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Full Time Youth Workers Are Lazy.

Kurt Johnston —  August 27, 2013 — 46 Comments

Lazy
If you, like me, have the privilege of actually getting paid a full-time salary to work with teenagers, you are in a rare category…and you are probably lazy, like me.

Full-timers: Because you work lots and lots of hours every week, you are probably really struggling with my accusation.
Part-timers and volunteers: Because you work lots and lots of hours every week ON TOP of your youth ministry role, you probably have a smug, “it’s about time…” look on your face right now.

Full-timers, indulge me for a minute.

- Do you regularly take 2 full days off each week? Volunteers and Part-timers usually don’t…they are doing youth ministry on their day off.

- Do you get paid for the week you are at Summer camp? Volunteers and Part-timers usually don’t…in fact they often have to use one of their hard-earned vacation weeks to attend camp.

- Did you take an extra day off the week following Camp? Volunteers and Part-timers probably didn’t. They were right back to grind.

- Do you ever roll into work a couple hours late the morning after a big event, or after mid-week because you “worked late”? Volunteers and Part-timers probably aren’t allowed to do that by their other boss.

- Do you ever hang out on facebook, update your fantasty football team or pin something on Pinterest on “church time?”. volunteers and Part-timers could get fired from their jobs for doing the same thing.

- Do you ever go to the dentist, go to your child’s football or soccer practice or take an extended lunch with your spouse on church time without reporting it to HR? Volunteers and Part-timers don’t have that luxury.

I could keep going. But I’ll spare the full-time youth worker community any more embarrassment! I’d be willing to bet that nobody in the full-time youth worker kingdom is “busier” than I am: I lead a team of 20 full-time staff and hundreds of volunteers that minister to thousands of teenagers each week. I serve on our executive team and my boss is Rick Warren. I am expected to give oversight and direction to the youth groups of six regional campuses and prepare for the launch of youth groups in TWELVE international campuses; each in a different country. I blog a little, create a few resources and speak here and there, too.

AND…I get paid for the week of summer camp, take an extra day off (or two) after each camp, roll into work a couple hours late after events that keep me out at night, I update my fantasy team from my office and go to the dentist and attend my son’s sporting events on company time. Benefits that my busy volunteer and part-time friends probably don’t enjoy.

Maybe I’m not “lazy”…and you probably aren’t, either. But I am fortunate, blessed, honored, privileged and overjoyed that God tapped me as one of the lucky ones. Typically I encourage youth workers to avoid the temptation to compare their lives to those around them. But today…and maybe every time you feel a little overwhelmed by your role…take a second to shift your focus from the junk of full-time youth work to the joys; from the pressures to the perks; from the busyness to the blessings.

When I focus on the junk, pressures and busyness of my ministry life I get overwhelmed and whiny.
When I focus on the joys, perks and blessings of my ministry life I want to work even harder at it.

Thoughts? Bring it on!

Kurt Johnston

Kurt Johnston

Posts

Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

46 responses to Full Time Youth Workers Are Lazy.

  1. I agree with you probably 95% on this one. However, volunteers can say no. Volunteers don’t typically do every event. Volunteers are forgiven when they don’t show up or screw up.

    I love my volunteers, but Ive done full time YM long enough to know that volunteers need as much attention as the youth do sometimes too. Ive met plenty of lazy YM in my life too and eventually earn another title, FORMER YM!

    • Kurt Johnston

      Good input, Jay. And I agree with you 97%! What you described is especially true when those volunteers aren’t the “point person” for the ministry and serve alongside a healthy leader who understands their needs.

      It’s the volunteers who are also in charge of the ministry that my heart goes out to…they don’t feel the freedom to miss an event or screw up any more than those of us who get paid. So they carry the leadership burden of their youth ministry AND juggle it with another job.

  2. kudos on this post! Thank you for celebrating the commitment of small group leaders, volunteer youth ministers, and part-time folks (who work like its full time). They deserve recognition.

  3. Excellent post, Kurt, and far too true. Super blessed to be able to get paid to do Full Time Youth Ministry, and hope this post encourages Part-Timers.

    The other thought is that we, as Full Time Youth Pastors, really need to consider our volunteers as Part Time Youth Workers. Is it fair of us to take a chunk out the morning after a big event if our volunteers don’t get to?

