This is the final post in a five-part series on Youth Ministry, Boundaries, and Burnout. Be sure to check out the four previous posts, Youth Ministry as a Stepping Stone (Fail), Looking at the Population You Serve, Have a Schedule, and Where’s Your Identity.

If you are waiting around for someone to model to you healthy boundaries in ministry there is a good chance you might be waiting a long time for that to happen…if it ever happens. Pastors at all positions in the church are notorious for lacking healthy boundaries. I wish that weren’t so, but it seems to be the case. Though there are pastors who do manage to have healthy boundaries, you shouldn’t be waiting around for them to model them to you. You need to be more intentional about it.

It’s super easy to be a youth worker and to blame all problems on those “at the top.” In youth ministry we often feel like we have all the authority with no power, or vice-versa, so we wait around waiting for things to happen. It’s easier to be passive and blame it on your supervisors than it is to be intentional about making the changes you want to see in regards to your boundaries.

So it starts with you. You need to begin to take responsibility for your own choices…for your own actions. Don’t blame it on others, and pretend that you are just a victim of a boundaryless church and ministerial staff. That gets you no where, and we don’t model healthy behavior to our students when we can’t be mature and take responsibility for our lives.

Where to Start

I’ve mentioned in the previous posts some places you can begin and some books you can read, but let’s break it down real simple here.

  1. Have a conversation with your supervisor, your staff, etc., and inform them that you are wanting to make some changes not only for yourself personally, but possibly the youth ministry staff in general.  You want to begin the process of setting healthier boundaries.  Explain to them why.  Educate them on how healthy boundaries can help them in many facets of their lives (spiritually, relationally, emotionally, physically, etc.) and how it is setting them up to have longevity in youth ministry and not burn out early and become just another statistic.  Why is conversation important?  Because change isn’t usually accepted real quickly in ministry if there isn’t some reasoning behind it.  So explain that you are wanting to do this, and that it will take some time.  That informs them that they might start seeing some new changes; it informs them that they will need to start making some changes themselves; and it sets up a system of accountability.  Practically, you can’ t be a 6-7 day youth worker and then one day just start only working 5 days.  Why?  Because more than likely you’ve created the expectation that you work 6-7 days a week, and you need to inform your supervisors, and co-workers when and why they will begin to see the changes.

  2. Change the expectations.  Sort of like the first step, but in modeling healthy boundaries you are in the process of beginning to change the expectations of what your role looks like in youth ministry.  This is a long process.  We created the expectations, so only we can begin to change the expectations.

  3. Come up with a practical plan (like the schedule, etc.) and talk it through with your supervisor and staff.  Get buy in from those you report to and from those who report to you.

  4. Give yourself some grace.  Plan on practicing this for at least six months to a year before it starts to take hold.  You probably have spent anywhere from like 2-20 years in youth ministry not modeling healthy boundaries, so you aren’t going to be good at it over night.  It’s a life long discipline.

  5. If your church doesn’t see healthy boundaries as a priority, and you feel that you can’t last long in that environment, then you have to really start thinking on whether or not it’s a healthy place for you to work.  I know that sounds crazy to some of you, but I can tell you stories about youth workers who burned out quickly because it wasn’t a priority to the church, and the church didn’t support the youth worker’s attempts at living out healthy boundaries.  Some of those youth workers got out in time and were able to find churches that valued this.  It’s not just a job that is possibly at stake, but more serious issues like depression, anxiety, anger, loss of relationships, divorce, etc, etc.

Remember. You are responsible for yourself. You are responsible for your choices and actions. You are responsible on whether or not you live by healthy boundaries. Don’t blame the Church. Don’t blame your church. Don’t blame your supervisor. Don’t blame the parents. It begins with you. Make the change.