Thanks to Josh for letting me guest blog on MTDB. I had to have him stare at a picture of Obi-Wan Kenobi saying, “These are not the droids you are looking for” to convince him. And it worked.

This can be a difficult time of year in youth ministry, especially for us northerners. Discouragement runs rampant like gossip among cheerleaders. And we question whether we’re in the right place. Pizza delivery jobs look attractive – and definitely less stressful. The reality is that youth ministry has a devious way of pressing us to the point where we feel frayed and spent — and we just want someone to clean up the mess in aisle ‘us’.

I want to say one thing: Stay Encouraged. What you do in youth ministry is important. I get to see the results of your work – and it matters. So, hang in there.

In my work with leaders, I’ve noticed five practices that help cure the ministry blahs. They aren’t anything you probably haven’t considered before, but that doesn’t mean they’re ineffective. So, here’s my prescription to cure the ministry blahs. And, hey, I am a doctor.

1. Take your temperature: Watch your reactions – especially when things don’t go your way. Do you get angry? Fearful/insecure? Depressed? Lonely? These emotions are the canaries in the cave to let you know something’s wrong ahead. Anger is most common and, unfortunately, most of us are unaware of how we respond to others. Pay attention to how you react and learn why you feel that way. Those feelings could be telling you something.

2. Develop a non-digital hobby — this one may seem weird, but it’s one of my new recommendations to leaders. And it helps. Most healthy leaders I see have a hobby where they work with their hands or get outdoors. It can be fishing, sailing, gardening, biking, golf, tennis, woodworking, bird watching, weight lifting – or even dodgeball. I’ve seen dramatic changes among hard-driving pastors — changes that their staff and family appreciate. And, no, scrap-booking doesn’t count.

3. Get away on a non-digital retreat – as I blogged a few weeks ago, the social media world draws us in and demands more and more. It’s never done. Take a two-day retreat from all of your screens and from consumerism’s “discontentedness”. Create some margins in your life — get acquainted with a good book, your spouse, and the outdoors.

4. Renew your first love — Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day (and I hope you’ve done well to celebrate). I’ve discovered that I need to renew my love for Jesus — to remind myself of what he’s done in my life and of his call on my life. When I’m in the blah’s, I’ve often forgotten the “to serve” element of youth ministry (Mark 10:35-45) and made it about me. So, I’ll do whatever it takes to renew my relationship with Christ and quit being so self-focused.

5. Take intentional ministry steps. Pick five students you don’t know well to invest in for the remainder of the school year. It’s easy to figure out how to coast until the end of the school year and just manage. However, developing an intentional and relationally intensive ministry to five new teens will remind us of why we entered youth ministry in the first place — to personally make a difference in the life of youth. Some of my greatest youth ministry ‘successes’ with students came during these February/March efforts.

If you tried any of these (and they helped), I’d love to hear about it. You can let me know at terrylinhart.com. And stay encouraged. What you do in youth ministry matters!

Terry Linhart is co-editor of the forthcoming book, GLOBAL YOUTH MINISTRY, and author of the popular TALKSHEETS: LIFE OF CHRIST series.

One of the best things about the bosses I’ve had in 15 years of youth ministry is that they don’t look over my shoulder. They’re careful to weigh in on the important stuff, cast vision, defend and jump in only when necessary. That’s the best! I function best when I’m believed in and given tons of freedom to dream and deliver. Get too much in my way and I won’t feel believed in, trusted or even like I’m really leading at all.

The problem with empowerment and freedom is that it is often accompanied by loneliness. When someone says “you’ve got permission”, “your call” or “run with it” and then walks away, I’m initially super thankful – the last thing I want is a senior pastor or a supervisor that is too hands on. But the freedom you first enjoy can turn ugly when I start to feel alone. I get lost in my head and start to feel under-appreciated and undervalued. Sometimes it goes the other way and I wrongly feel arrogant or prideful. Either way, I’m not in a good place.

An adjustment I want to make to help correct this is to keep my leaders in the loop and know that they continue to trust me with leadership, but at the same time fight for non task-specific relational time with them. I’m going to be more proactive with asking for coffee and connecting in and out of the church office. I’m not going to let myself fall into the sad trap of feeling alone, siloed or isolated.

What’s interesting is that as I realize I feel this way about my bosses, I want to be sure I’m the kind of leader that lives this out toward those under my responsibility as a boss myself. I want to be a leader that is generous with responsibility and continually giving significant leadership away, but at the same time making sure I cheer on my team, share life, hang out, fight for time and coach/train when we fall short. I want to make sure I’m modeling what it means to give leadership away and being a good leader to my team at the same time. It would crush me for them to think they are trusted with responsibilities and not trusted with my time.

“Fire and forget” leadership is cheap and can be used to disguise just dumping responsibilities instead of developing genuine leadership in someone else. Good leadership gives away tasks and responsibilities and grants freedom, but great leadership gives tasks and responsibilities away then journeys with that person to make them an indispensable part of the team.

JG