I’m writing this blog as I’m finishing up the All-American tradition of Christmas decorating. I sure hope our neighbors appreciate the 3-foot light-up ornaments I bought to hang on the giant pine tree outside our front door. But let’s turn the Christmas music down for a minute and get painfully honest.
Truth be told, many of us experience the holidays feeling more like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas than Elf or It’s A Wonderful Life. One North American survey reported that 45% of those polled said they actually “dreaded the holiday season.” Hospitals and medical professionals back this up by saying that Christmas is the season with the highest rate of significant depression in North America.
I can hear you thinking, “But we’re CHRISTIANS…so that’s not true for US!” But think again. Just because you’re a sincere Christ-follower doesn’t give you an immune-pill against a serious case of the blah’s and/or depression. I should know. I have fought the “invisible dark cloud” in my own life almost every day for the past ten years. Yes, my life is hugely fulfilling, my family is beyond description, and Jesus Christ is the epicenter of my entire existence. But the “thick cloud in my brain” is still often something I have to push through on a regular basis.
So how could the Grinch be in full play during the holidays, even for authentic Christians? There are several possible factors. One consideration is “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD) which is triggered by greater levels of darkness during the winter months. It simply means that due to lack of higher and longer levels of sunlight, not as many “feel-good chemicals” are produced in your physical body.
Secondly, lots of us unconsciously deal with unrealistic expectations of “Joy To The World” and “I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas.” Christmas songs, movies, and even commercials bombard us with messages that everything is supposed to be “picture perfect” around the holidays – all of our family getting along beautifully, all of our wildest fantasy gifts under the tree, and all of deepest longings totally met. And if we’re in the ministry, OBVIOUSLY we would also be receiving a huge Christmas bonus that would allow us to make an impromptu trip to Cancun! Sadly enough, we all eventually come out of our “Christmas coma” and realize that Christmas is not at all what the media has led us to internally expect. As a matter of fact, many of the “halls we’re decking” are not very “jolly.”
And lastly, many of us in the ministry can find ourselves emotionally exhausted from all the “holiday events” we helped to make happen. We then easily find ourselves giving our family and most important relationships our “emotional leftovers.” If that’s not sad enough, the holidays can also reverberate with loneliness and a secret “victim mentality” for some of us. Have I shared enough realism to make you sufficiently depressed…even if you were happy when you started to read?
So how do you turn “Silent Night” into “Joy To The World”?
Yes, “the blues” and more serious depression can be a challenge for even the most committed Christians. But hopefully, some of my simple suggestions might resonate with you in a helpful way. Most of all, remind yourself this Christmas season that you already have almost everything important that money cannot buy. And that, my dear friend, is enough to turn most any “Silent Night” into a rocking “Joy To The World.”
Not long ago, I found myself on a 12-hour international flight after doing ministry with some youth leaders who met together in Turkey. I’m a bit of a “tight wad” so I refuse to pay for “business class upgrades,” even on long flights. But thanks to lots of mileage points, I received the upgrade without cost. So I stretched out comfortably in my amazing assigned location, complete with 5 different settings to make sure my seat was as comfortable as possible. I pulled out my iPad and began work. After all, I’d been out of the country for several days. “I’m way behind,” I thought to myself.
Fast forward to “hour 11” of my 12-hour flight. The plane cabin had been dark for several hours. The guy across the aisle from me made me inwardly laugh with his strange snoring pattern. But I kept working – determined to use the hours on the plane to “catch up.”
Then a thought came pounding into my consciousness. Though I’m slow to call all fly thoughts “from Jesus,” the clear and “loud” nature of these particular five words pointed pretty clearly to the divine.
“Are you tired enough yet?” the internal voice asked me. And almost immediately, I knew what Jesus was trying to say. “Jeanne, what are you trying to prove? Are you exhausted enough now to finally think you have ‘earned the right’ to turn off your iPad and get some sleep?”
Years ago when I was visiting Israel, I accidentally got into the wrong elevator at our hotel. Though I didn’t realize it, we had walked into the “Shabbat elevator.” (In the Jewish tradition, “Shabbat” is the term for the Sabbath.) So in the Shabbat elevator, I found myself stopping at every floor! The Orthodox Jews in Israel take the Sabbath so seriously that you are not even allowed to “work by pushing buttons!”
Granted, this approach still seems a bit extreme to me. But that day on the elevator, just like during my lengthy plane trip, I think the Lord was trying to say to me:
“Jeanne, stop living at such a break-neck pace! Stop trying to push all the buttons that control your life. Slow down…slow down…slow down.”
Matthew 11:28 lovingly whispers this truth to me another way: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” How about you, my friend? Maybe reading this wasn’t a coincidence for you today. Maybe the Lord is lovingly saying to you, like He did me, “Slow down…slow down…slow down.”
We hosted an amazing “Block Party” recently at our youth service, complete with a well-known Christian rap artist (at a supposedly “discounted rate”). Our attendance nearly doubled and many indicated at the conclusion that they wanted to give their lives to Christ. But here’s what four decades in full-time youth ministry have taught me: It is highly likely that this coming week’s youth service will show little evidence that much fruit from our big night “stuck”! So, why continue hosting big events? After all, they are tons of extra work and often, come with a pretty hefty price tag. Let me give you my thoughts:
Bottom line? Nothing replaces the long-term impact of day-in and day-out discipleship. No, it’s not real glamorous or “sexy.” It doesn’t give you a huge attendance number to “modestly drop” into conversation with other friends in youth leadership. But if you’re interested in authentic Jesus-oriented results, it’s still your most indispensable vehicle. So, keep hosting your occasional big events. But make the follow-up and resulting discipleship an even bigger deal than the excited crowd that you’re hoping to attract. Jesus will be smiling…and so will you, especially when you stand before Him.
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.
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!
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:
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!
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.