Riding The Emotional Roller Coaster Called Youth Ministry

It’s true confession time! Only 3 years into my journey in youth ministry, I remember seriously thinking, “I’m not sure I can do this much longer.” That was over 40 years ago. I don’t think I was prepared for the emotional drain that whole-hearted ministry would measure out to me. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love youth ministry and thank God almost daily that I “get to do it.” But let me share some of the reasons why all of us who do youth ministry often ride an emotional “roller coaster.” Socrates profoundly said, “Know thyself.” So, let’s spend a few minutes becoming a little more self-aware.

Roller Coaster

  1. Like almost no other pursuit or career field, authentic youth ministry requires almost constant emotional energy. And like any good roller coaster, there are fast-paced highs and lows. In a 10-minute span, we can go from rejoicing with a girl because she made the cheerleading squad to listening to a guy brokenly share news of his parents’ impending divorce. (That was my reality yesterday.) So the constancy of the emotional energy needed makes us great candidates for what counselors call “compassion fatigue.”
  2. The emotional expectations of those around you will often be agonizingly unrealistic. Christian counselors tell us that most ministry “burn-out” isn’t “spiritual” in nature. Instead, it comes oftener from the constant emotional demands. Those demands often pivot back to either spoken or unspoken expectations. We all understand the drill. People will always encourage you to “take some time off” – until, that is, they need you.
  3. Beautifully and yet painfully in youth ministry, we can’t change hearts without giving heart. So to refuse to give your emotions and heart away is to also refuse to be a Christ-honoring change-agent in a teenager’s life. I call it “putting your heart out on a stick.” So if at least one teenager hasn’t bruised your heart or depleted you emotionally in recent days, you’re probably doing something wrong!

What am I trying to say? In short, don’t be surprised if youth ministry occasionally leaves you feeling a little drained and sometimes even emotionally schizophrenic. Develop your own set of boundaries and coping skills for the journey. And remind yourself often what your old Granny probably used to say: “If something is worth doing at all, it’s worth pouring your heart into!” Besides that, who wants to spend their life riding the boring merry-go-round? Roller coasters can be scary; but they’re a whole lot more fun!

How Old Is “Too Old” In Youth Ministry?

It’s the secret, unspoken fear of many of youth ministry’s finest and most experienced leaders…they are concerned that they are getting “too old.” Since I myself am a part of the Baby Boomer crowd who remains actively involved in local youth ministry, allow me to give you a few thoughts on this important question. I’ve wrestled with this mind game often, but in the last few years, I’ve come to some encouraging conclusions:5-28-15

  •  The typical stereotype of effective youth leaders is blatantly wrong. You know the model I’m talking about…young, cool, athletic, funny, and good looking. Lots of years in youth ministry have affirmed over and over that many of the very BEST leaders are none of the above. They are often anywhere between 40 to 60 years of age and are fun-loving but not necessarily funny. In fact, they are often a few pounds overweight and not exactly a retired football pro. They just love Jesus and teenagers.
  • Today’s fractured families and lack of caring adult role models actually makes age an advantage…as long as you remain flexible on the ever-changing “little things” in youth ministry. We all know how few American families have the “model mom and dad” at the helm. So because of that, an older youth leader who sincerely cares about a teenager meets a deep, God-given need for adult nurturing. In my own experience, I feel like students bond to me even quicker now than 25 years ago. The only “catch” is that you remain flexible on debatable things like loud music and body piercings! I remind myself often, “Jeanne, keep the main thing…the main thing.”


  • The only indispensable quality for being an effective youth leader has nothing to do with age. It’s a genuine love for a few teenagers. This is the only “dividing line,” plain and simple. If you care about a student and make the effort to care about “their world,” you will win their trust and friendship. Granted, some students may take a little longer to “come around.” But like 1 Corinthians 13 reminds all of us, authentic, consistent love is the “trump card” in most all situations. In “Mayo language,” attempt to be “Jesus with skin on.”


Just a couple of weeks ago, one of my best volunteers sheepishly attempted to resign. His reason? He had just turned 50 and felt like “the kids won’t relate to someone my age.” Let me wrap up by sharing with you what I told that awesome guy: “About the time you have enough experience in youth ministry to have a clue as to what you’re doing, the Enemy usually starts to make you feel ‘too old.’ Please don’t quit now. Your most effective days are just ahead, if you’ll fight through the mind games.” So no matter how old you are, remember that age is far more an issue of ATTITUDE than it is of YEARS. I’m 64 now and still going strong. Adult ministry looks pretty boring!