    • Kurt Johnston

      Thanks, Ben.
      If push comes to shove, I wouldn’t truly accuse us of being lazy…just easily forgetful of some of the perks we as full-time people have that our volunteer and part-time friends don’t.

  4. Jennifer Miller August 27, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Oh this cracked me up…I do this full time Youth Leader thing and don’t get paid and I’m okay with that. I’m fortunate, blessed, honored, privileged and overjoyed to be able to do what I do and not need to go get a full time job to pay my bills. God makes provisions for us all to be able to do the jobs he calls us to do for him at 100%. And if you are doing your job at 100% I seriously doubt that you are lazy at all.
    Our poor volunteers and Youth leaders that have to work get blessed in other ways. I don’t know of any that complain about spending their vacations at Church camp…I for one would gladly give it up because let’s be honest here…Church camp is just as amazing for us as it is the kids!

  5. Kurt – I’ll be honest and say I was really upset with this article at first glance, but the more I kept reading the more I agreed with you and found myself being more and more thankful for the opportunities that I receive… This will be a good reminder the next time I want to complain about my job. Thanks for being a great encouragement to your fellow youth workers.

    • Kurt Johnston

      I’m not trying to poke at us too much…just hoping to help us focus on the perks instead of the frustrations!

  6. Lazy is a bit misleading, but unappreciative at times for sure. But I do find myself, at times, taking for granted some of the perks of full time ministry. I’ve had the privilege of doing both. It wasn’t until we started having kids that I pursued a position that could pay me. Just not enough time in the week to raise a family, pour your heart into teens, and work a full time job somewhere else. At least not enough time to do them all well.

    • Kurt Johnston

      I agree that it is somewhat misleading, too! But I think we sometimes appear lazy to the folks who are serving alongside us who don’t enjoy the freedoms in their “nine to five” job that we do.

  7. As one of my volunteers pointed out to me when I was feeling particularly exhausted, when they are doing youth ministry they are doing something different than their work week. When Wednesday night rolls around and I’d already put in 40 hours of youth ministry for the week with two days still to go – I had no one to blame but myself.

    My sense is that youth workers need to be disciplined in the usage of their time just like anyone else. They also need not feel guilty for having other interests, and churches need to encourage their involvement in other things that recharge and refresh them. To put in untold hours is negative for them, their family, their church, their successor, and ultimately their ministry. Youth workers aren’t the Savior; Jesus is. Sometimes the way we run our youth ministries seems to say otherwise.

  8. Kurt, great words & guilty as charged! I have been blessed to be a fulltime youth guy since I was 19. After 25 years of doing this, I realize more and more each day how blessed by God I am! Thanks for the reminder!!

  9. Maybe there are a few perks for the full time youth worker BUT very few f/t youth workers work a 40 hour week – more like 60 when you include family crises, kids activities, one on one time with your students, counseling the mom who is single parenting etc, etc, etc.

    I think our youth pastors need as much flexibility in their lives to be able to balance the needs of their students and their own family and personal needs. So what if after a lock in where he/she didn’t sleep they catch a cat nap the next morning. It is better than falling asleep at their desk. I think you were too harsh!

    • Kurt Johnston

      Hi Carol, Thanks for commenting. I couldn’t agree more with the need for us to have flexibility! I think that’s one of the biggest perks about being a full-time youth worker. And, I think it’s fine to catch a cat-nap after a lock in. I just think it’s good to remind ourselves that our volunteers may not have the same level of flexibilty or freedom to cat-nap that we enjoy.

  10. It’s ironic that this post is lazily put together. Bring paid youth workers down to build up volunteer youth workers? I’m sure it seemed like a great “hook” at the time, one that might get you some extra clicks for being somewhat provocative, but it’s damaging. Maybe you get paid to go to the dentist, but I have sick time that I use. We also don’t have comp time for retreat weekends, which while I enjoy, are an extraordinary amount of work. It may be vacation to some, but not to someone leaving their family at home for a week.

    I’m sure your intent wasn’t solely to make full-timers feel guilty, but when you include a line on how embarrassed we should be, what else could your intent be?

    No, instead, you add to the stigma that most people have about a professional youth worker: they get to hang out with kids, don’t do real office work and eat all the time while getting paid. I know it wasn’t your intent, but as a youth worker who has been beaten down by a multitude of unfulfillable expectations and people (pastors, parents, congregation members, etc.) who simply don’t understand all of the intricacies of this profession, this article isn’t exactly uplifting. If anything it gives more fuel for critics. I have enough people that believe I get paid to do nothing and make me feel guilty for it, I don’t need my advocates to do the same.

