The Cure for Youth Ministry Busyness

youth ministry busyness

The cure to busyness in ministry is being selfish. “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: “What are we busy about?”-Henry David Thoreau

In my 20+ years in youth ministry, one thing is guaranteed every week: busyness.

When I talk with youth leaders all over the country, I discover we are so stinking busy. We’re not the type to sit idle; we work hard. Laziness is rarely an issue for youth leaders. The issue that keeps me up at night when it comes to passing the spiritual baton of the gospel to the next generation is the pursuit of efficiency over effectiveness.  There is a tremendous difference between efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the RIGHT things.

We’ve all been there. The planning that program game, getting supplies, ordering food, calling back that parent, posting on social media, meeting with senior leadership, defending the youth ministry budget, being a good parent and spouse, going to high school sports games, responding to “emergency” theological question texts, investigating the weird smell and hole in the wall, and just when there’s a glimmer of hope that you’re all caught up, rinse and repeat for next week.

But I often wonder, am I busy doing the right things? Am I giving my time to what will produce the most significant impact ineffectiveness?

Benjamin Tregoe once said, “The very worst use of time is to do very well what need not be done at all.”

Trust me; there is no lack of things to do when filling our weeks. I want to make sure we’re prioritizing what matters most to make the most impact. Think of it like gardening. You have enough water to water five plants, but you have ten. You can choose to water all ten and stunt all ten growth, not producing a meaningful crop, or you can focus your resources on five and grow them effectively, producing more fruit. So what happens to us who water the ten and stunt the growth of all of them? We ask questions like, “is the sacrifice and busyness worth the results I’m seeing?” We feel burned out because we’re working hard but not seeing effectiveness in what we’re doing.

Several years ago, I was there and almost quit altogether.

That’s when I discovered that Dare 2 Share conducted extensive research to identify evangelistic effectiveness in hundreds of youth ministries across America. They found some had a high rate of “New Conversion Growth.” This number represented students that came to Christ directly through the ministry, reaching them with the gospel (events, personal evangelism, sermons, etc.). They identified seven critical values of the ministries that demonstrated 25% or more New Conversion Growth.

Here are the Seven Values of what they call a Gospel Advancing Ministry as found in the book Gospelize Your Youth Ministry: A Spicy “New” Philosophy of Ministry (That’s 2,000 Years Old) by Greg Stier:

  1. Intercessory prayer fuels it
  2. Relational evangelism drives it
  3. Ministry leaders fully embrace and model it
  4. A disciple multiplication strategy guides it
  5. A BOLD Vision focuses it
  6. Biblical outcomes measure it
  7. Ongoing programs reflect it

Now, we know the Lord takes care of the ultimate results of a heart change, but a farmer knows if you’re not getting the crops you need, you need to switch up to something. I read an article just this morning about a local Christmas tree farmer in my town who planted 4,000 seedlings and lost 80% in one year to heavy rains. He replanted 4,000 more the following year and lost another 80% of the crop to drought. He remained when every other Christmas tree farm in our county went out of business. Do you know why? He planted more. He realized the key to effectiveness in his farming was planting crops. The high-value priority yielded the most and kept him from going out of business completely.

I’ve found many youth leaders “go out of business” when (not if) the droughts or floods come. We don’t see effectiveness in ministry that warrants the sacrifice we’re making. We start to believe deep down that what we’re doing doesn’t matter. It’s no secret that the average youth leader lasts less than 24 months, and many succumb to the “burnout beast” all too often.

This is why I started as a resource to combat the systemic issue of burnout in youth leaders. I recently asked over 100 youth leaders, “What causes burnout?” and the top responses were both alarming and comforting. Comforting because I could completely relate to each of them. Alarming because, left unchecked, the future of youth ministry for many youth leaders is in danger.

Here are the top three reasons on the list

1. Loneliness in Ministry

2. Lack of spiritual health.

3. Ministry ineffectiveness

Can you relate to any of these? I sure can. I’m here to tell you that the last two are more connected than you may think. In 2 Peter 1:5-8, we have a foundational truth explaining our character qualities can lead to effective ministry.

The passage explains the direct connection in our character development leading to effectiveness. Make every effort to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love to your faith. If these qualities increase, they will keep you from what? Being ineffective (v.8). Want to be effective in ministry? Prioritize your spiritual growth. Be selfish in guarding your time with the Lord. I’ve fallen into the trap all too often of what’s called the “Starving Bakers Syndrome.” It’s when we focus on feeding others so much that we starve ourselves. In some ways, it’s tempting to see this as noble because you’re living sacrificially for others, but there’s a reason the airlines tell us to put on our oxygen masks before helping others- we’re no good in helping others if we’re out of the equation. Not sure how to best spend time with God, leading to a vibrant faith and effectiveness in ministry? I’ve put together a free resource I’ve trained hundreds of youth leaders on called “How to Spend Time With God.” It’s a simple step-by-step guide to practically spending daily time in the word, prayer, and memorizing scripture. You can access it here.


Keith is his high school sweetheart Caroline’s husband and is daddy to four rambunctious boys named Hudson, Graham, Dawson, and Clive. He has served on staff with McLean Bible Church in the Washington D.C. area since May 2008. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia International University with Youth Ministry and Bible Majors and an Outdoor Leadership Minor, as well as a Masters of Arts in Christian Leadership degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He serves as the Executive Director of a public school campus missions organization called EDGE Clubs ( He has recently launched YouthMinWins to combat the systemic issue of high turnover rates among youth leaders, where he’s worked with counselors to develop a free burnout assessment (