When Youth Ministers Get Broken

image Believe it or not, I used to be a soccer player. Looking at me now, I probably look more like a defensive lineman for football, but once upon a time I was slightly more athletic and svelte. I played “America’s Past-time” soccer for my college team, and wasn’t half bad! Ok, I was playing against other bible college students so I wasn’t exactly going against future world cup players, but I did score 3 goals (one against an actual scholarship team, so there…).

Anyways, I digress. Back to the story I never actually started (and trying to keep it succinct to not get bogged down in details). Right before my senior year, we had an alumni game where the team played the alumni so we could get ready for the season. During the game, I was going for a ball and swung my leg to kick it. Unfortunately, my good friend Chuck (who is 6’4 240) was also going for the ball, but he was sliding his whole body into the ball. Guess who won? My leg lost that battle big time. Both bones broken in my lower left leg. Ouch. Senior season gone. Ouch. Several hours of surgery later, I was left with a metal rod in my leg. Ouch. Thankfully, my leg healed (mostly). Unfortunately, we have a lot of broken and beaten youth ministers out there that will never fully heal.

The statistics are staggering. I got the following from http://www.shepherd-care.org on hurting ministers…

  • 350,000 pastors in the United States at any one time – 7% of them – are burned out
  • One in eight ( 1 in 8 ) pastors are thinking about resigning
  • 80% of pastors believe that pastoral ministry affect their families negatively
  • 40% of all pastors have a serious conflict with a church member at least once a month, the chief cause of pastoral exodus
  • Pastors have an attrition rate of 20 to 30 percent
  • 52% of pastors are seriously unhappy with the opportunities they have to talk with others about their personal needs
  • There are many pastors who are trained, innovative, personable, fearless, called – yet they are out of active service in the church as leaders
  • The Church suffers from the awful reputation that it “shoots its wounded”
  • Ministers who are out of active service feel depressingly lonely and frequently abandoned by their former colleagues

While those stats refer to pastors as a whole, I would say that youth ministers meet or exceed those stats across the board. We’ve all seen youth ministers who have been hurt, damaged, burnt out, or even personally destroyed by their time in the ministry. Maybe you are coming from a place like that yourself. Its not a fun place. Believe me, I have been living it! There are a lot of broken youth ministers out there – be it from losing a job, being mistreated by church leadership, damaged marriages, self inflicted wounds, etc.

Yet there is hope. As I laid there on the turf, I was sure I would never walk again. All I could do was scream out in agony. Well, that and crack a few jokes about how walking around on crutches could get me a girl (and it did…ask if you want to hear that story!). Regardless, at the time it seemed like a pretty hopeless situation, where I would never escape the pain. When we’re in the moment, it can seem impossible to get out of the pain, but we can. Let me share 7 tips that I learned from my healing from the broken leg that will hopefully help you heal from a damaging ministry situation…

1. Get some help – When I was on the ground, I was helpless. I needed a lot of help! I needed someone to help me just turn over, someone to call the hospital, someone to call my parents, someone to help at the hospital, someone to do the surgery…you get the point. When you’re broken, you need lots of help! Seek it out. Find friends who can rally around you. Seek the advice of mentors and other wise people. If possible, get some professional help. You will have a lot of issues to work through. I could not have fixed my leg myself, but needed help from doctors. Sometimes, we can’t fix our issues ourselves so we should seek out professionals who know how to navigate tough issues. And don’t forget, continually seek God and ask for his help in the healing. Whatever you do, don’t try to heal alone! It’s impossible.

2. Take time off – We’ve all seen professional athletes who played on an injury or came back too soon from one. What happens? Its rarely a good thing. We make heroes out of those who manage to survive despite their stupid displays of machismo, but never talk about the ones who ruined their careers or their lives. I was one of those idiots. I tried to walk on my leg after 3 weeks. I tried running after 6. I don’t think my leg has healed correctly because of my stupidity. When you’re broken, you need to rest to heal! If you’ve lost a ministry, take time off to heal. Don’t jump at the first open opportunity. If you’re still in a ministry and have been wounded, try to take a break or vacation or sabbatical. Thats not always possible, I know, but do whatever you can to make space for healing. Sometimes its even necessary to leave a position so that you can become fully healed again. Thats not an easy decision. But if your relationship with God, your family, or your effectiveness as a minister is taking a major hit, it might be necessary to step away from a while. Regardless, take time to heal and not just rush back into the fray.

