Overtime Legalism

 —  April 17, 2013 — 10 Comments

Working in youth ministry is an often dynamic and unpredictable work environment and I often find myself wondering how I get paid to do what I do. The events, conferences, cokes and relationships with leaders and students make being a youth pastor incredibly rewarding. One of the challenges of the unpredictable and relational nature of our job is the strange blending of our personal life and work life and knowing where one starts and the others ends can be blurry.

Most youth pastors who are full time work with a schedule of 40 hours a week + or – with expectations of volunteer hours as well pushing most work weeks to the 45 hours or so mark. Before I worked in the Church a 45 hour work week sounded like heaven compared to my 55+ hour schedule.

With the uniqueness of ministry and the blurriness of personal/work time there comes the need to claw back hours worked outside our your normal schedule. That meeting that is unavoidably on your day off, staying well into the evening for an event or overnight for the dreaded lock in, we sometimes go over our hours. There is any number of compelling and reasonable reasons that one could see those and many other activities that are part of the job and request time off in lieu for those extra hours worked. But just a few weeks back I heard about a youth worker who was taking it way too far.

This youth worker was in a constant battle with his Board of Elders about paid time off for extra time worked. This was not the normal every day type stuff, here is what he was asking for:

  • 3 days off for every 1 day he was on retreat with his students (his rationale being that he normally works 8 hours a day, not 24 and thus should be given the other 16 hours including sleeping time off with pay. After all he was not sleeping in his bed) for a total of 9 days off for a three day retreat
  • Half a day off for conversations he had with friends about Church in the past few weeks. (rationale being that due to his work at the Church, he ends up working by talking about “Church” while with his friends)
  • He counts his schedule down the minute making sure that he works his requirement exactly.

I have a great friend at a pretty large church that hosts a massive international conference every year, for the weekend that they host the world it’s all hands on deck. Everyone is serving all weekend and come monday morning everyone is back in the office ready to make it happen. I asked if they were given time off for working the weekend and he said yes, but people that work at the Church are bought into the vision and know that this weekend is core to the mission vision and value. He said they have a culture that being a part of the Church means serving the Church and that if his Pastor gets so much as a sniff of legalism around hours would be watching your taillights leaving the parking lot.

I can understand not giving up every waking hour of your life to the Church but this seems somewhat excessive:

So I have three questions for you:

Where is it appropriate to ask for paid time off for extra hours work?

Have you seen this abused?

We ask our volunteers to give up their time over and above their full time work, how much time should we give? 

-Geoff @geoffcstewart

The Battle To Rest

 —  February 19, 2013 — 3 Comments

A few years back I was training for my third marathon.  The regimen leading up to the big race was grueling.  I had to change my eating, sleeping, and exercise habits.  Sacrifices in family, personal and even professional life were made.  Keeping my training schedule were a priority.  Finally, it got to be a little too much.  I just remember refusing to run one day and then taking a break from the training for an entire 10 days.  When I resumed training I had never felt better.  The rest was well needed.

Youth ministry is a lot like preparing for a marathon.  The days, the weeks and seasons can be grueling.  Sacrifices are made and in the end you can hit a wall much like you do in running.  Unfortunately, taking a break isn’t so easy because you need your job.  While you might be able to take a step back (even away permanently) from a race you need to take the proper steps for REST.

REST as a youth minister means:

  • Enjoying time with family.
  • Spending time with God.
  • Falling back in love with your calling.


There is no question there is more rest can bring; however, being able to find it is a totally different issue.  In order to find rest you need to:

  • Schedule It In: Sounds funny to schedule in rest; however, by putting in breaks you give yourself margin.  During busy seasons you’ll use up that margin; however, when the pace truly slows down you will be able to take advantage of the “extra” time you’ve given yourself.
  • Say “No”: There is a fear that by saying, “No.” you are telling people not to trust you.  In reality you are embracing your limitations which is good.  If you are overworked and have too much on your plate not only will you sacrifice the things you enjoy, but resent what it is you are doing.  Find people to hold you accountable to saying this helpful word.
  • Build Trust In Your Team: You need a team around you who will step up when you need to take a step back.  This allows you to do the things that refresh and rejuvenate you.  To truly trust your team you need to work on situations where you let them take on leadership, and ownership of the youth ministry. It’s ok if they fail and mess up, if you show them love and direction in return.  A team you can trust is one that will help you rest.