ATTENTION: Thoughts for Every Female in Youth Ministry…

I share with youth leaders all over the world on a pretty regular basis.  But there’s one question that invariably surfaces over and over again.  It usually is posed by a sharp female leader—one who seems a little awkward to bring the subject up.  It goes pretty much like this:

“Jeanne, talk to the women leaders in the crowd.  What advice would you give to us about being our most effective in youth ministry?  It’s a little bumpy for several of us.”   A nervous laugh usually comes up from the crowd.

So let me share with the gals what over four decades in youth ministry as a woman have most taught me.  These simple thoughts have been life-saving and soul-keeping on more occasions than one:


1)  Remember that Jesus is your #1 Fan, Cheerleader, Coach, and Friend.  Though it’s easy for us ladies to take ourselves too seriously or to feel sometimes deeply misunderstood by the other gender, Jesus always “has your back.”  As simple as that statement is, that deep awareness has anchored my heart over and over again.

2)   Your key problems will come from two distinct groups of people:  Jealous women and insecure men.  Read that sentence again.  It’s a huge one.  Jealous, gossiping women have caused more anguish in my ministry journey than I dare to remember.  And insecure men (who are somehow threatened by any small success I might have) come in as a “close second place.”  So occasionally take a moment to mentally see if some of your challenges arise from one of those two categories.  Your understanding will make it easier to ride out the storms.

3)  Capitalize on your God-given female strengths – especially sensitivity and encouragement.  Jesus wired many of us ladies to be “feelers.”   We can often sense the “vibe” of a room or sense what someone is internally feeling.  Christ has also given us the skill-set to verbally encourage others in meaningful ways.  (Granted, lots of guys can do both of these things significantly well too.)  But instead of trying to be someone or something you are NOT, choose to harness the strengths Christ has already placed inside of you as a woman.  They’re dynamite!

4)  Avoid at all price becoming a negative, bossy female leader.  Remain a LADY; and remember that Jesus is your PR Agent.  You don’t need to fight and claw your way to the top.  Proverbs promises you clearly that a “man’s gift makes room for him.”  And so does a woman’s!  Keep your attitude punctuated by the Fruit of the Spirit and people (especially guys) will find it much easier to follow you.

5)  Lastly, remember that your #1 enemy will always be the voices in your own mind.  So own your mental self-talk and bring your thoughts into alignment with God’s Word and His Truth about you.  If we all truly knew how powerful our thoughts are, we’d probably never allow another negative one to set up residence in our own thought-lives.


Women in any career field can encounter their own unique challenges.  But trust me, girls:  You’ll never regret navigating those challenging waters to make a difference in today’s youth culture.  It’s a price that is MORE than worth paying.

How To Get Better Counseling Results

If you’re in youth ministry, you know counseling is a significant part of the job description and can be one of the most rewarding things you do. All too often, however, it can feel like a huge black hole…a total waste of time due to the lack of results. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

While one of my college degrees was in counseling, allow me to share with you 12 things they never taught to me in the classroom. The wisdom I’ve gained through my ministry run will not only help you crawl out of the black hole and get some decent results, it will also save you time…something there never seems to be enough of.


  1. Assume that the person coming to you with the problem is usually the KEY to the SOLUTION. No one can change anything unless they’re willing to be a key part of the solution.
  2. Don’t feel GUILTY for not giving the EGRs (Extra Grace Required students) all the time they want. Your kids with potential leadership have challenges too, but they won’t wait in your line. They’re the ones you’re going to have to pay some extra dues with. You’re going to have to go after them.
  3. If possible, avoid trying to counsel when a person is SUPER EMOTIONAL. There are times to counsel and times to listen and comfort. It’s important to know the difference.
  4. Expect two levels of problems when you’re counseling with people: a SURFACE problem and a ROOT. They first need to be more comfortable with you and see your response before they let you know the big problem.
  5. Be aware of your BODY LANGUAGE, your facial expressions, your voice tone and sometimes your environment. 70% of your communication is done by your body language.
  6. If the problem that you’re counseling involves SEXUALITY, softly stop any discussion of unnecessary sensual details. When appropriate, rather than tell you, encourage them to journal the details to the Lord, then bring in the paper to pray over it and destroy it with you.
  7. The more SENSITIVE the topic, the more you need to train yourself to act like you’ve heard it a million times before. If you react, it communicates fear to them.
  8. If you’re counseling a sin pattern, go for the FUSE SHORTENER. Fuse shorteners are those simple things that may not cause the whole problem, but slowly “shorten the fuse” and make the problem more likely to happen.
  9. When you’re counseling watch and guard against strong OUT-OF-BALANCE emotional attachments to you. You have to be a bridge that develops their dependency on the Lord Himself.
  10. Teach yourself to turn direct statements into QUESTIONS. The stronger the statements you have to make, the longer you have to listen before you make them.
  11. When you’re counseling, help a person eventually see the problem from GOD’S PERSPECTIVE.
  12. Help that person turn those problems into a significant LIFE MESSAGE.