    I am totally appreciative of volunteer youth workers, and yes, their sacrifice is great. But why make it about who’s sacrifice is greater?

    For the record, I completely understand the point you are trying to make. I just think the execution and thought process was, well, “lazy.”

    • Kurt Johnston

      Dan,
      I’m sorry you’ve been hurt by pastors, parents, congregation members, etc. My intent wasn’t to make anybody feel guilty, but to genuinely provoke those of us lucky enough to do full time ministry to so some self inventory.

      This is the first time I’ve ever been accused of purposely being provocative to get hits on a blog post. I can’t convince you that wasn’t the case so won’t try.

      I hope people do see me as a MASSIVE advocate for youth workers…and that’s the heart behind this post.

      I tend to think that a big reason you have been beaten up is because others in our tribe have created the perception by the way they minister. You have inherited the perception others helped create.

      A blog post challenging our community doesn’t create the negative perception….we (collectively) have done that to ourselves.

      P.S. It is true, isn’t it, that we hang out with kids, don’t do a ton of normal office work and get paid to eat food with others? And that’s part of my point: What a great job!

      • Kurt Johnston

        A better title of the post might have been: “If you are a slacker, you are making life miserable for people like Dan!” :)

        • As an intentionally “lazy” full timer trying to run a marathon in ministry rather than a sprint, I enjoyed the post and the chance to appreciate the unique freedoms my position allows. I didn’t have quite the same intial reaction as Dan, but resonate with some of what he said.

          In particular I agree with what he said about “Why make it about who’s sacrifice is greater?” We’re all part of the same body working in the same field. Since the harvest is plentiful and workers are few, let’s just be thankful for what everyone contributes rather than worrying about what order we come in. God can judge the quality of each person’s work.

          I also get a little uneasy when we start defining the “greatness” of youth workers (FT, PT, or volunteer) based on how busy their schedule is. I imagine Jesus shaking his head with a face palm as if he’s watching the disciples in the Upper Room again. :-)

          Some of us plant, some of water, and in different ways and amounts but God makes it grow. I’d prefer to celebrate the growing God does, even though I love and respect the amazing team of volunteers I get to work with and they are definitely deserving of some positive recognition.

          Just my thoughts. Thanks for the post!

          • Kurt Johnston

            Thanks, Andy.
            I hope I didn’t imply that busy = “great”; that doesn’t resonate with me at all. Or that part-time and volunteer youth workers are somehow better than the rest of us. God uses all of us in different ways, and that is wonderful!

            Maybe this blog post could have been much shorter:

            “Hey you full time youth workers, next time you feel like complaining just hit the pause button long enough to focus on the perks of your job instead of the problems.”

            Or even shorter:

            “Hey full time youth workers…quit whining.”

            ….or something like that.

      • Trying to figure out how you have made it so long without having to put a lot of office hours in lol. My office responsibilities increase each year because I am one of the more experienced ministry leaders on our staff and with that comes more duties within the church that lie outside the parameters of YM.

        • Kurt Johnston

          Jay,
          I do put in a lot of office hours…but they haven’t been “normal” office hours. I’ve written lessons at Starbucks, met with volunteers while watching high school water polo, etc. Another perk: Even how we do our office work is often very flexible.

          But, I’m in all sorts of meetings and I spend lots of time doing all kinds of church leadership stuff inside the walls of our offices every single week.

