I was going to start by qualifying myself by saying I’ve been in youth ministry in some capacity for nearly 20 years, but quite honestly you don’t even have to be in youth ministry for 20 minutes to relate to what I’m talking about here: Teenagers are very emotional beings. And it’s not uncommon for those emotions to get the best of them and their decision making.  I’m sure you’ve been there: it’s at the end of your weekend message, or a deep small group discussion, or the famous last night of some retreat when it happens.  The atmosphere becomes electric with emotions.  Tears start flowing, kids are embracing, it’s a seemingly supernatural event.  Our hearts want so desperately to pin it all on an Acts 2 replay of some type, but in the back of our minds we’re wondering what or who is really behind the tears, behind the decisions, behind the electricity we sense in the room.  We want so desperately to know that its 100% Spirit-driven, but we also know (because we’ve been around for 20 minutes) that emotions can play a big role in students’ decisions; whether those decisions are social, mental, academic, sexual, or even spiritual.

But before we call every “mountaintop” experience a fluke based on flimsy and fickle emotions, we need to realize that our emotions have been given to us by an emotional God who created us in His image.  Emotions aren’t bad.  Quite the opposite, really.  Emotions can be powerful and effective gauges that help us navigate spiritually.  When they’re submitted to God, emotions can help reveal our passions, our fears, and even our direction.  Rest assured, I’m certainly not vilifying emotions or their part in the spiritual lives of students we love, serve, and lead.

I simply think it’s important to keep in mind that all students (female AND male) are hardwired with emotions given to them by God.  One of our roles as youth leaders is to help them sort out what’s from God and what’s sheer emotion.  Involving our emotions in our decision-making process is so very natural, but allowing emotions to drive decisions is where we get into trouble.

Some things I’ve done to help student sort out what’s emotionalism and what’s God’s clear directive:

  • Don’t always default to the dim-lights, soft music, and eyes-closed response time at the end of a message.  It’s not that it’s a bad approach, but how hard can it be to take a stand when no one else sees it?
  • Speak clearly with students about what God’s Word is saying.  You can use sensitivity in your communication without adding fluffiness that dilutes God’s Word.
  • Give students questions to consider and/or clearly defined steps to take in the days/weeks after a spiritual decision is made.  Have these ready for students to take with them. This allows the “dust to settle” on the emotions that undoubtedly played an important role in their spiritual decision in the first place.

Let’s face it: working with students means working with people who are prone to allow emotions to rule the day.  And we don’t want to be making disciples who follow Jesus only when it “feels” right.

Jerry Varner serves as Student Discipleship Pastor in the Richmond, VA area and blogs at jerrythinks.com.  If you’re ever in the Richmond area and want to grab a burger, he’s buying.

Not long ago, we were chatting it up with a couple of students who had expressed interest in being youth pastors. Our conversation ran through various aspects of youth work when it hit us: youth ministry is a calling of extremes. If you’re new to the gig, you might not feel it just yet — but ask anyone who has been doing it for a while and they’ll tell you it is true.

Extreme schedule
In youth ministry there is no such thing as a typical week. Quite often every day is completely different from the last. This summer alone I (Kurt) ran from event to mission trip to vacation to camp to … I don’t even remember what came next because the schedule was so extreme. It was even busier for Josh…in addition to all the youth ministry stuff, he had to schedule time play video games, watch Star Wars and snack on pretzels.

Extreme emotion
Youth ministry lives on both ends of the emotional continuum. I’ve (Josh) been sitting with students laughing my head off about something one minute, and get a phone call about one of my students being in a terrible car accident the next. Youth workers are there when things are extremely good and when things are extremely bad.

Extreme salary
Youth ministry pays extreme. Extremely little.

Extremely critical age
Youth ministry is focused on what may be the most critical age group in our churches — when students are figuring themselves and their faith out and parents are at the most challenging point in relating to them. We ask these students to give over total control of their life to Jesus . We invite students to be baptized, to demonstrate their faith to their friends, family and the world at the time when peer-pressure and image are the most crucial in their life. That’s some extreme stuff!

Extreme expectations
There’s a lot of pressure on youth workers — from senior pastors, staff, parents and largely from the person who is the hardest on you: yourself.

Extreme hours, extreme emotions, extreme work. Youth ministry pushes everything to the limit. So why in the world would anyone want to do it? Seems like a nice, safe, well-paying nine-to-five job in an air conditioned office is more what most people look for in life, not this.

Why? Because of the extreme fulfillment. We wouldn’t want to do anything else. You?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.



Last week I did two of the most difficult funerals I’ve ever done in my life. They were both high profile deaths in our community (you can read about them here and here), and after some reflection I thought I would share a couple of learnings from performing both ceremonies:

Funerals are heavy and humbling
There is never a good time for a funeral – but they are an unforgettable gift to a family in crisis. They are one of the heaviest aspects of pastoral care a pastor is called to do. I’ve felt it the past couple of weeks. It isn’t easy, but you have the chance to walk through a dark place with the family and show them God’s light. This is why you are here. Thank God that He has allowed you to be trusted with this.

Funerals are an incredible opportunity to share Jesus
Without a doubt, having a platform to give comfort and hope to people in need is the most fulfilling part of carrying such a heavy burden. Pointing them to Jesus Christ and the Good News is central to a funeral message. I do my best to share John 14 in every service, even if the person you are eulogizing wasn’t a Christian.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. John 14:1-6 NLT

Funerals are the beginning of a relationship with the family
A funeral is not intended to be the end of a relationship with the family – they are just the beginning. Often times members of the family will need additional counseling or help possibly navigating the future ahead without their loved ones. By performing the funeral, you are now an honorary member of the family and can help them in the days, weeks and maybe even years ahead.

JG

Was reading my friend Matt McGill’s blog earlier and he mentioned how he made a mistake because he was tired. We’ve all been there! Made me think of the ways youth workers need to fight fatigue in ministry. Here’s what I attempt to do:

Be refreshed by friends
Sometimes just the ticket you need is hanging with people (I supposed the opposite could be true for some personalities). Maybe there’s some friend who you could bounce your ideas and frustrations off of, or maybe there’s a friend outside of youth ministry that you could hang with and not even begin to approach talking shop. Either type of person you may need, make sure you carve out some time to spend with them.

Make the big decision that’s been draining you
Often times a game-changing or potentially painful decision sits right in front of you and robs you of your passion and energy. Make the call! You might be surprised at the freedom and renewed excitement you feel once you get that out of the way. If it is a tough conversation, pray about it and then have it. Tackle that energy-busting obstacle you’ve been putting off.

Do something fun
Youth ministry fatigue usually sets in when you aren’t getting enough rest or are all work and no play. So find an afternoon soon where you can get away for a few hours and relax.

Get away from it all
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about feeling drained without just simple taking some time off. This week I’m nearly completely offline (any posts that you read on the blog have been set to post each day automatically) and spending time with the family. Fight fatigue with fun. Hit the beach. Go to Disneyland. Leave your laptop, turn off your phone and get away.

What do you do to fight fatigue?

JG