Youth Leaders CoachI did an entire Youth Leader’s Coach on this subject.  You’ll find it in the Youth Leader’s Coach PLAYBOOK.


This blog entry is probably destined to be one of your favorites. Let me share candidly with you on burnout. After 40+ years in full-time youth ministry, I’ve obviously experienced my share of this. So, I wanted to share with you some of the pragmatic and medical things I have learned through the journey that can help you in this crucial area.

Let’s define BURNOUT. It’s an emotional response we can all feel when we are carrying a large amount of weight. It’s like the more we GIVE, the less fulfilled we FEEL. I would say the key word that explains burnout is demoralizing. You are just worn out. You don’t want to give another ounce of yourself.189227_10150158482055406_711280405_8745367_2954497_n

So what the ROOT CAUSE here? I think it comes down to one thing. We are trying to be EVERYTHING to EVERYONE.  This is the fast track to burnout. We have to come to the point where we realize we can’t do it all. So here are my simple thoughts to manage burnout in youth ministry.

  1. Aggressively build a FRIENDSHIP CIRCLE you can be honest with.

According to surveys done by the Fuller Institute of Church Growth, 70% of pastors have no one they consider to be a close friend and 50% have considered leaving the ministry in the last 3 months. Those are staggering statistics and I suspect that the numbers aren’t too different for youth pastors and leaders. Youth ministry can be agonizingly lonely. Without someone to turn to, to share honest feelings with, we can all become victims of burnout.

  1. Take care of any unfinished EMOTIONAL business. 

Burnout can creep into the heart that holds resentment. Without honestly confronting emotional issues with someone, you can be weighed down with bitterness, hurt, pain and resentment. I often say, “Unforgiveness is allowing a person to live rent-free in your mind.” We must all handle our unfinished emotional business with care.

  1. Learn to honor a youth leader’s Sabbath and to create your own seasons of rest. 

I won’t say much about this one, but I will add a word of encouragement. Do this one GUILT FREE, which can be especially hard if you have the disease to please like I do. However, I have to tell myself, no one can put me on a trip, unless I’m willing to buy the ticket.

Most of all, I wanted you to realize that when you feel pretty seriously stressed and even burned out, you are understood and not crazy! We all walk through seasons like this. My prayer is that these simple thoughts will help you the next time life feels like it’s closing in on you.

I love you, my friends.




Kingdom Promotion

I’ve recently been studying promotion and how some people reach their goals in the church world.  For all of us, promotion looks a little different.  Some of us in the Kingdom of God leadership, can let our hearts go bad.  So let me ask a rare question, “How do you let yourself be promoted without sacrificing your heart?”

Kingdom Promotion

Here are some of my thoughts to help navigate the world of Kingdom promotion.

  • Don’t believe your own PRESS RELEASES. 

The right kind of leadership walks in humility.  All of God’s greats understood that He wanted to be their PRESS AGENT.  For me, people always asks me what I did that gave me a little bit of acclaim and credibility.  I think it was that I chose not to believe my own PRESS RELEASE.  Instead, I just trusted the Lord that He knew the right moves for me.

  •  Be faithful with what you are doing now.  Be faithful in the little things. 

You never outgrow the small moments of cleaning bathrooms, wiping down toilets and picking up after people.  Leadership in the Kingdom will require simple acts of service and servant-hood.  Remember, “he who is trusted with little, can be trusted with much.”

When I feel in my own heart that my attitude goes south in the small things, then I realize that the issue is not with the THING, the issue is with me.  Many people think leadership is talking.  Leadership is not talking.  Leadership is example.  It’s not about holding a microphone, but being faithful in the small things.

  • Galatians 1:16-17, “When the Lord called me, I went to be with the Lord myself.” 

Choose to have a regular Arabia:  your own time with the Lord.  This is what keeps you grounded and centered the higher up the leadership ladder you go.  Let the Lord anoint you for what He has called you to, and in DUE SEASON, He will exalt you.

