This is the second in my series on Youth Ministry, Boundaries and Burnout, a topic which has become very important to me over the last couple of years.  In the last post I looked at how seeing youth ministry as a stepping stone to “move up” in the church world can create an environment of unhealthy boundaries and an inability to say no.

Today I want to talk about the population we serve in youth ministry — primarily those from middle school thru high school.

The reality that we often fail to take into consideration when serving this ministry population is that we are working with people who have most likely failed to set healthy boundaries in their own life — let alone know and understand what a healthy boundary is.  Left to themselves they would stay up all night, eat whatever they want, play video games all day, all the while wondering why you (their adult youth worker) shouldn’t be joining in all the fun as well.

Why is knowing this important?

Because one of the norms of adolescence is to test boundaries, and if you are unable to keep your own boundaries you will soon be giving into and playing by the same rules as the youth that you minister to.

What Can You Do?

  1. Know that your boundaries will be tested.  Being aware of this is an important step.  Just expect it to happen.

  2. Set healthy boundaries with your youth.  You do this by setting clear expectations of your role and relationship with them.  You talk about when you are and will be available.  When you will not be available.  What days you take off and are Sabbath days.  You talk about what days you set aside to spend time with your family (if you have one) or other important relationships in your life.  You talk about the difference between an emergency and a non-emergency.  In short, you are communicating to them clear, healthy expectations, therefore beginning to the lay the foundation for healthy relational boundaries between them and you.

  3. Don’t place your self-worth and identity in the kids you serve and in your role as a youth pastor.  Too many youth pastor’s identity is wrapped up in this role, therefore, their identity is dictated by their need to be wanted and affirmed by the youth.  This is a crazy place to be — and it’s a roller coaster ride.

  4. Model healthy boundaries to the youth you serve.  They need to know that you have a life.  That you have priorities.  They need to know that on certain nights you are unreachable because you and your wife are on a date.  They need to know that you take days off to rest and re-energize.  Of course there are always emergencies that we need to respond to, but too often we have placed ourselves in the position and have communicated to our students that we are the ONLY ones they need to come to if something is wrong.  And we often do this because it feeds our self-worth and identity — knowing we are needed and wanted.  So model healthy boundaries to your youth and equip them and your volunteers in ways that keep you from always be the go to person.

  5. Remember that boundary setting is part of the essential tasks for parents and youth workers in helping kids navigate through adolescence and into adulthood.  Kids who don’t have boundaries have a much more difficult time once they leave the home and youth ministry.  Check out Chap Clark’s Disconnected: Parenting Teens in a MySpace World. I think he does a great job of talking about boundary setting in youth.

What am I missing?  What would you add to this list?