Early Habits for a Long Youth Ministry Life

By Andy Jackson April 20, 2020

Eating habits and ministry habits

As a 20-year youth ministry vet, I have consumed more pizza and chicken fingers than any one person should be allowed. What can I say? I grew up in the 80s, an era of Kool-Aid and Little Debbie, Happy Meals and Jolt Cola.

My eating habits may not be presidential-fitness-approved, but until recently, I wasn’t all that worried about it. It seemed like my poor eating choices were only having a minor effect on my overall health.

However, I recently made a trip to the doctor that began to change my mind.

The results of that visit pulled back the curtain of years of unhealthy choices and poor habits, revealing hidden issues that if not aggressively addressed could cause even greater damage. 

I can’t help but see the similarities with my long career as a youth minister.

In the early years, my desire was to watch students experience a growing relationship with Christ and use my creative energy to pull off all my ideas. While my desire wasn’t wrong, I did develop a number of poor habits that are now showing up as I am entering a different phase of life and ministry.

While I have realized the need for change before this moment, having healthy ministry habits at the start would have meant MORE desire, creativity, and health now.

Here are a few healthy youth ministry habits to start today, no matter how far into this journey you are. 

the path to healthy ministry

1. think simple

In my early days of youth ministry, an empty day on the calendar meant an opportunity for the next big idea.

Unfortunately, I soon found that my new weekend events, extra hangouts, and multiple retreats were in direct competition with my students’ already jam-packed schedules. And I became frustrated and disappointed when my students would choose cheer camp or travel ball over my youth events.

To develop a healthier habit, I began to plan Christmas parties, theme nights, and special events during our regular weekly gatherings. My simplified calendar (1) eased my budget, (2) promoted more participation, and (3) created more opportunities for unconnected students to connect with our group.

Throughout this switch, Jesus taught me and healed me. He led me to meet needs, and He showed me the opportunities he had placed right in front of me.

Sometime less is more. Consider how you can be more efficient and accomplish several of your goals with a simplified calendar.

2. build delegates

Another bad habit I developed early on was refusing to let go of various tasks or projects to other members of my team. I don’t consider myself a control freak, but I have tendencies.

While I typically allow some flexibility on how things are done, I do worry when it’s not being done at a pace I’m comfortable with. In my early youth ministry years, I felt like it was easier to just do it myself.

What I’ve come to learn is that the ability to delegate is hugely important to a sustainable youth ministry.

But delegation isn’t just the process of giving things away; it’s also a process of teaching.

Jesus didn’t just send out disciples, He modeled, He explained, He stood by as they served, and eventually He trusted them with ministry. 

If you see potential in someone, don’t just hand them the task and wipe your head in relief. Instead, train, teach, and equip them. Most of the time, they will rise to meet your expectations, and soon you will be able to hand some tasks over and focus on other things with confidence.

3. create healthy boundaries

I’ve noticed that many young youth workers struggle to strike a healthy balance between the demands of ministry, the needs of family, and their own personal and spiritual health. And while I didn’t have great habits in this area early on, I’ve now put some critical boundaries in place.

Remember, your spiritual, mental, physical, and relational health all depend on your ability to gracefully and humbly taking time to care for yourself. Even Jesus carved out time to be alone, to make sure He had spent time with the Father, and to develop friendships.

Every year before planning out our youth ministry calendar, my wife and I plan out our personal calendars. We plan dates, vacations, and fun days with our kids before we plan one youth event. Sometimes that works well, sometimes we wonder where our personal time went.

If you don’t protect yourself and your family, don’t count on a demanding crowd to look after your well-being. 

4. let it go

As the popular Frozen Disney song goes, let it go. There are some things that just shouldn’t bother you. I spent years worrying about the right decorations, if the games were fun enough, if the t-shirt design had that “pop,” if I had finished a dynamic slide show–things that if not done would have likely just gone unnoticed.

I’m not encouraging laziness; work hard, plan the details, put in the effort and then enjoy. If you didn’t order enough cheese pizza, it’s ok. If it looks like rain on your outdoor event, it’s fine. If the bus is 30 minutes late, it’ll be ok. Much of our worry centers around things that we have no control over or that make little difference in the big picture.

One of the healthiest habits you can develop is your ability to focus on why you are in ministry to begin with–sharing the love of God and choosing to show your love to a group of students who desperately need it.

My hope is that learning these habits sets you up for a long youth ministry life. I encourage you to think more simply when it comes to your calendar, build and train a team of effective volunteers, ensure that you’ve got healthy boundaries across all facets of your life, and be willing to let go of what’s less important.

So here’s to good ministry health…and a plate of veggies. 

About the Author

Andy Jackson

Andy Jackson is the minister to students at North Jacksonville Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. He has served as a youth pastor for 20 years. He is passionate about the spiritual growth and development of students, student pastors, and their families. He loves spending time with his wife and best friend, Stephanie, trying to survive…  Read More