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My point - the best youth pastors are the youth pastors who burn out really fast. Wanting to work too much is a great thing because it means you have a passion and excitement for your job. However it takes a long time to develop an awareness of when to turn off.

Youth Pastor Burn Out Rate

Youth pastor burn out is unavoidable.

Pain is part of the youth pastor job description.  Does experiencing pain and exhaustion season a youth pastor? One of the biggest negative aspects of being a youth pastor is that working with students stunts our emotional and life growth.

Many youth pastors try so hard to dodge the “burn out” bullet.

We try to take more days off, vacations, see a psycho-therapist, take a monthly spiritual retreat, and pursue spiritual formation but it seems like we are only left with more exposed pain, exhaustion, and burn out.  There is this belief that if you burn out, you are a bad youth pastor because apparently you didn’t take enough days off or establish healthy boundaries.  I think the exact opposite is true.

America’s best youth pastors are the youth workers who have learned and persevered through their many painful and hurtful church experiences.  The youth pastors that persevere make it, but the youth pastors that live in the past and become jaded don’t make it.

My point – the best youth pastors are the youth pastors who burn out or get burned because very early on they learn to forgive and to let go.

So the questions are:

How are youth pastors going to recover after the burn out?

Is burn out really unavoidable?  If so, name and describe one youth minister (who has been in youth ministry for 5+ years) who has been in youth ministry  and not been burned or burnt out?

How can experiencing pain or being burned in a church context season a youth pastor for the ultimate good?

** This post was inspired by Anne Jackson’s book:  Mad Church Disease:  Overcoming the Burn Out Epidemic

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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  1. Before I comment, I would like to know what you mean by “burned” or “burn out”. People have different ideas and thoughts behind that. I will say that I have been in a large church in the midwest (weekly attendance over 3000) for almost 10 years and I have definitely had rough times but never incurred “burn out” or even been “burned”. You do learn from mistakes, but I am fortunate enough to be in a church where mistakes are encouraged and we can learn from them.

    • Burned – senior leadership taking advantage of youth pastor or not showing value or respect for their youth pastorate.

      Burnt out – Always laboring in the youth ministry trenches to a point of exhaustion, dryness, and fatigue. Essentially you go on auto-pilot.

      You are very fortunate and should be very thankful of your senior leadership. It is rare that a youth pastor doesn’t have to learn through pain and hurt in order to learn how to make it in the church as a youth pastor. Now go give your senior leadership a hug and say thanks.

      • Good definitions. I can honestly say I have never been burned by my boss. I think the way we are structured with my position being part of our key senior leadership team and also being invited to be on our creative team that plans our weekend services as well as being a part of the teaching team help with that.

        As for burnt out, I think as youth pastors we can carry the burden of youth ministry all by ourselves very easily. The first responsibility I have as a leader is to take responsibility for my own soul-it is difficult at times but absolutely necessary for the long haul. I also need to realize that I do not have to do EVERY activity. I don’t have to go to every football game, etc.

        I am extremely fortunate that all of us on the senior leadership team are more concerned with each other’s soul than with how we are performing in our leadership roles.
        One thing I have always been pretty dogmatic about is making sure that anyone from my ministry that is thinking of vocational ministry is able to see the “behind the scenes” stuff. I have 6 former students in or pursuing vocational ministry and I think they were able to go in seeing clearly. I let them see some of the letters/emails from parents, the complaints from the sr. citizen group, etc. but that is just part of the job-ANY job.

        I am so passionate about this-it is not a good thing for the Kingdom that so many youth pastors are leaving the ministry after such short tenures. I think it can be recognized, maybe not always prevented, but sometimes avoided.

  2. I’m in Australia and we have a similar problem, there is a lot of pain amongst my peers.

    I think part of the problem (not by any means the only) is that we have people in ministry that may have gifting but not the personality suited for Pastoral Leadership.

    • @Jarrod–
      Wow! That is a great point. Somehow we have Church leaders who are not qualified to take on senior leadership roles. They may be great people, but not necessary great leaders. Interesting comment. Thank you.

  3. Good post Jeremy. I have been involved in youth ministry for 13 yrs. I have been both burned & burned out but have fought through it. Youth ministry is a high rewards, high pressure job that can be very demanding. Not only do we put a lot of pressure on ourselves but others do as well. It is a definite balance we face each day as we try to give our all. But, I think at the end of the day, if you are gonna be in youth and family ministry long term you can & should expect seasons in out lives where we experience both burn out & being burned.

