This article is part of a two-part series on improving the health of yourself and your ministry.
A ministry can look like it is running at optimum performance. You have great energy at club, you have nearly doubled your youth group in the last year, and the praise team is sounding better than it is has even been. You are faithful to teach about Jesus, quote Scripture, and pray every single sermon. The teens love that you are there an hour early and an hour afterwards to simply hang out and talk with them if they need something more. Volunteers love to be at all of your events because of the success that you have been having. In fact, your senior pastor wants to give you highest praises for what you do. You are well known in the church as the dedicated pastor who loves to serve these teens.
We all know what is coming next. The big BUT. There is more to this ministry and youth worker than what is showing on the outside. The ministry looks like it is thriving, but it is unhealthy. The youth pastor seems to know what he is doing, but he also is living an unhealthy lifestyle. In six months to a year, everything will have gone wrong. Maybe the youth worker burns out, maybe he drives volunteers or teens away, or maybe he quits after just a couple of years there to find a new and “more exciting job” elsewhere.
We talk a lot about how to fix burnout or broken relationships, but why must we wait until things are broken to address them? Can we prevent these issues before they affect us and our ministries?
Today we will address the identifiers and reasoning for unhealthy leaders and unhealthy ministries through enmeshment, an extremely common failure of differentiating yourself from your ministry that leads so many people to crash and burn. Please note that this is but one of a list of things that can lead to unhealthy leaders and ministries, but the regularly unaddressed nature (in fact, many times people promote this unhealthy trait) and the failure of so many ministries has led me to directly address this.
Enmeshment Of Leaders In Ministry. There is an idea out there that we need to be the best youth workers we can be. If we do not put in all of our effort, teens will not be saved and ministry will fail. Enmeshment is the idea that we have weak or no boundaries between ourselves and the thing we are entangled with. Without clear boundaries, the failures and successes of one completely depend and reflect on the other entity. For an enmeshed person’s ministry to succeed, they have to always be running at 100% with no distractions. To a degree, you are putting your ministry as first priority, regardless if you state that God is most important or not. What is reflected in what you act out will become relevant soon enough.
It Becomes About You, Not Christ. For the many pastors that I have seen enmeshed into their ministry, it comes all about them and not about Christ. Sure, they still pray fervently upfront, teach from Scripture, and discuss Christian things, but it all relies on the youth worker to do it and they feel that if they do not do everything, something will fail. The teens who you are ministering to constantly talk about how cool or involved you are and seem to miss the point of the conversation, that it is all about God. Then the pastor who is enmeshed feels that they have to constantly be running. If they do not put in their 70 hours (for a 40 hour job I might add) then the teens will not be saved… Yet, wouldn’t we say that teens find salvation through Christ alone, even if we decide to stop working at 40 hours?
You And Your Family Will Be Affected. In the scenario of a confrontation between the pastor’s child’s game or a youth group meeting, the meeting wins every time. But it might not start that dramatically at first. When creating your work schedule, you plan vacation around work first. You decide you cannot go on vacation where you wanted to because of the time it takes. The little things start to take precedence over family years down the road your children begin to dispise their faith because God took you away from them or even worse, your spouse decides to leave because they truly know who you really married, work.
But God Has Called Me To Serve I do not doubt that calling and would NEVER state that God should be second priority to your marriage. He should always take first priority. But pastors and ministry leaders need to understand that their is God’s calling and work. God is first priority, family second, and work third. Those office reports, budgets, and Facebook messages from students can wait till later. Turn off your phone and computer and go home.
What has been your experience been with enmeshment, either personally or through the experiences of others you know?