Every year I have a youth group session where I’m intentionally not there. That’s right, I miss it on purpose. I set it up to occur in the fall semester, usually October or November. Some might think that by missing youth group I’m not doing my job, but by missing that session I’m able to do my job more effectively. I notify my team and prepare them for my absence. I’m empowering my team of volunteers and keeping a healthy balance in my life. Here’s why it’s important that you have a planned absence at least once a year.
1. You are not the Messiah
Too often youth ministers fall into the belief that “if I’m not there it won’t
happen”. Just as common, we allow ourselves to take the weight of the success or failure of youth group on our shoulders. Remember, YOU ARE NOT THE MESSIAH! God has a plan and He is the only one that can bring about conversion of heart. Your job is simply to create the environment to best allow that person to encounter Christ.
2. Empower your volunteers
A fellow youth minister shared how he had a volunteer come up and tell him there was trash on the floor, then ask what the youth minister wanted him to do. Instead of giving an answer the youth minister asked, “Well, what do you think you should do?” Of course, the response was to pick up the trash and throw it away. The volunteer was excited to clean it up since he came up with the idea.
During the fall semester my volunteers will often be timid and lacking confidence in what needs to be done. This is supported by the assurance that they can rely on me to ‘pick up the pieces’ or give specific and continual directions. When I’m not there it’s amazing how they will quickly and confidently step into their roles and just get things done because “the youth minister isn’t here to take care of it, so I need to”. It’s beautiful how their confidence and assertiveness will continue in the weeks and months following my planned absence.
3. When you’re absent, the Church won’t catch fire and burn down – everyone will survive and may even thrive!
You may be anxious, and even scared, when you’re not at youth group. I was with one youth worker during a conference and he continually updated me as the minutes ticked away while his volunteers were leading youth group: “they’re moving to the hall”… “they’re starting praise and worship”… “now they’re getting into small groups”. I assured him that his volunteers were trained, equipped, and prepared to effectively lead this session without him. And they were.
Just because you’re not there doesn’t mean that things will go horribly wrong. There may be some hiccups, just as with any youth group session, but those are great opportunities for the volunteers to build confidence and learn to change and adapt to make the session successful.
4. Put things in perspective
While you may be the lead youth minister, it is you and your team that make each session a success. And if you’re reading this and thinking that no youth session can be a success without you (maybe you’re the one giving the talk, leading music, and the game; or maybe your volunteers don’t have the skills to lead) then you need to start training and forming your team to learn how to lead. The Next Level Ministry Team has numerous ways that we have trained volunteers and youth ministers. Please contact us if you’re seeking ways to grow in these area. None of us are called to minister alone and the Church has many more gifts to share than just the talents of one person.
5. Prepare your team for unplanned absences – or youth group emergencies where you have to step out of the session to deal with a situation
A couple years ago my planned absence was the first weekend of October. I returned the next week and lauded my volunteers for the wonderful job they did. The following week I had a family tragedy late Saturday evening. I sent out a text to 2 of my volunteers asking one to take care of logistics (nametags and flyers) and the other to take lead on running the session. Because of my planned absence two weeks prior, I had confidence that my team would be able to carry out a successful youth group and my volunteers had the same confidence in themselves.
You’re not always going to be able to be fully present at youth group. You need the option to step out, whether it’s a family emergency or a situation that’s taking place during the session. In my decade of ministry I’ve had emergencies during youth group ranging from potential kidnapping situations, self-harm/suicidal ideation/abuse and CPS notifications, emergency responders arriving, and youth with special needs having stressful episodes and needing special attention. If you have to step out, you and your team need the confidence that the session can successfully continue without you.
Planned absences help your team to unify, recognize their talents, and join together to make ministry happen even when you’re not there. They’re beneficial to the ministry, the team, the teens, and to you. So take care of your youth, your volunteers, and yourself by having a planned absence.
Great things to do during a planned absence:
- Attend a conference
- Go on retreat to be poured into
- Take your significant other out on a date or treat yourself to dinner
- Go to a movie
- Take a nap – a long, beautiful, rest-filled nap