It is 2017 everyone! As we enter our fourth year of YMC we are continuing to have yearly themes. This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……
“The Story Of My First Youth Position”
Sharon Kirkpatrick Felton is the College and Youth minister at Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown, Kentucky. She is married to Keith Felton and they have three children, Carter, Dakota and Maya.
The story of my first youth ministry position taught me things I still use today. When I first entered youth ministry, I was fresh out of school and excited to begin ministering to students and follow God’s calling. I was so eager that I forgot to take care of myself along the way. I began in the summer and plunged headlong into an overscheduled, unrealistic, all-encompassing youth program, of my own doing. We did it all, because I wanted to get to know the students and I wanted to fill their summer with meaningful and fun experiences. I was encouraged to keep them busy all summer and I did! Summer flew by and we ran right into the fall. I attended every student’s extracurricular activity so show my support as well as over planned each week and weekend. Our group was growing spiritually and in numbers. We were getting closer as a group and having an incredible time together! I felt like I was “really doing ministry” and everything was wonderful.
Then I hit “the wall”! I actually had a weekend without something going on and I started to call and see if some of the youth wanted to go do something, when it hit me. My only friends are teenagers!! I had worked myself out of a life! I had put everything else on hold, including developing relationships with my peers, including taking time for myself and growing my own relationship with Christ! I was burned out. I had absolutely nothing left to give anyone. I remember just sitting in my office staring out the window and thinking I had to get away. I wanted to run and hide. So, I took a few days of vacation and went to the home of our Sunday school teachers, who actually had become friends! They were gracious and allowed me to stay with them for a few days. We laughed a lot and I slept, a lot. I began to focus on my own relationship with Christ and started looking around to see who was in the area that I could hang out with that actually was my age. I went back and reworked the calendar. I began to program space for me, and I learned a new word, “No”! Not a word you hear too often in ministry. I made time for friends and family and began to teach the youth and their parents that they didn’t need me to make things work, they were very capable of doing ministry. I learned to delegate and that I did not have to attend every student’s game or performance. I gave the ministry back to the church instead of carrying it on my shoulders. I realized, I can’t fix everything, and that I don’t need to fix everything.
I grew up that year and I began to put things in place to make sure I was taking care of me and my own spiritual life. I realized that I needed to create a ministry that didn’t depend on me. It should be able to work without me so that if I leave, it goes on and doesn’t die. It is after all supposed to be about Jesus and not Sharon! I also learned that when I begin a new ministry, I don’t try to do everything at first. I don’t go to games or events of the students. This gives me space to do some of those things later without the expectation that I will always attend. It then makes it a big deal if the youth minister is present and the kids know that I made time for them, not just that she’s here because she always shows up for everything. I found out that friends give me energy and support. I discovered how important ministry peers are to sustaining ministry and sanity in ministry!
God has called us to do amazing work. God has equipped us to serve and provided amazing churches and people with whom to do ministry. However, if we rely only on ourselves, we will fall and so will our ministry. We all need space and relationships and God to accomplish what Christ has called us to do in this world. Give yourself a break. Be very aware of your needs, your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs and do not neglect them! When you take care of yourself and focus on the God who called you, the ministry not only grows but is sustainable. Twenty five years later, I actually really like the youth I get to work with and we have found a great pace in which to live and serve and love God together!