It’s been some emotional roller-coaster this whole youth ministry thing. I’ve been in both the deep end, and the shallow kiddy-pool of my heart-spine.
I’ve struggled with mild discouragement, bouts of depression, and prolonged stress at different stages of my career so far. It can sometimes be very difficult to distinguish whats actually affecting me, what set of emotions are in play, and how they need to be dealt with (i.e. pain killers, peace n’ quiet, counseling, a holiday, a good knock to the head, a grin-n-bear it week etc.)
In Doug Fields book Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry he dedicates a whole chapter to dealing with discouragement. On p.47, Steve Geralli gives a helpful reminder in a little aside box saying,
“Be aware that depression can mask itself as discouragement. Some signs of depression include irritability, sadness, exhaustion, low self-image, destructive self-criticism, shame, guilt, and loss of pleasure and fulfillment. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms for more than a couple of months, consult a professional therapist.”
Steve’s comments are really useful. Depression can easily be mistaken for discouragement, and sometimes vice versa too. In fact in my last year of my previous job I was diagnosed me with stress, but until I saw my GP I was treating it as simply discouragement – these things can easily get muddled together.
So just some preliminary thoughts:
– Don’t be surprised by depression, discouragement, or stress. Youth Ministry is about 80% less about fun n’ games than we thought it was!
– Don’t worry at other people’s surprise. Youth Ministry is 100% less about fun n’ games than they think it is!
– Keep a positive check on your ministry / life / spirituality balance.
– Don’t be afraid to talk to a GP for clarity’s sake. Especially when experiencing things like fatigue, lack of motivation/enthusiasm, difficult sleep patterns, sudden weight loss/gain, increased irritability etc.
– Try to keep in context the cross we carry, the sacrificial life of a minister, and what it means to share Christ’s sufferings.
– Memorize some fighter verses.
– Read daft books & watch daft films (harry potter & the simpsons have gotten me through a lot).
– Take your holidays. Spend fun time planning them (book early).
– Take your days off & sometimes take them away from your work areas/towns/city/planet.
– Laugh for no reason.
– Wake up at 1am just to go and buy cake from the supermarket.
– Keep letters that have encouraged you in a journal. Delete the stupid emails.
– Don’t be afraid to call some emails and conversations you’ve had stupid.
– Make to do lists an hour before you sleep. Include conversations you need to have, emails you’ve got to send, people you need to beat up (kidding). Just get it outa your head!
– Tidy a room or two. Wash some dishes. Take a shower.
Depression, Stress & Discouragement in Youth Work