Staying Creative and Beating Burnout
By David M. Reever
If you are presently coping with “youth worker’s blahs,” the seminar title was sufficient description for you. Youth ministry for the long haul inevitably faces the creativity crises and burnout syndrome. Thus an additional objective to receiving help for the present will be prevention for the future. Insights will be given to the causes and prevention of burnout, tips for creativity, an honest look at results, and the nature of youth ministry.
A. Definition of Burnout
* The gradual but eventually severe or critical exhaustion or depletion of one’s physical, mental, and/or spiritual resources by taxing one or more of them without providing time for recovering or recharging.1
B. Present Help or Prevention
1. Accumulated years of ministry and rising pressure that is not dealt with will constitute burnout. When one is at this point, their need for present help is obvious.
2. However, there is such a thing as prevention. The principles that will lead you out of burnout are the very ones that will prevent it as well.
C. Learn to Pace Yourself
1. Pacing is simply walking with slow or regular steps. Cruise control in a car always gets better gas mileage than an unsteady foot on the accelerator.
2. We need to pace ourselves in regard to our ministry in the following three areas:
a. Activities – Take time for yourself and your family! There is nothing commendable about seeing how much you can plan in your youth program and thus depleting your resources. Guard your balance between personal time and youth activities.
b. Concepts – It is important to pace yourself mentally during the “mountain top” experiences of the youth group. Even though it is spiritually summer, gathering season, prepare yourself for the winter season. Youth groups will cycle and it is essential to recognize this to avoid disillusionment and burnout.
c. Ideas – There are times when it just seems our creative mind is workingbetter. When an influx of ideas and brainstorms come to you, do not use all of them in the next two weeks. By pacing yourself and spreading them out, you will guard against burnout in those times when the well is dry.
II. Cases of Burnout
A. Physical Tiredness
1. Schedules and busyness can lead to burnout. There are some things that can be cured just by a day off! We can complicate such a simple issue.
2. Youth workers have battled with feelings of ineffectiveness when the only problem was simply being worn out.
B. Failure and Inferiority
1. Anytime we do not properly cope with falling short of our ideals and we concentrate on the unfinished part rather than the finished, we open ourselves to the burnout possibility.
2. Give God your failures as well as your successes. We quickly give God the glory for any good that comes from us. However, it is those mistakes and misjudgments that we hold on to until it begins to drain us of the life that is needed to minister. God is big enough to handle it all!
C. Lack of Growth
1. Constant ministering without personal growth will eventually leave you with nothing left.
2. You cannot move away from burnout. Moving to another church, youth group, or class does not solve the problem. The answer is to grow into another dimension where you will have fresh challenges.
3. Learn offensive study in addition to defensive study. This is beyond the meeting of deadlines, and preparing for tomorrow’s lesson or sermon. It is a time of study and prayer just for personal growth.
A. What Is Creativity?
1. The miracle of the obvious. It’s looking at a common problem in unique ways.
2. “Here be dragons” maps read where cartographers ran out of known world before they ran out of parchment. Then came Columbus. He noticed that ships didn’t just disappear but that the hull always disappeared first, then the sails and finally the tips of the mast. In very pragmatic operational terms, Columbus saw oceans differently.2
B. The Ultimate Squelcher of Creativity
1. “But we have always done it this way.” Basic doctrines and Biblical principles will never change, but that has nothing to do with our approach.
2. The challenge is to break patterns. Our ministries need to be free from stagnation and filled with excitement.
C. Some Tips
1. Let creativity serve you.
a. We are not to be dominated by exciting programs that are void of purpose.
b. Determine your group’s needs first and then think of creative ways to meet those needs.
a. God is the source of creativity. He created the heavens and the earth!
b. Therefore, it is only logical to expect creative ideas to come to us through prayer.
3. Dare to try!
* There will always be the apprehension from the unknown. However, it is important to just loosen up and try!
IV. Insights for Your Survival
A. The Nature of Youth Ministry
1. The lack of appreciation
a. Youth workers often find themselves in the situation of quite a bit of work and very little thanks. A couple of reasons for this is that some youth find it hard to express themselves and also many are just selfishly oriented.
b. Learn to interpret the unsaid things. Some actions and statements have more weight behind them than the surface indicates. We must constantly teach expression and appreciation; however, we will last for the long haul when we avoid this burnout pitfall.
2. Youth group turnover
a. Have you ever felt like you were teaching the same things over that you thought your group had conquered? You are. This common sense point of turnover has been one we have missed at times and caused burnout.
b. Every five to seven years creates a new group of kids. You have not failed, but rather are ready to reteach the same issues every generation needs to hear.
c. Don’t forget that groups have personalities just like individuals. This will save a lot of frustration with yourself when you get a group that is less motivated than the previous.
B. Results and Growth
1. Establish the difference between the two. Growth will produce results, but results do not necessarily produce growth; that is, when growth is properly defined.
2. We are guilty of measuring growth and success by attendance, activities, and participation. Obviously all of this is good and desired, but it does not mean the group is growing.
3. True growth is inward! It is young people who are maturing. Outreach and results will come from strong, mature, and spiritual youth.
4. Do not be discouraged because more is happening than what you realize.
C. Burnout Prevention
1. Attend seminars and conferences.
* More happens than what you actually write on paper. Something magical can transpire that loosens the gears of creativity.
2. Recognize your limitations.
b. Do not overextend yourself and assume too much responsibility. You can only do so many things well.
3. Do something different regularly.
* An odd job, a chore around the house, or a day away with the family can be a great source of renewal.
* Simply relive a positive situation; a time when God was especially real to you. Enjoy that lesson with the kids when everything went perfect. You will find this a source of strength.
1. Fuentes, Jose A. Recognizing and Handling Burnout.
2. Elwood and Madison. Brainstorms and Thunderbolts: How Creative Genius Works.
Excerpted from “1988 Youth Workers’ Seminar Notebook”. By David M. Reever.