    • @Tom-
      Those are some great and wise words my fellow youth worker. There is a high cost to being a youth worker in the church context.

      I wonder if I would have still become a youth pastors, if someone ask me in the very beginning of my youth ministry career: Hey Jeremy, would you still want to be in youth ministry, if you the church would literally burn your soul?

      Obviously my answer would have been yes, but I think I would have been a little more prepared to deal with the pain. I know for me pain makes me stronger and more confident, when I get back up. I actually thrive in very painful situations. I long for pain because I know I will be greatly humbled and will gain a lot of wisdom from the situation.

  4. I have been burned and burnt out. Several times each actually. While I hope that it isn’t something that has to happen in the life of a youth worker, it is something that is VERY common. The truth of the matter is, that there are times when I meet a youth pastor that hasn’t been then I think that are living in a dream world. While I wouldn’t wish my experiences on my worst enemy I think that the hard things we go through help us actually be better agents for reach youth in their troubled lives. I constantly am in search of better balance and some of it I can’t control.

    As aside I wrote a post on my own blog called, “The Myth of Successful Youthwork” that ties into this discussion. Check it out and let me know what you think: http://proyouthworker.blogspot.com/2010/05/myth-of-sucessful-youth-work.html

  5. It is absolutely possible! And no, that doesn’t come from a mathematical calculation of certain # of days off, extravagant vacations and/or all the books you can get your hands on…. although all of those things help. I would agree with Brad in that it has to do with how you treat your soul. What are you doing on your days off? Are you “unplugging” at all while on vacation? Do you think that ministry can’t go on without you? Beyond that, though, I think a huge part of it has to do with how important you think you are. If you think you are really important, the chances of you getting zero sleep and living with crazy amounts of anxiety are pretty high-because let’s face it, it’s a stressful job. I think if you can admit that you are not God, and therefore you cannot be God for other people… you can avoid burnout. The overflow of not “trying to beat God” is developing other leaders, knowing it’s not all about you, and having the humility (and confidence) to ask God to lead… especially in ways you are absolutely capable.

    But that’s just me. :o)

  6. If this is what we are describing as burn out “Burnt out – Always laboring in the youth ministry trenches to a point of exhaustion, dryness, and fatigue. Essentially you go on auto-pilot.” then yes I have been there. I think some people may think burn out means: I quit, I can’t take it anymore, I’m done and follow through with it by walking out the door. I think we can have those feelings without actually leaving the ministry and if you have those feelings then by the previous definition you are experiencing burn out. I have been there! I’ve been involved with youth ministry for 14 years (youth pastor for 9 years) and there have been times were I have cried and wanted out.

    Every time that’s happened so far I persevered through. How? Just like this article points out I had to cry out to God and say: “I can’t do this! I have nothing left! I don’t know what to do next! I am week, dry, and cold. This is all in Your hands Lord and I need You to rescue me and I am willing to do what You want.” and when I decided to press on those situations I saw God do some amazing things! He gets glorified and I get to learn and grow!

    I believe that if we are making a spiritual impact in this world, the evil one will attack and he will make us face all out inadequacies. I think of the many times David cried out to God. In many of his psalms he cries out “How long?” and you can see the pain that he is going through, but the end of these psalms there is the words of dependence, perseverance, and a stubbornness to continue to praise and follow the Lord.

    So you can call it burn out or something else, but falling into a pit of despair and asking God for a rope to pull you out happens to the best of us. The key is asking for the rope, climbing the rope, and brushing off the dust and pressing on knowing there are other pits out there. The result is that many of those who are watching us will be inspired, encouraged, and transformed. And isn’t that the goal? That God would use us not matter what the cost so that lives are changed?

  7. …seven years in Youth Ministry and I’m near the end of my tour of duty. My first point is that Youth Pastors should be the most supported ministry within a church, right next to Senior Pastors. I can count on my hand how many times a person has asked how they could pray for me or has pulled me aside to pray for me and the Youth Ministry…this shouldn’t be rare.

    Eveyone agrees that there is a spiritual aspect to Youth Ministry yet you must back it up through prayer and support for a Youth Pastor. You can’t let a Youth Pastor take your kids on a Winter Retreat or hiking trip and not thank them when they bring your child back in one piece, yet often times people pick up their kids and drive away…without any thanks.

    I’m not bitter, just reflective. My children are young, so I will learn from my experiences and support my childs Youth Pastor to the best of my ability and thank God for their service.

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