Summer is a big deal. Everyone speaks of summer with hope of rest, excitement of travel and time to enjoy their favorite hobbies or pastime.
But as a student pastor, I have to take a deep breath when I hear the word “summer.”
Summer provides some of the most fun and fruitful times in ministry. We often see our student ministries grow in community and unity. We’re able to build stronger relationships with our students. Camps, retreats and mission trips provide accelerated spiritual growth as well as some of the greatest memories we and our students will have.
But, as great as summer is, the reason I have to take a deep breath when thinking of this season is the sheer busyness.
We’re going to be away from home for days, maybe even weeks at a time. Many of us will have regular small group events or special events on top of all the camps and trips. Some of us may even preach while our pastor is on vacation. And if we haven’t already, we have to be planning and preparing to kick off our fall programming when school returns.
Summer can be one of the most exhausting seasons in our ministry, and it will lead right into another busy stretch. If we’re not careful, summer may overwhelm us.
Here are a few tips to help avoid the summer burnout.
Get Ahead of the Chaos
School is already out, but it’s not too late to get ahead. Before things get hectic, and while you have a clear head, spend time mapping out your summer. Include every event, trip or meeting that will fill your summer schedule.
Then take some time to observe the busy and relaxed parts of your summer. Analyzing your calendar will help you know how you need to prepare mentally, emotionally and physically.
If there is a long week ahead, then maybe you need to plan for a break before and after. If you realize that you only have one day in any particular week that is unaffected by church work, then be sure to protect it. If we don’t do this before the summer begins, we will be caught up in its chaos, and we’ll forget to take time for ourselves and let everyone else dictate our schedule.
The busiest or longest stretches will catch us off guard, and we won’t be emotionally or spiritually prepared. Our opportunities for rest will arrive, and we’ll waste them because we weren’t ready for the opening in our schedule.
This sounds like common sense, but we’ve all been in a place where we’ve been in the thick of a stressful season and were unable to get any relief. This can be avoided by planning and analyzing our calendars.
My wife and I put as many of our definite travel plans and events as possible on a calendar, and then we plan breaks together. We make a commitment that neither of us will plan anything other than restful activities on these dates.
You may need to communicate with whoever handles your church administration and figure out what the process is for you to take off after big ministry events. If your church allows you to take a couple extra days off after a camp, take advantage of it. If we don’t plan breaks, then they often don’t happen. And during the summer, they need to happen.
Keep Boundaries in Place
Our students often have fewer restrictions on them during the summer months. They don’t have to get up or go to sleep at any particular time, and many of them will have the freedom to do whatever they want, whenever they want.
You do not. You likely have church responsibilities that go beyond the student ministry. More importantly, you likely have a family for which you bear great responsibility.
During the summer, it can be easy to go along with the spirit of your students and allow events to go late or spur-of-the-moment hangouts to occur at random times throughout the week. Some of these should happen. Innumerable moments of great ministry have been done whenever things are unplanned.
But students will often take as much of your time and energy as you’ll allow. I need small routines and habits in my life, particularly around spiritual disciplines and time with my family. When I allow students to stay over too late, or we have too many events in a week, my time with my family and my time with the Lord are often the areas that are affected first.
With summer being as important and as busy as it is, these are two areas that have to be right. How effective can we really be in our ministry if we’re letting our students’ whims and desires guide our weekly activities at the expense of consistent time with the Lord? How effective can we be if our spouse or our kids feel like the students in your ministry are more important to you? Keep boundaries in place that protect your time with the Lord and with your family.
Get Your Mind Right and Avoid Burnout
Your perspective will often be one of the greatest determinants of how your summer is going. We also tend to see what we want to see. If we are pessimistic or fearful of the summer months, we’ll likely wind up drained by all of the hardest parts of summer.
But if we see the summer as an opportunity for Kingdom work, where students are drawing closer to Jesus and being mobilized for the Great Commission, then we’ll be more likely to endure the grind of summer because we know it’s worth it.
This might be the most challenging task to accomplish on this list, especially after the coronavirus. It’s hard to predict how summer will go, and we may not have the same results as previous summers. We may have fewer students at our events, and many of them are likely struggling spiritually.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we have to measure our ministry based upon our faithfulness to God’s call upon the church to make disciples of all nations.
The summer is full of discipleship and Kingdom work. Prepare your mind now, so that when you’re feeling the summer burnout, you can remember that your work matters and that you are making an eternal difference for the Kingdom.
All of these tasks hinge on planning and preparation. You can avoid a lot of pain and frustration by getting ahead.
When you’re in the weeds of summer, it can be hard to see any way out or make good decisions in it. You’ll want a vacation or a break, but it’s nearly impossible to schedule a vacation once your calendar is already filled.
You’ll hit a breaking point and want students to give you and your family some space, but you will likely act out of frustration and potentially damage your relationship with your students. You’ll go from event to event and likely spiral into negative and depressive thoughts if you don’t get your mind right ahead of time.
If you’re reading this and summer has already started, plan now so that the rest of your summer can be healthy. Summer can be a great time of ministry. But it will be a great time of ministry if you prepare in a way that helps you avoid the summer burnout.