It’s been seven years since my husband Todd was a youth minister on local church staff, and, to be completely candid, it has taken me almost that long to look forward to summer each year the way other people do. Don’t get me wrong! Camps and mission trips and fellowships are fun—lots of fun—in moderation, but what most adults look back on with fond memories and a light heart can weigh heavy on those responsible for making those memories happen, especially when events stack up, one on top of another on top of another on top of another, for an extended period of time. One summer, Todd was only home for twelve days!
Physical exhaustion, emotional and spiritual fatigue, and excessive time away from one another often rob youth ministers and their families of the joy they would otherwise feel in serving the Church, the very thing they are most passionate about. Sad, isn’t it?
The good news is there are some very practical things that you can do to make this summer a little easier on your youth minister and his family. As those in the habit of ministering to others often have trouble communicating their needs and asking for help, please allow me.
Make yourself available. It’s one thing to say “let us know if you need anything” and another entirely to offer your name and phone number, a list of things that you are willing and able to do, and/or a list of dates that you are available to help. If you truly want to get a call, do the latter.
Offer words of encouragement and thanks. You don’t have to know what all your youth minister does to be glad he does it, and you don’t have to know how his family is feeling to appreciate their sacrifice. Don’t assume they know how you feel; tell them! Spoken words are nice, but written words are better because we can read them to our children and reread them when we are feeling lonely or overwhelmed.
Hold down the fort. The last things that your youth minister needs to worry about when he gets home to his wife and kids after extended time away are tall grass and a messy office, but those are usually the first things to greet him. Ease his mind by taking care of these relentless demands on precious family time. You could also water the flowers, deposit paychecks, mail bills, take care of pets, etc. when the whole family is gone or provide meals and laundry service for his wife when she or both of them get home from being gone.
Treat them like family. What do you do when you know a family member needs a little extra love and support? You spend time with them and include them in your plans when possible. You make and take meals, text and call, give space if needed, and forgive mistakes made under stress. Do the same for these members of your church family.
Give your youth minister’s kids something to look forward to. Time passes slowly for little ones, especially when Daddy has already been gone for two or three weeks, but family budgets often don’t allow for regular outings, leaving Mommy at home for days on end with no tricks left up her sleeve. You can help by providing season passes to nearby attractions, activity bags for the kids, gift cards to fun lunch spots, money for gas, treats or prizes for the kids on Sunday after a week of being good for Mommy, etc.
Give Mommy time alone. A mom given rest is a mom at her best! Get a copy of your youth minister’s summer schedule and offer to watch the kids for a few hours for his wife when he is gone. Keep in mind that days in the middle of a long absence are particularly rough. Again, don’t say, “Let me know if you want me to watch the kids.” Say, “I’d like to watch the kids for you on this day if you’ll let me.”
Give Mommy and Daddy time alone. The first thing your youth minister and his wife want when he gets home is family time. The second thing they want is couple time, and it’s vital that they get it for the health of their marriage, their family, their ministry, the youth group, and the church. Offer to babysit for a few hours or overnight on the SECOND night that your youth minister is home from a trip. You may want to cooperate with another family and provide tickets/gift certificates for a night out or away.
Make sure your youth minister takes time off. A youth minister in motion tends to stay in motion. When summer is in full swing, make sure he takes time to rest between events. When summer is over, encourage him to take extended time off and leave town if that’s what it takes for him to let down completely. Your church might want to consider giving him some comp time to make up for all of those weekends he gave up during the summer, as rest and the promise of rest will only make him more productive.
Hold your criticism and complaints. Don’t give the Enemy a foothold. Unless you have serious and/or urgent ethical concerns about your youth minister’s behavior and/or decisions that he has made, save your complaints, criticisms, and suggestions until early fall. At that point, he will be rested, ready to reflect on the summer, and much more open to suggestions for next year, and you will have had time to pray, determine whether or not what you want to say actually needs to be said, and choose your words carefully. Don’t kick him when he’s down, and, whatever you do, never speak a criticism or complaint to his wife and ask her to pass it along!
Pray. Add your youth minister and his family to your daily prayer list, let them know that you are praying for them, and ask them if they have any specific prayer requests. If you follow through, they will feel it, and when you participate in their ministry this way, you will find yourself encouraged and blessed.
These days, Todd serves as Youth Education Specialist and Falls Creek Program Associate for the BGCO, and the kids and I spend our summers with him at Falls Creek. We’re in the thick of youth ministry now, but not the trenches, and I love the view. Oh, the Arbuckles are pretty and all with their tall trees and bubbling streams, but nothing is more beautiful than the sweet, selfless servanthood displayed by the youth ministers we get to spend time with. Folks, as Oklahoma Baptists, we are truly blessed. Let’s bless back!