We’ve probably all wanted to scream, “Leave me alone!” at our Senior Pastors out of exhaustion at some point during the summer. We’re in the thick of summer now, and time is flying by. Some of you might just be saying, “If I can only make it until school starts…” For many of us, the pastor who supervises us is great, and we have great relationships with him or her. Even the best pastor, however, can fail to understand (or remember) the stresses that come with summer for their youth pastors.
A soft reminder of the nature of our job is always better than a heat stroke, diarrhea, and sunburnt induced tantrum. To that end, I’ve written an open letter to senior pastors everywhere.
Dear Senior/Lead Pastor,
We love our jobs, especially in the summer. We get so many great opportunities to minister to our students. Here’s a list of a few things we wish you’d remember as we try to faithfully fulfill our job:
1. Don’t expect regular office hours.
More than at any other time of the year, summer brings with it a wide variety of events. Some of those events take place at odd hours or require unique preparations. We may be working till midnight. If we don’t show up on time, assume we’re recovering from an event or a late night with students. We promise to not take advantage of this.
2. Don’t expect us to generate new or innovative ideas in the summer.
Summer is one of our greatest opportunities to spend quality time with our students. We do this at camp, on trips, and in interactions that just aren’t possible at other times of the year. We often have tunnel vision during the summer, thinking only of making it to the next thing. It may be really hard to think about anything else other than our upcoming trip or event.
3. Don’t think I don’t care about VBS, I’m just maxed out.
We care about VBS. We do. We care because we know children are greatly ministered to at events like this. We also know that those same children will hopefully one day join the youth group. It’s just that our schedules are full. Our brains are mush, and our energy is spent (or needs to be saved for something else).
4. Don’t give us new tasks.
Honestly, some of us are just trying to stay afloat. It’s hard enough to be away at camp all week and come into the office the next Monday, attempting to climb out from a mound of email or administrative tasks, only to be given a new task for which we have little energy.
5. Recognize that I haven’t had a chance to Sabbath.
Most of us take a day off during the week. When we have a week-long event, we don’t get our day off. We need a Sabbath; we need to rest to allow ourselves to rejuvenate and to gather the strength to tackle the next thing. We won’t last long without it.
6. Camps and mission trips don’t count as vacation.
Seriously, they don’t. Don’t make your youth pastor use his or her vacation days to attend camp or any other youth related event. It shows us that you completely fail to understand the nature of those events. Being responsible for a group of students on a trip or at camp is hard work. Even at night, when we sleep, we sleep with one eye open.
7. I still need time to mow my lawn, kiss my spouse, and hug my kids.
Sometimes we plan our weeks around when we’ll be available to cut the grass. While we are away, the rest of life for our families marches on. Neighbors get mad when the grass gets above knee high. Help us take care of the things that matter; give us time to cut the grass and make up for lost time with our spouse and kids.
8. Consider mental health days.
Some days the exhaustion gets to be too much, mentally and physically. Let us have a day here or there to do nothing to make sure that the neurons in our brain continue to fire correctly.
9. Be empathetic.
Summer is hard on our mind, our skin, our bowels, our relationships. While we love summer, it can take a toll on us. Some of the relational stuff we will encounter with our students can be rather heavy. The food we eat can be unhealthy. The long exposure to the sun can be brutal. Just understand that we are working hard in ways that are different than the ways you work hard.
Thanks for hearing us. We want to work hard for you and for the church we both serve. Help us continue to do that in healthy ways, even (and maybe especially) during the summer.
Jason C. Buckwalter