The Future Is With The Disciplined

My phone just rang again with another agonizing report of a leader who’s out of the game due to some agonizing personal choices. My mind races with other names who’ve joined that sad list—people who could’ve given so much to kids. Allow me to briefly “preach to the choir” with the reminder that it’s far too easy for our charisma to outstrip our character.

Oswald Chambers said, “The future is with the disciplined. And without discipline, the gifts of a leader, no matter how great, will never reach their maximum potential.” Let’s take his wise advice one step further. Without discipline, the gifts of a leader can become highly dangerous. We can become so verbal that we begin talking rings around the people we should be listening to. We can become so influential that our influence slowly erodes into manipulation. We can become so much a public representative of God that our private relationship with Him becomes past tense.

Some simple warning signs let me know when I’m getting out of touch with Christ in my personal life. See if any resonate with you:


• I speak often from my head but rarely from my heart.

• I speak about yesterday and have nothing fresh from today.

• I speak about what I’ve learned rather than what I’m learning.

• I cease to answer my own altar calls.

• I long more for the approval of people than of God.

• I internally resent those around me who question my decisions or authority.


The ultimate bottom line for me is the stark realization that it’s much easier to get followers than it is to be worthy of being followed. Our talent can become deadly—kind of like an octopus on roller skates. From the outside, we produce plenty of movement but never know which direction we’re really going.

Recently, I received a sincere compliment. “Jeanne, your character is so consistent that predicting you is a little boring,” someone said laughingly. I paused and then said thanks. I’m not sure I’ve ever been called boring before, but in that context, I celebrated. By God’s grace, I’m determined to be better at leading myself than at leading others.

So here’s a new goal: Aspire to be consistent enough in your character that people will someday call you a little boring. While they may be yawning, Jesus will be smiling.

How High Is Your Listening Quotient?

One night, I found myself at a dinner with a ministry VIP.  My personal assistant later said, “That guy was a jerk to me.  But he sure seemed to like you!”

I smiled and answered, “That’s because I kept asking him questions about himself and listening while he talked.” A lot of people talk about IQ, but I want to be known for my “LQ” (Listening Quotient).

Let me ask you a really important question in youth ministry:  How good of a listener are you…really?  We in church circles often seem to be lots better at talking than we are at listening.  That’s a pretty tragic statement, but an agonizingly true one.  And after lots of years in youth ministry trenches, I promise you that intentional listening is a really, really big deal.Listening_Quotient_2

Years ago, Voltaire gave great counsel to those of us in youth ministry:  “The ears are the highway to the heart.”  James echoed that same wisdom in the New Testament when he said, “Be slow to speak but swift to listen.”  So let me give you a few simple suggestions to help your “LQ” start climbing higher.

 1)    Realize that listening takes effort on your part.  It’s far from being passive.  It’s easy to “space out” when a teenager is talking with you, but it’s only when you deeply listen that you can really hear beyond their words to their heart.  That kind of listening takes a choice on your part and focused intentionality.  It doesn’t “just happen.”  Listening is hard work.

2)    Learn to “say it back.”  I’m not suggesting you become a shrink or a parrot, but to help teenagers know that you’re really hearing them, occasionally re-word what they’re saying and repeat it back to them.  Just yesterday, a teenage guy was telling me some of the rough times he faced with his dad growing up.  Mid-stream into the conversation, I said, “If I’m hearing you right, your dad was a pretty tough guy to be around, especially when you were a young kid.  I’m super sorry.  Talk to me more about that.”  I wanted the teenager to know I was hearing what he was so awkwardly trying to say.  Then I went even further by saying, “Talk to me more about that.”  Over 30 minutes later, he stopped talking and said, “Thanks, Jeanne.  I didn’t know all that junk was in there.”  My ministry to him?  I had said almost nothing.  I just shut up and really listened.

3)    Fight to keep your eyes from wandering.  We’ve all experienced times when someone let their eyes roam the room as we’re talking to them.  If you’re like me, I’m usually through talking about the time their eyes start roaming. That’s why I remind myself often, “Wherever you are, be all the way there.”

So if you want to be effective in youth ministry, try these three simple reminders to up your “LQ.”  I can guarantee you one thing:  The more wholeheartedly you listen, the more wholeheartedly they will talk.



Biblical Confrontation

Confrontation, though we may not like it, is unavoidable.  It’s everywhere!  From ministry to family, to the workplace, to sport games, to whatever… we all have to deal with confrontation at some point.  So how do we correct in a biblical manner?  Here’s some of my thoughts:Confronting

1.  We correct to make people self-aware.  It’s easy for people to miss their blind spots.  This is why confrontation is a must in some avenues.  We must be courageous enough to challenge people to be the best that they can be.

