"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Personal Life of the Youth Worker

How About Your Own Family?

Jim Burns

After a recent talk on youth workers and family ministry one worker asked, "Working with families is well and good, but how can I add that to my high school ministry when my own family relationships are in shambles?"

Most people I know who are in ministry are so overcommitted and overstressed that relationships with their own families are mediocre at best. This section is about ministry and marriage. Even if you are single, read on you can prevent much of the heartache that some of your married peers are experiencing.

We can become so emotionally spent that we have little time or attention to spend building our marriages, despite the fact that our greatest ministry is our own marriages. Before I came to South Coast Community Church in 1980, I told the board of elders that if they wanted me to come they had to understand that I believed one of my primary witnesses to the young people was a healthy marriage. This meant I was willing to work only three nights a week. (Most youth workers spend at least five nights a week out of the house.)

I also asked for budgeted meal money in order to have kids into our home for dinner. We liked bringing in five at a time and spending the evening together. The elders agreed. So having discussed it beforehand, it was easier for them to handle when I couldn't attend every evening function.

If you're not giving time and energy to your spouse, then I question your witness to your group. A healthy marriage is a strong model for your kids that will give them a sense of security.

Dealing with Fatigue

What undermines the building of a youth worker's marriage is overcommitment and fatigue. I don't think the heavy turnover and burnout of youth workers is due to lack of education or low finances as much as it is fatigue. Overcommitment and fatigue will always cause tension in your family. Why we youth ministers think we have to take on a job description that's bigger than life I don't know. In order to nourish our ministries and our marriages, we probably need to cut back and do less.

When I graduated, a wise man warned me of postseminary reality. "Jim," he said, "if the Devil can't make you bad, he'll make you busy." That warning sticks with me still.

Then what's the answer? Rest. Even God rested one day of the week. If you are not, as a couple, taking at least a 24-hour period at a different pace once each week, then your marriage and ministry may be in jeopardy. Without rest we tend to spend all our energy on our students and church, leaving us with nothing for our families except burnout. I've used every excuse in the book, and then some, for my glazed eyes and exhausted spirit. "It'll get better after this one retreat," I've said. Yet after 12 years the excuses sound flimsier and flimsier.

Building Your Relationship

If rest goes a long way in keeping fatigue away from yourself, what can you do for the two of you-your marriage-to keep your relationship strong?

Date Night

Plan a weekly date together. You've got to continue courting your spouse throughout your life, and a weekly looked-forward-to date helps inhibit the creeping peril of a stale marriage. We can always find time for weekly Bible studies or one-on-one discipleship encounters, so why not a two-hour date with our spouse?


Youth ministry has a tendency to move so fast from one event to another that we take little time to reflect or debrief. Cathy and I are learning what we call pacing. Even though I feel drawn to the office after a big event, we try to take the next day off. If we know I'm going to be out of town for a few days, we try to make the week before my departure less hectic than usual.

Positive Modeling

During a recent seminar which I taught on ministry and marriage, I was surprised by the intensity-even anger-of most of the youth workers' opinions about the poor role modeling they receive from their workaholic senior pastors. Face it-role models for a strong, happy marriage may be uncommon among your pastoral staff. If that's true for you, find an older couple who really works at making their marriage and family a very important aspect of their lives.

Using the Phone

Youth workers usually work long hours and consequently find it difficult to communicate with their spouses. The ad's right-the phone is the next best thing to being there. Use it daily to call and communicate. When I'm away from home, Cathy and our children get a phone call every day.

Growing Spiritually Together

I wish I had an easy answer for growing together spiritually There are no magic formulas. However, let me suggest three helpful ideas on growing spiritually as a couple.

Solos. A solo is a spouse's regular time away from the routine hassles of life in order to have an extended period of devotion, reflection, and quiet time with God. Once a month I watch our kids in the morning and Cathy takes her solo. We try to have a meal together soon after a solo (or Sabbath) in order to share with each other any thoughts from the solo.

Support group. With the hectic pace of life that ayouth minister lives, I cannot understand how couples can grow spiritually without the help of a support group. We both have our separate, weekly support group meetings as well as our twice-a-month couples' support group. These help us keep our perspective, and our individual support groups especially help us vent feelings and receive encouragement from someone besides our spouses. If you don't have a support group, find or create one.

Overnighters. One night away from the routine hassles really helps Cathy and me, as a couple, gain clearer perspective on things. Our overnighters tend to be the best spiritual growth times. They can be programmed with reading and prayer, or you can have a more spontaneous time together. If you have children, it's even more important to have periodic overnighters. You can sometimes trade baby-sitting with another couple in your church who also need overnighters.

Keep the Fires Burning

One of the tragedies of the eighties is the trouble that so many ministry marriages have grown into, and the culprit is often an emotionally drained minister, so emptied by his work that he cannot pay proper attention to his family. I think what Gail MacDonald wrote in High Call, High Privilege relates perfectly to this problem. "Untended fires," she wrote, "soon become nothing but a pile of ashes." If you're concerned about ministering to families in your church, you can't afford to neglect your own hearth.


This article was taken from The Youth Builder (Today?s Resource for Relational Youth Ministry), by Jim Burns. Used by permission. You can acquire this book either from "YouthBuilders" at http://www.youthbuilders.com/ or from Amazon.com through our site at http://reachout.gospelcom.net/bookstore.asp .


Jim Burns is the President of the YouthBuilders, formerly the National Institute of Youth Ministry. His passion is communicating to young people and adults practical truths to help them live out Christian lives. Highly respected for his expertise in the area of youth ministry, family and parenting issues, Jim is the author of many books and speaks to thousands of young people across the nation. Each month in the United States and abroad people either hear Jim speak or use his written or video materials. He is a frequent guest on television and radio dealing with parenting issues and youth culture. He and his wife, Cathy, and their children Christy, Rebecca and Heidi, live in Dana Point, California.

About YouthBuilders:

YouthBuilders is a non?profit organization that exists to empower young people and their families to make wise decisions and experience a vital Christian lifestyle. We accomplish this by: training and assisting youth workers, educating and equipping parents and motivating and guiding young people.

YouthBuilders trains youth workers, works directly with students and provides parent forums for churches and communities in the United States and abroad. YouthBuilders is a resource for youth organizations and churches around the world with many of their resources translated into other languages. YouthBuilders expects to reach one million kids with their materials and training this year. Visit them at http://www.youthbuilders.com.

BOOKS by Jim Burns:


Addicted to God (Regal Books)

Getting In Touch With God (Harvest House)

Radical Christianity (Regal Books)

Radical Love (Regal Books)

Spirit Wings (Servant Publications)

Surviving Adolescence (Regal Books)


The Youth Builder (Harvest House)

The YouthBuilders Group Bible Study Series (Gospel Light)

?The Word on Sex, Drugs and Rock n? Roll

?The Word on Prayer and the Devotional Life

?The Word on the Basics of Christianity

?The Word on Being A Leader, Serving Others and Sharing Your Faith

?The Word on Helping A Friend In Crisis

?The Word on the Life of Jesus

?The Word on Finding and Using Your Spiritual Gifts

?The Word on the Sermon on the Mount

?The Word on Spiritual Warfare

?The Word on the New Testament

?The Word on the Old Testament

?The Word on the Family

?The Word on Sexual Gender Identity Issues