhere.
  3. You aren’t in ____, so get over it. I know you are probably from somewhere you liked better. And you have friends who are in those places. That’s not helping you. Get over it and get to know some people in your community. God planted you where you are, He is smarter than you are, you need to suck it up and make friends.
  4. Do something outside the church. How did I make friends when I was in full-time church ministry? I volunteered to coach the golf team, I joined a golf league, a started participating in local politics. I wasn’t looking for 1,000 friends, just a few people who didn’t go to my church that I could be “just Adam” with and not “Pastor Adam.”
  5. Meet up with your long-time best friends once per year. Meet up at a conference, go away hunting, go on vacation together, go visit them for the Holidays… just do something where for a few days you can be with your long-time friends.