Avoiding Volunteer Burnout

adult female feeling tired and burnt out

If you’ve been doing occupational youth ministry for longer than five minutes, you understand that we have no shot at doing this well without a team of amazing volunteers. It’s just too much. It’s too many details. It’s too many students—even for those of us with ministries that don’t have that many students! But burnout is super, super real. And churches are absolutely notorious for pushing our people toward it. So because I know you need your volunteers (I need mine, too), and because, more importantly, I know you want to take care of your volunteers (me too!), I want to take a few minutes to give us a gospel lens for avoiding volunteer burnout.

I want to remind us of something we already know. We know it because we’re pastors and/or theology nerds and/or just someone who’s been a Christian for, like, forever:

We already know how this story ends. We already know Jesus wins, and God reigns on His throne for eternity.

I think sometimes we forget to connect the dots on the significance of that. It means that God’s Kingdom is going to be just fine. And when we see through that lens, we won’t feel the need to burn people out for the sake of building God’s Kingdom.

God’s Kingdom is going to be fine.

Like if I can preach to an audience of preachers for just a second, two of the most famous things Jesus said to Peter were:

1) Upon this rock I’ll build my Church, and the gates of Hell won’t overcome it.

2) Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep.

That’s the gospel lens right there. Jesus’ ecclesia is fine! He’s got it covered. Our job is to tend to (care for) the flock. So when we create high stakes, performance mentality, run and gun volunteer cultures, we’re acting as the antithesis of what Jesus told Peter in those two interactions.

So if this gospel lens were to color the way we treat our volunteers:

– We wouldn’t give them a hard time for missing youth ministry gatherings from time to time.

– We would intentionally give them time off.

– We would offer our student ministry to reimburse them financially when they spend money ministering to their kids.

– We would spend more time highlighting what each of them DOES bring to the table than nagging them about what they don’t.

– We would give them clear expectations about their role, and then show a ton of grace on the occasions they fall short.

– We would elevate their needs as human beings over the needs of our youth ministry system.

– We would celebrate them early, often, and in front of students.

– We would occasionally give them optional off ramps, especially when we sense that volunteering is becoming difficult in their world.

And, listen, when you live this way, sometimes ministry is going to get a little bit difficult. Sometimes you’re going to have to carry the extra weight for a season or two. Last Sunday, I found myself leading a small group of sophomore girls because their small group leader was out. They called me “Mrs. Haynes.”

So I get it! I really do! But the gospel would lead us to be incredibly open handed with the flock God has entrusted us with, because this is Christ’s Church, and even the gates of Hell have no shot against it.

Mike Haynes is a full-time youth pastor and the creator of G Shades Youth Ministry Curriculum. Feel free to reach out to Mike anytime over email at mike@gshades.org
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