Again, youth ministry can have a grueling pace.  If it’s not approached with margin and limitations you’ll find yourself consistently burned out.  Unfortunately, gaining rest isn’t as simple as laying your head down on a pillow, you need to take necessary steps.  A youth minister who can rest, is one that can go the distance.

What steps do you take to find rest?  What sabotages your efforts?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)



How To Grind It Out

 —  February 5, 2013 — 4 Comments

There are those days in youth ministry where it feels like you are running through mud.  They are slow, there is no significant progress and the only thing moving is your blood pressure rising from the frustration you feel.  I can’t tell you when these days will come, they just seem to emerge and when they do they are awful.  So what do you do when ministry is mud?


That means having a plan that is going to help you move forward, no matter how hard it is to be creative or productive.  To develop that plan means:

Setting A Firm Schedule: A framework to your day will make sure you aren’t wearing yourself out.  That means start time and stop times.  Breaks and times when you just sit back and learn.  During the times that you schedule for writing, creating and developing you may notice little fruit; however, having the framework will make sure you aren’t dwelling too long in the frustration they might bring.

Fuel And Rest Up: Just like an athlete when the days get hard you need to make sure your energy level is at it’s highest.  That means not staying up later, eating right and taking care of your body.  Sometimes the writer’s block that you feel is because you are tired or not feeling well.  It’s at these times when it’s important for you to focus on your health and not your productivity.

Become A Learner: You could simply be out of ideas.  Taking the time you would usually write and create and devote it to reading, watching podcasts or meeting with other youth workers.  Listening to others and reading their thoughts will sometimes kickstart the productivity engine.  Just make sure anything that develops you write down.

Spend Time In Prayer: When you are in a void of ideas it’s easy to feel disconnected.  The best way to reignite this connection is to talk with God.  I find that quiet time in scripture calms me down and takes away the frustration that I may feel when it comes to a writer’s block, lack of ideas or a hard day at work.

Youth ministry is just like any industry where you’ll find moments where you just need to grind it out.  Do not stress, just go to a plan that will help you move forward.  Stay focused, put your head down and lean in.  Remember these seasons are temporary.

What would you add to the plan?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

14 days until New Years Eve, Seven days until Christmas and 3 more until the end of the world (At least that’s what the Mayans say).  In the next several weeks a lot will be happening and that’s because everyone is in a season of transition.  During these times it’s so easy for a youth ministry to get derailed because seasons of change are messy, fast moving and crazy.

Especially during this time of year, nothing is of the usual. All of your students are away from school, some go away on vacation, while others are in the midst of midterms. Nothing is normal during a season of change.  But, when the dust settles, it’s important to keep moving as if nothing changed.  You need to keep the momentum of your ministry going.  If not, it’ll be a long winter and rough spring.  So, how does one make the transition from one season to the next?

Embrace God’s Grace: Do what you physically can do and allow God to do the rest.  It’s easy during season of change to overextend yourself.  Unfortunately, if you are depleted of all energy, there is no way to move forward without feeling burned out.  Make sure you schedule in time to sit with God, even if it’s just five minutes a day.  It’s essential that it’s scheduled in.

Pass On Future Tasks: During times of transition it’s easy to get focused on the now and forget what’s coming up.  Before you get in the midst of the chaos pass off future responsibilities to volunteers or coworkers.  Doesn’t matter if it’s as simple as stapling paper, just get it off your plate so that you can do what only you can do.  When the chaos settles down you can walk into the next because everything has been prepped.

Write Down Goals: Make a check-list of tasks that need to be done.  When you get moving it’s easy to overlook simple tasks and responsibilities.  Each day check that list several times and use it as a way of measuring your progress.  Celebrate each time you eliminate an item and then move forward.

Sleep, Rest and Sleep: As hard as it might seem try to get as much sleep and rest as possible.  During times of high stress it’s tempting to resort to staying up late, eating, and other bad habits that will slow you down.  You need to maintain your energy; therefore, with the free time you do have, take it to refuel and refresh.

Transitions and seasons of change can be difficult; however, with a healthy pace and focus you’ll make it through.  Build a system, don’t be afraid to rely on others and above all else know that God is walking with you.