  11. Kurt. Excellent piece of writing, and so timely in my life. I just took a full time General Manager job in DE at a thrift shop that is blessed with 200 volunteers. This position never used to be paid – but it is 6 days a week, and can be overwhelming – each day with a different day manager, and each day with it’s own set of volunteers. Neither day knows each other, and there is animosity in the ranks. I answered an ad and have found that I have stepped in an arena of volunteers that resent I am being paid for what someone else use to do for free. I am at 50-60 hours a week, including work I bring home, on call on Sundays, and stay late in the evening if I have to. I never complain – I LOVE my work, but have been feeling guilty about taking an hour or two out of a day once a week to try to get something personal done that I can’t on my free (?) time. Plus – I have a 14 year old I still am beholden to to raise. I am in at 8 in the morning, and leave after the store closes at 4. I have been here a month, do not leave and take a lunch hour (I eat on the run around the store or out back taking donations). My one day of rest is biblically on Sunday, and it’s my catchall after church to go to the beach with my son, grocery shop, clean, whatever I don’t get done during the week. After reading your article, I realize I need to be kinder to myself about the flexibility I allow myself to take, because I know I’d work 100 hours a week if I can have some flexibility during the day to take care of my home responsibilities. I, as you stated, also feel SO blessed that God has ‘tapped’ me as one of the lucky ones. “God is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”. I have been a faithful servant, and have gone through my peaks and valleys. This season is definitely a blessing God carved out for this time in my life! I wake up to seagulls, am able to enjoy this INCREDIBLE job at a place where I can use my creativity, be outside 1/2 the day (I feel bronze like Solomon’s love in The Book of Solomon) for the first time in my life. I work EXTREMELY hard, don’t waste a minute, but do allow myself to be creative on what hours I take for myself. I have been blessed with 2 weeks vacation, benefits, and the ability to leave at 2 one every week or so so I can spend time with my son doing something fun. I still am putting in 50 plus hours, but…it’s bearable because of that flexibility. I am blessed – but it’s a blessing I humbly accept because God must think I deserve it. I don’t take advantage, and SO appreciate my volunteers, especially those who aren’t retired and do this on top of other jobs. Thank you for putting in to perspective something I was struggling with this week. This non-profit is run by 18 churches, and they were so appreciative of having me here in this position to try to bring some sort of standards across-the-board (Monday-Saturdays) and act as referee between the days. Who am I to be so deserving? A child of God – who has picked me for this blessing. Thank you God. :)

  12. Really, there is no such thing as a “part time” youth pastor. It’s a 24/7 proposition. I am fortunate that my j-o-b allows flexibility for church stuff, but I will admit to wishing I were full time specifically so I could be “lazy”. As someone else said, it’s hard to balance work, church, (in my case school also), and family and do them all well.

    By all means, Be “lazy” guys. But please don’t take it for granted.

  13. i sent this to our entire volunteer team with the subject line… “Why you’ll all cooler than me.” thanks.

  14. I’m the youth team leader for my church, on a purely voluntary basis. I do feel jealous that others get paid for what I do for free sometimes, but having thought about it I wouldn’t swap my current situation for anything. Having a ‘secular’ job gives me breathing space from church, and a chance to reach the lives of those I would never have met if church was my full time job. And it means I can set my own hours and it encourages delegation which makes building a team so much easier. It also means I can run the ministry exactly how I feel God is telling me it should without the expectations of a contract or people thinking ‘she should be doing x because she gets paid to be where she is’.

    • Kurt Johnston

      Great insight. Thanks for sharing from a volunteer point person’s perspective, Joy!

    • christianprincess August 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm

      I am in a similar position and feel the same way. There are times when a pay check would be nice, but there is a flexibility in choosing your own hours and not being beholden to a contract. I am thankful to have an awesome Senior Pastor who values and sees the need for ministry to our youth that helps them develop their relationships with God and allows them to be integral parts of the community that is our church body. I thank God for the opportunity and am grateful He chose me.

      I also have to agree with an earlier post: there is no such thing as a part-time youth pastor/leader. I thank God for all of us who have answered God’s call to minister to youth and their families, showing them the light of Jesus, especially in some of their darkest moments. Whether you are full-time, part-time, or volunteer, thank you for all that you do.

  15. Just my 2 cents but you’re not “fortunate” or “lucky.” Yes, The Lord chose you, as you said, but He didn’t pick you randomly. I know you know that, so when writing something or in your speaking, I challenge everyone to leave the mysticism and the superstition to those who don’t believe that God has a plan that we are truly blessed by Him to be able to play a part.
    :)

  16. Can I be honest, I hate this post!

    You see I have been working in the Catholic Church for 11+ years and I know my title say youth ministry but that is not all I do… (spent all day fixing the internet for the whole staff.) You see in traditional churches you don’t get the luxury of saying, thats not my ministry. You do what is needed to be done.

    So here is my challenge, go to a traditional church and look at their staff. See how hard they work. yes they get a paycheck but see what they gave up for the title of Church worker.

    i love my volunteers and they are awesome. But don’t tell me I get two days off a week….one day of is nice. yes I took the day after camp off, but I was working 8 days strait before it took place.

    So please stop telling we youth workers are lazy!