2.  We correct to help point people in what is best for them.  Sometimes confrontation is necessary to challenge people out of areas that are not good for them.  To confront is to care.

3. Unless confrontation brings you pain, you shouldn’t do it.  This is the star, underline!  Haven’t you met people who enjoy correcting people just a little too much?  The truth is, if it’s too easy for you to correct people, then you aren’t ready to correct.

4. People are messed up.  There is always a story behind the habit, the actions and attitudes.  Take time to listen deeply to people.  When you take the time to listen to people, you gain a new understanding and fresh eyes to why people do what they do.

5. Watch how you treat people after the confrontation.  Always love on them afterwards to guard awkwardness from the previous correction. 

6. Don’t just state facts, ask questions.  Asking things such as, “Where do you think that comes from?” or “Help me to understand why that happens?” are incredible questions to get people really thinking about why they do what they do.  Remember, the goal of confrontation is restoration, not condemnation.

7. Praise in public, but correct in private.  Confidence in correction is a big deal.  If people feel like you air their dirty laundry, then trust is broken.

8. Biblical correction should always up your level of compassion.  Here’s the rule to biblical confrontation:  treat others the way you desire to be treated.  Your biggest goal is to be an authentic encourager, then as time progresses you have the right to make other people better.  Remember, “The goodness of God leads to repentance.”

Helping Spiritual Truths Come Alive On A Personal Basis

Let me start by asking a question, “When you are feeding a precious new baby, who controls the speed of that feeding, do you control it, or does that baby control it?” The answer, of course, is the baby.  You cannot make a child feed any faster than he wants to.  Once the child says, “I’m done,” you can keep feeding it, but he’ll just spit the milk back out.

So, as you are “feeding” students God’s truths, let me give just 10 simple thoughts about how to help students embrace spiritual truths on a personal basis.

1. Just like newborn babies will feed and grow differently and at different times, so will your students.  Everyone learns differently.  Many of us are visual learners, others are audio learners.  Some students may come back to you with instant feedback while others will be silent for a while on their growth.  You will be working with different types of students, so you will have to adjust for that.

2. Make the THREE LEGGED STOOL and the 10 AND 10 your personal mantra and be intentional about creating ways to mention these often.  The three legged stool is prayer, time in the Word, and Christian friends.  I say to my students that if you don’t have one of these, or if you shorten one of these, then your walk with Christ can become unstable.  The 10 AND 10 is 10 minutes in the Word and 10 minutes in prayer.  The Dare: 30 Days Will Change Everything by Josh Mayo, the Pursue Bible And Journal, and Life Journal are great spiritual growth resources.The Dare

3. Positive INTENTIONS without positive FRIENDSHIPS usually result in spiritual disaster in a teenager’s life.  A quote I say often is, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”  Make sure you stay aggressive in the “friendship cultivation business” in your youth group.

4. Communicate biblical truth outside of the CHURCH WALLS.  Field trips are a great tool to further explain a concept.  Also, retreats are great or taking someone out and talking to them one on one during a lunch or car ride.  Getting people out of their natural environment to teach them is a very powerful thing.

5. Make sure to tell students that FAILURE isn’t FATAL.  Make one-liners from upfront on stage and in personal conversation to defang any negative thoughts that may be birthed from spiritual mess-ups.  Be tremendously honest and create an atmosphere where spiritual truth can be integrated.

6. Youth ministry was created for HEROISM, not just PLEASURE.  So give them reasonable hills to charge along the journey.  If you give students hills to charge, then as they’re charging the hill, spiritual truth can come alive.Hills To Climb

7. When speaking, make sure you ask, “So What?”  This is the question that every student is quietly asking as they listen to one of your talks.  This helps the students say to themselves, “What does this have to do with me and what do I have to do with it?”  You need to be a person that is easy to listen to that connects to their life.

8. Obsessively ENCOURAGE and REWARD the smallest RIGHT CHOICES in a student’s spiritual growth.  “Whatever gets REWARDED, gets REPEATED.”

9. Remember spiritual formation always happens best when you get them in the game rather than just on the bench.  Small groups are a key element for getting your students into relationships with other Christ-followers.  Also, get them serving.  This will give them ownership of the ministry.In The Game

10. Always direct the majority of your attention and time to potential leaders because they will multiply themselves into others.  If you are not intentional with who you give your personal time away to, your EGRs (EXTRA GRACE REQUIRED) will always take it from you.