How do you move through seasons of transition and chaos?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

Clear Your Calendar

 —  December 13, 2012 — 9 Comments

It’s the end of the year and for many of us the days are moving faster and the amount of work is multiplying at a neck breaking speed.  In youth ministry you have those seasons that pull, push and beat you up.  The ones where you wonder whether or not you can hold on for another round.  You try to tell yourself, “This season will be over soon and then I will rest.” But the end never comes and the busyness continues on.

The solution to combating those busy seasons is by simply CLEARING YOUR CALENDAR.  That’s right take an eraser, whiteout, samurai sword or hand grenade and blow that thing up.  Actually, take a breather, refrain from using those measures and try these four steps instead:

STEP #1: Prioritize Your Week - Look at what you do and categorize them in the following ways:

  • Must-Do
  • Negotiable
  • Totally Unnecessary

If everything appears as a must do then sit down with a trusted friend or coworker and have them analyze your schedule with you.  Let them ask why and whether something can be adjusted or eliminated.  Put what’s important in your highly motivated times.  Delegate and eliminate the unnecessary and watch your calendar breathe.

STEP #2: Frame Out Your Days – It might differ depending on the day; however, by marking down consistent start and end times into your schedule you will create a framework of discipline.  The reason your day runs long is because there are no boundaries.  With no boundaries chances are you are taking too many breaks because you do not feel the pressure of a deadline.  By finding that you can work 40 hours in a week and still be effective is liberating.  It allows you to have a life outside of youth ministry.

STEP #3: Build In ME Time - You might be incredible at scheduling your professional life; but, how are you at your personal?  It sounds wrong to plan in quiet time, family time and even when you eat; however, if you find work bleeding into home life you need to take drastic measure.  By building in ME time you’ll find your relationship with God and others drastically improve.

STEP #4: Revisit Consistently – Granted you can’t always plan a busy season; however, as you feel the pace of your schedule change take the time to look at your calendar.  Repeat steps 1-3 and make the adjustments that are necessary to survive and thrive.  Have someone you know analyze your calendar with you.  Allow them to tell you where they see holes and areas of improvement.

While you can’t clear you calendar completely, you can take better control of when you need to do what you do.  It’s not the most attractive discipline; however, by managing your time you enable yourself to grow as a leader and youth minister.

How do you guard your time?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)



Every few weeks, I hear about youth workers who need new jobs.

  • Sometimes they leave because they want to
  • Sometimes they’re asked to leave. We call this a forced resignation.
  • Other times, they’re outright fired

When I started to learn about how devastating the effects of youth worker turnover are for the local church, I started doing some research. I discovered several themes – the easiest and most common factors that cause good youth workers lose or leave their jobs. Make sure you’re not one of them

If you want to stay in youth ministry for the long haul, don’t do these five things:

1. Mismanage budgeted money. Depending on your theology, it’s either God’s money or other people’s money. Either way, it’s not your money. You’ve been given the responsibility to be a good steward of some of your church’s resources. You might not know what you’re doing yet, but you’ll need to figure it out soon. (This link contains all kinds of good information about managing your church’s money better.)

2. Fight with your Senior Pastor – especially publicly. One problem with working in the Church is that many of your friends will come from the congregation. We all like to vent about our bosses, but if you’re venting to a fellow pew-sitter, you’re in the wrong. If you’re in the business of creating division in the Church, you won’t be a staff member for very long.

3. Show up late for your own events. Parents have their own jobs with their own responsibilities. They know exactly what would happen to them if they slept through their alarm more than once. You can expect the same thing to happen to you.

4. Work way too hard and never, ever take a break. Your own soul care ought to be a top priority. When you’re worn down and hurting, you’ll be less effective as a youth worker. Less effective youth workers frequently become baristas. Besides that, a lack of soul care is the easiest way to make sure you run yourself out of youth ministry. The church doesn’t have to fire you if you get exhausted and quit.

5. Refuse to participate in the larger life of the congregation. You’ll appear much more dispensable if the rest of the congregation never sees you – or your youth group.

Find ways for you and your students to become a crucial part of everything the congregation does. Crucial people are much more difficult to fire.

