Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Busy Youth Minister: Boundaries are Best

       In my own experience, youth ministry has been a process of learning to relate and connect in different ways in different seasons.  There has not been any universal outline or structure that has provided the ‘best way for going about ministry,’ but there have been many words of wisdom shared which have helped me to gain a more holistic idea of what youth ministry can (and maybe should) be.
There are many who expect youth ministers to be the role models for their children, the liaisons with the broader church, the fixers of problems related to/caused by youth culture, and the facilitators of small groups, youth groups, mission trips, retreats, and the like.  Do we wear many hats?  Yes.  Are we meant to be the One who saves our youth?  No.  But we sometimes begin to live out of the subconscious belief that we can and must.  Henri Nouwen may say it best with this:

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life.  We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.  The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.

       -from ‘In the Name of Jesus’

One of the most important shifts that has occurred for me in relation to my ministry is realizing that it is not my ministry.  Am I responsible for my job?  Certainly.  Am I responsible for the salvation, wellness, connectedness, and health of the youth of the world?  No.  The kingdom of God is at hand!  Jesus is working and moving all the time to bring his beloved children unto Himself, and he uses any and everything we do- or don’t do- to accomplish His purposes.  We are invited to trust Him with this instead of trusting ourselves and believing that everything is up to us (and within our control).
We are invited to die to the deep pride within us that makes us believe (even if unconsciously) that we can be all things to all kids (and parents).  I really think we are invited to see ourselves in the same way that we see our kids- as the broken, needy, rescued and beloved humans we are.  Living out of dependence on Jesus instead of reliance on ourselves fundamentally shifts many of the ways we relate to our ministries.  No one can be expected to ‘have it all together’ all the time, and that means you as well.  God’s Word of grace is offered you everyday just as it is offered them.  And to love does not always mean to say ‘yes’ to every need of every youth, or of the church.  Andy Root explores well the idea of being both open and closed in relation to others in his book, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry.  We relate to one another (and our youth!) as humans, not as semi-gods.  We are filled with the Spirit, moved by His Word, reminded of our need for Him, and we open our lives and experiences up to the kids we encounter with the prayer that they will come to see and know Him through us.  We are, all the time, at God’s mercy to provide deep and real love for the kids we work with.  
Additional roles in our lives (e.g. daughter, sister, coach, student, musician, EMT, volunteer) will naturally require different boundaries and levels of investment; seek the One who made you (and others in similar positions) to guide you in making healthy boundaries in relation to your ministry- or it can easily take over your life and your other relationships will suffer.  There is no way to do this perfectly; we will always fail at trying to navigate these things (and seasons & roles in life change, so something that works well for a while may need shifting later on), but boundaries can be a huge blessing in preventing burn-out and helping to remind us that we are needy, forgiven, beloved sons and daughters of Emmanuel, who never leaves us on our own.

*One wise & practical thought offered me years ago: in seasons where you are naturally spending larger spans of time on youth ministry (40–hour workweek, hah!), you might want to consider viewing days in 3 parts (morning, afternoon, evening).  For every consecutive 3 parts spent giving to youth ministry, try to intentionally take the next part to refill/recoup/replenish/refresh.

Liz Edrington is a Youth Minister at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA.

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