    • Yours was the last one I read… You make some points, but i think your missing the point of the article.

      I worked in a tradition church, which i dont really know what that means first of all. I think your saying traditional instead of small, which would the make the early church in Acts not traditional since they were huge… But since they started the tradition of “Church” it really is confusing.

      Further more, at the traditional (small) church i worked at i personally did have a ability to say no. I think of idea that you have to say yes to everything and do whatever for a paycheck is closer to indentured servitude and further from living out your story in balance with Gods story. I would look for leadership that respects your time and not your labor…

  17. Kurt Johnston

    Hi Jeremy…
    Thanks for your honesty. The following part of my post may gone unnoticed:

    “Maybe I’m not “lazy”…and you probably aren’t, either. But I am fortunate, blessed, honored, privileged and overjoyed that God tapped me as one of the lucky ones.”

    A slightly exaggerated title and premise in order to get us to take an honest inventory. You pass! Others have admitted they were challenged by the thoughts…which was the intention.

  18. So I loved this…My wife (full time teacher, and Youth leader for me in Jr. High) loved this too.
    About me, Full time Jr. High Pastor, Large church, I work with a Jr. High Team, we have a bunch multi-generational group of volunteer leaders

    Here are a few reasons why I love this post…

    1. Its True…alot of those apply to me and my people. We just did camp, my leaders were in work on Monday i was sleeping and surfing.
    2. We have the best job on the planet… Not only do we get to serve Jesus.. But we get to do it in a way that allows for wiggle room so we can have fun while doing it… Not to bad.
    3. I have video games in my office, add that to the list, where in the world can you take a group of students out for burgers, go back to the office and play said video games and then bill it all to your employer…Its NUTS right…
    4. This is a good reminder for what my BIGGEST take way is.. Should be yours too.. We need to LOVE our leaders… Feed them well, give them gifts, communicate well, give them opportunities to lead our of their passions. LOVE LEADERS, they do ALOT for no pay, just service to Jesus.

    To conclude with words from my wife….. and keep in mind disagreeing with my wife is not a part of the reality i live in….

    She says ” Kurts right, you do get to cut corners here and there, but when your at work your carrying the spiritual weight of hundreds and hundreds of students and families. Your called to that, im called to volunteer. And if you got a serious phone call at 3am you would leave, that puts you on par with a first responder… wanna know what i would say to a parent from a student in my class room if they called me at 3am, i would say call your kids youth pastor… some of these people need to relax…. ”

    it kinda goes off from there… so there are my thoughts…

  19. We would love to connect with you guys, we often have teams coming out to serve and help out with Disciplemaking in various areas of South Africa. We also have American student who do our Gap year , working in Churches in South Africa among youth in Youth Ministry,

  20. Kurt,
    I too am guilty as charged! Thanks for the reminder that we are blessed! I have been full time now for 7 years and often forget about the PERKS!

  21. Great post, Kurt…and a great reminder. Thanks bro

  22. Kurt,

    Good stuff. Probably true of all pastors on a church staff too, wouldn’t it be?

    TL

  23. I’ve been a businessman and a volunteer leader then volunteer youth pastor while a businessman, and a fulltime paid youth pastor in small, medium and large churches.

    Sounds like what you’re really saying is that yp’s are ungrateful because they take the perks for granted. And if this ungrateful group would be more thankful for their perks things would be better.

  24. WOW!
    First, as a unpaid volunteer for 12 years I want to say thanks to Kurt and others for being appreciative.
    Second, as I read all the responces it is my hope. Or should I say, it is my prayer, that everyone can take a deep breath, count to ten and reread the post out loud. Take a moment to really listen to how it ends.

    • Kurt Johnston

      Shane,
      thanks for all those years of service! It’s highly possible I phrased the “heart” of my post poorly, which is what has struck some people negatively. I think if I would have titled the post, “Full time youth workers are lucky!” or “Full time youth worker have it easy!” or something a little less inflammatory than “lazy” it might have been wise.

  25. Kurt,
    Thank you so much for this. I’ve been an unpaid, volunteer youth leader for nearly 10 years. You described everything committed volunteers who lead ministry go through. I’ve often resented paid youth pastors and questioned their heart because they take days off after trips and events, while I’m right back in the office. YM is my passion and I wouldn’t trade any second, sometimes a little recognition from those fortunate enough to do it for a living goes a long way. Blessings

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