3. Stay Active – One thing I learned pretty quickly in my leg’s healing process was that I wouldn’t be sitting on the couch all the time. I had to do rehab several times a week, so that when it came time to walk again, I could. When you’re healing in ministry, you need to keep using your gifts in service to God’s kingdom in some way. Not necessarily as the youth minister or even in the youth ministry, but serving in God’s kingdom. Otherwise you run the risk of becoming self-absorbed, self-serving, and making it harder for you to come back from the hurts. Rehab keeps those muscles loose without the stress of walking or running. So we should keep our service “muscles” working without the stress of ministry for a time.

4. Stay balanced – Staying balanced on one leg was rather difficult. I remember one instance that I was walking up the steps to my house (think old victorian type with steep steps). I lost my balance near the top, and did a backwards swan dive to the pavement. Right in front of the HS State champions in football (seriously…I think the embarrassment was worse than the falling). If you’re not balanced, you’re going to fall! The same is true when you’re trying to heal from internal wounds. Don’t isolate yourself from friends. Don’t change health habits like eating and sleeping. Don’t neglect your spiritual life. Maintain your life as best as possible. It will help the healing process, and help you avoid falling into depression.

5. Find a hobby – Even though all of my time wasn’t spent sitting on the couch, a depressingly large amount of it was. Thankfully, I was given some respite because I was allowed to travel with the team as the official statistician. It wasn’t much of a hobby, but it kept me sane (and I got to go to Florida when the team went to nationals…score!) When you’re healing from ministry trauma, you need to find something to get your mind off of the pain. Learn to play guitar. Write a blog. Become an Ultimate Fighter. Just find something to keep your mind and/or body occupied.

6. Chronicle God’s blessings – When I broke my leg, I was certain that I’d lost everything. I couldn’t play soccer, I couldn’t work at my job (my warehouse job was a little difficult on crutches), and I couldn’t go to school. Totally messed everything up. I had to look to see what God had done, and was doing through this hurt, in my life and how He had blessed me. The same goes for hurts that we suffer in ministry. It can be so easy to get caught up in that narrow pain, that we miss the wider view of what God is doing. I know in my current situation that it has been so easy to think that my life stinks, when in reality God has been so richly blessing me. It helps put life in perspective, and to open our eyes to all that God is still doing. This verse is true “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” (Romans 8:28). God is working out your situation for the good, its just that it takes us being thankful to really be on the lookout for that.

7. Forgive – Ok, this one had nothing to do with my broken leg. I hold no animosity towards Chuck, never did. But, this is one huge step in healing from ministry hurts that must be undertaken. There is no true healing without forgiveness. Otherwise, we continue to hold the pain in and it eats us alive. We know this from years on teaching about forgiveness, but I’ve seen its hard to put into practice, especially if we’ve been hurt BY the church. Forgive whoever has hurt you. Don’t let it become a cancer. You don’t have to call them up and say, “Hey, I forgive you!” because likely you’ll get an answer that will just hack you off even more. Regardless, forgive them.

Unfortunately, healing from a hurt in ministry is infinitely harder than healing from a broken leg. Given the right treatment, your leg will heal just fine on its own. But unless we continually seek out and work towards our healing we won’t heal as a minister. As a matter of fact, it will only get worse.

I would love to hear some stories of how you have healed from ministry hurts. 

Bill Nance

Bill Nance

Founder and President at Student Ministry Stuff
Bill Nance is a 15 year veteran of youth ministry, having served in churches across the midwest. He currently works at a non-profit organization that works with churches and other agencies that serve hungry people. He also spends time writing, training, and speaking to help youth ministries across the country. If you are looking for a talented speaker for your next youth ministry event, consider booking him today!
Bill Nance

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