Youth ministry seems to be synonymous with stress. Ask a youth pastor how he or she is doing and the most likely answer will be ‘busy’ or ‘very/extremely/absurdly busy’. Or maybe when they feeling like sharing, they’ll even say ‘stressed’. I have met very youth pastors or youth workers lately who weren’t overworked, busy, and/or stressed to the point where it really wasn’t funny anymore.
See if any of the following sounds familiar to you:
You’re working (far) more hours than you should or have to
You’re experiencing constant stress
You often feel tired, exhausted even
You often feel overwhelmed to the point of either panic or the inability to act at all
You’re experiencing spiritual drought
When you don’t work, you still think of your work and everything you should do
You have a hard time taking rest because there’s still so much to do
Your to do list only grows, no matter how many hours you put in
You can see that your family and/or your friends suffer from your absence
There are actions on your to do list that have been there forever
There are things that you really want to do, should do, but just can’t seem to find the time for
You feel guilty for not being able to get your work done
You feel guilty for not spending as much time as you want to with your family
You feel guilty because you’re not spending as much time as you want to with God
You feel guilty because you can’t put the time into certain actions (like sermon prep) that you actually should
You’re having doubts whether you’re actually suited for youth ministry at all
Stress in youth ministry
Do any or even all of these ring a bell? If so, you’re not alone. Many youth workers wrestle with stress and being overworked, some to the point of falling prey to a burnout or a (severe) depression. A quick Google search on ‘stress in youth ministry’ or ‘burnout in youth ministry’ reveals heart breaking stories from youth pastors trying to deal with this.
I know this from personal experience as well. I was a youth pastor when I became pregnant with our first child and the stress was overwhelming. Trying to take good care of myself and the baby I was carrying, while at the same time caring for students and volunteers was a constant struggle. I narrowly escaped a postpartum depression after our son was born, but even then I hadn’t learned my lesson. It wasn’t till a year later when I became severly ill with pneumonia resulting in high fever, complete exhaustion, and all kinds of health issues, that I decided I’d had enough. But even then I needed a stern lecture from my family doctor and a husband who quite simply put his foot down to really make that decision.
Stress in the church
So what’s going on? Why are so many youth pastors struggling with being too busy?
First of all, being stressed and too busy isn’t something only youth pastors struggle with. It’s a common problem for many people nowadays. However, it is a big issue within the church in general. Research showed the following:
“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”
Just have a look at these sobering statistics on pastors and the stress they face:
- 13% of active pastors are divorced.
- 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
- 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
- 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
- 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
- 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
- 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
- 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
- 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
- 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
- 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
- 56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
- 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
- 70% don’t have any close friends.
- 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
- 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
- 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
- 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
- 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
- 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
- 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
- Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.
It seems then that working in the church is stressful by definition. Yet youth pastors face some specific circumstances that make their jobs even tougher. We’ll dig deeper into this in the next post.
Do you recognize the constant busyness and stress as a youth pastor? How do you cope with this?
 Paul Vitello, Taking a break from the Lord’s work, New York Times 1 augustus 2010, on: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/nyregion/02burnout.html?pagewanted=all Viewed November 2012
 Pastor burnout statistics, on: http://www.pastorburnout.com/pastor-burnout-statistics.html Viewed November 2012. Most of these statistics come from the book Pastors at greater risk by H.B. London (Gospel Light Publications, 2003).