One of the questions all Youth pastors or leaders in general have to ask is "How do I maintain the energy level of my team?" Lets be open for a bit, we've all experienced that lull during the ministry year where it feels like you're wading through waist deep molasses in the middle of winter. Events become a blur, and you're just glad when you can go home and rest. Energy gets spent in more ways than one than one as the year progresses, so its important, and dare I say imperative for a leader to be aware of his teams energy level. Lets take a look at this thing we call energy so we can understand it better and hopefully we can begin to think of ways to better spend and recharge our team members.
What is energy?
Humans have two kinds of energy (there may be more, but we're going to focus on 2 for times sake): Physical energy and emotional energy. Both of these is what fuels every person to do their work or to create something and even to develop deep relationships. Some people have an instinctual skill to know when they need to recharge their energy and how to reload it themselves. Others have to learn how to develop disciplines to keep their energy levels at optimum. Some choose physical activity, music, making or looking at art spending time in nature or even engaging
For the benefit of newer leaders, energy subtractors are any event, situation or relationship that leaves you drained and unable to work at an optimal level. For some its spending too much time away from people, others spending too much time with people, stress, arguments, even daily day to day tasks can be energy subtractors. each will drain away a small or large portion of your daily energy reserves. lets take a quick glance at a few major ones:
a weak spiritual life- This will erode what little energy you're able to muster, because we rob ourselves of a vast source of energy that comes from God. Most of us do our best to make it through on instinct and skill alone, but this is a dangerous habit to forms as it not only weakens us, but makes us vulnerable to mistakes and attacks. If we are to counter act the drain effect of the many subtractors out there, then this is where we begin.
Poor Diet: Its long been a running joke that the diet of a typical youth pastor consists of Pizza, Soda Pop, Nachos and Wings. Some of us don't even eat a vegetable that has not been either deep fried or if it doesn't come from a chip bag. Its amazing how much having an unbalanced and unhealthy diet will affect the way your energy reserves work. Junk food is dangerous because it gives us the illusion of being fed, while in truth there is so little nutrition in it that our body can use to give us a decent level of energy. Most of that stuff is processed as waste and nothing is drawn into the system to help it maintain health.
Lack of Physical activity: This goes hand in hand with poor diet as your physical self needs exercise to maintain peak performance energy levels. No, eating junk food and "working it off" at tonights event is not exercise! This is where most of us tend to gravitate, but the problem with this is that even though we may run around with our students, we train our selves to only do it when they're around. In fact, we are indirectly teaching them bad habits that contribute to the rise of obesity.
For our teams:
Over taxing their time: no ministry would be successful without the help of all these brave volunteers who many times are the first to arrive, help clean up, take kids home, skip meals and holidays to help impact the lives of students. They are our most important resource so we must treat them as such. As pastors we can be the biggest drain on their energy simply because we need ministry to keep functioning. Making sure we're not being unreasonable with the use of their time is important, which means that its important to start and end events ON TIME. we're good at getting them involved with the students, but sometimes we forget that they are people with lives and stresses too.
These are activities that leave you charged up and feeling like you could take on the world. Its amazing how good you feel after you spend time doing some of these activities. They're fun, they're interesting and sometimes a bit odd. The main idea here is to do something that gives energy rather than subtract it. As seen above, lets take a glance at what can we do to counteract the aforementioned subtractors to help our team maintain energy.
Pray & Read: we cannot ask our teams to grow in their faith walks if we are neglecting ours. Thats just, plain and simple, hypocritical. Therefore, we must strive to set the standard that our team sees. More importantly, pray whenever you are together with them, pray for them, have them pray for you, and pray for your students. Reading the bible goes with out saying, I know that some of us are not huge readers (I love reading for the record!), but there is such a hoard of great writing out there loaded with tools and suggestions we can use to be even better leaders. If we become better leaders, then our team will become better, and really there is no limit where the Lord can take you after that.
Healthy Alternatives: At my previous ministry opportunity, my team and I made a decision to ban energy drinks from all events. We did for two reasons: 1) have you ever seen a hyper Jr Higher loaded up on red bull?! they're bound to become radioactive or spontaneously combust and then we'd get blamed for burning down the church! 2) <seriously> There is nothing healthy or good about energy drinks. we felt that allowing them to put that junk into their system and condoning it would be enabling the formation of bad eating habits and we cared about our students too much to let them ingest that stuff.
we started to add healthy alternatives to our snack times and we minimized the use of pizza and chips at our events. We asked parents to provide healthy baked goods when snacks were needed and lowered our sugar intake. Will those kids eat healthier at home? maybe not, but as stewards of their time and lives we were going to be examples to them. btw I lost 35 lbs in 2 months (I also exercised regularly) also and it showed the kids that you could have better health.
Physical Activity: Yeah, youth events can be high energy and very active but there is a need for us to invest in regular exercise outside of youth events. When we exercise our bodies, our minds become shaper, we think quicker and have more energy. You'll notice that ideas for sermons, events and bible studies just keep pouring out of your head. Also you'll sleep better and then have more energy to invest into your team and students. You don't have to go and sign up for a fancy gym membership, but you can go out for a walk after supper (take your kids if you have some) or get a group of area pastors and play some pickup basketball a couple of times a week, or simply go jogging. Do it until it becomes a habit and yes the first few times you'll be tired, but if you stick to it you'll see results. Show your people that the Lord not only cares for your soul but your physical self too.
For our teams:
Long weekends off: "What?!?! shut down youth for a long weekend?! are you crazy!!!" this may be your reaction, but let me explain before you stop reading. I think that as youth pastors we are not only called to serve the youth but the families as well. I know that most long weekends we see a slight increase in attendance to our events because students finally have time to come out. This is great, but have you thought about your team? do they have families that they'd like to spend a long weekend with? perhaps they'd like to go and visit a friend? or just simply stay in. I think we've done a great disservice to our teams in youth ministry by asking them to work when everyone has the weekend off.
When I started to think about this,, I realized that i was being unfair to my team and unfair to my family. I spoke to my SP at the time and told him that I was going to shut down youth every long weekend and he reacted much like I noted above but I told him that these volunteers take time after working 8 hours every friday, who sacrifice weekends to spend it in a cabin with a bunch of stinky Jr. High boys, who are there every-time we need them and ask for nothing in return. It was in our best interest to make sure that they got a gift for their service and a $10 coffee gift card was not going to cut it. We needed to give them the gift of time off.
He raised a concern regarding the students not coming to other events or going elsewhere because we were not open. I told him that at the parents meeting I challenged the parents to take the long weekends and plan outings with their students, to intentionally take interest in what their teen was into and to not fear having to compete with a youth event. Reluctantly he agreed to let me try it for the year, and what I discovered was this: Students kept coming (we actually grew), and my team was even more energized! the winter energy lull was greatly minimized which translated into them having more energy to spend on the students which then made our events, and services better and took us into a whole new gear of momentum. My team then worked harder because they did not feel guilty about missing an event scheduled on a long weekend due to family events. They came back energized, happy and ready to take on the world and we succeeded.
What I'nm trying to suggest is that we need to be intentional in ensuring that our energy levels and the energy levels of our teams are at an optimum because we'll be able to fight the good fight longer and with excellence. I don't know about you, but I rather go to battle with happy, rested people than a bunch of weary, grouchy people.