Now it’s your chance to be the teacher. What is one of the money mistakes you’ve made? How did you fix it?

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

As the phone rings you dread the idea of picking it up.  It’s not about who is on the other line as much as it is what that phone call might do to your day.  As you pick up the receiver you hope it’s a call that’s quick with no follow up.  Phone calls, emails, and paperwork are only a few of the things that clutter our schedule.  The reason they clutter is not because there are many, but because they are disorganized.  And when you are disorganized in what you do, you experience:

When our boundaries have been violated it’s easy to start throwing around the blame and losing focus on what’s important.  If you are going to have any chance of getting anything done in youth ministry, let alone survive the week you need to know what you are doing and why you are doing them.  This will help you set-up boundaries that are realistic and flexible; yet, will keep you on the right path.  To organize your responsibilities and stay within the boundaries you need to know:

WHAT IS IMPORTANT – It’s easy for a youth minister to become a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none and that’s because of a lack of focus.  If you are going to create any type of boundaries you need to know what has to fill up your day.  To figure this out you need to create a list of everything you do and narrow it down to the five most important responsibilities that only you can do.  The rest can be discarded or delegated.

WHAT IS URGENT – Urgent responsibilities are the unexpected events that have to be done; however, are not planned.  A perfect example is the death or illness of a teen in your ministry.  To work with the unexpected you need to be able to SCHEDULE IN MARGIN and COMMUNICATE WITH THOSE CLOSE TO YOU.  Scheduling in margin will give you leeway when something urgent comes across your desk like a teen in need.  Communicating with those close to you will enable you to talk about when family or personal time might need to be sacrificed.

WHAT IS DISPENSABLE – There are probably habits, meetings and responsibilities that you do that are no longer necessary.  To figure out which ones to keep and which ones to toss, list them and then by each item ask the questions, “What is its purpose?” and “How is this fueling us towards our vision?” If you cannot answer these questions toss them.  If there are ones you should keep but are not necessary for you to accomplish look at passing them on to a trusted volunteer or coworker.

When you can determine the importance and necessity of certain responsibilities you can build a healthy calendar.  The reason you leave an hour later than planned or continue to work at home is because you have organized your day.  After you know what it is you need to do and you paint out that 40 – 45 hour work week, ask God to give you the grace to do it.  After all he wants you to succeed, he doesn’t want you to compromise your family time or Sabbath.  Trust him.

How do you know what’s important, what’s urgent and what’s dispensable for your youth ministry?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

Kickoff for the fall, there is nothing like it.  Everyone is focused on getting plugged in, connected, signed up and registered.  The summer dreams have come to an end, school is back in session and the thought, “Here we go again.” races through your mind.

For some of us the beginning of the year stresses us out and for others it excites us.  There is so much to do, so much to get done and then BOOM! The year starts and we are off.  It’s like a marathon where the anticipation before the race is killer; however, once you get moving you settle down.

Kickoff is a season that can race by; however, it’s also a season that needs to be embraced.  On top of fun memories of moon bounces and wild games, it’s really a season when you can strengthen your foundation.  It’s a season when you need to:

Recruit New Ministers – The best time to recruit other ministers is when the program is in full swing.  That way potential volunteers can:

  1. See the program in action.
  2. Talk to actively serving ministers
  3. Ask questions they might not have known to ask if inquiring during the summer

When you recruit new ministers right after kickoff you’ll have a positive excitement that will be contagious.

Invite More Teens – It makes sense to invite someone to an event before it happens; however, your ministry isn’t an event.  While you want to build up hype and momentum before the program begins you’ll want to put more afterwards.  By continuously inviting teens to your program your creating an open enrollment feeling.  So many times we give up on a class or a program because we miss the first session.  Ministry should be treated like any relationship, where you can step in at any time.

Build Margin – Once the year begins we feel our margin slip away; however, there is no better time.  You should be letting your leaders loose, let them fail, succeed and problem solve.  As the point person you should be able to take a step back, observe and take in the experience.  As soon as the year gets going, slow down and find that pace because it’s going to be a long year.

Kickoff is not the end of summer and it isn’t just the beginning of your ministry year.  It’s a mile marker that you should utilize to grow stronger.  Look for the opportunities in every situation and continue to move forward.

What other opportunities do you see during kickoff?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.