Martyrdom youth workers [Time Out]

Topic / Time Out

Time Out quiet times for the youth worker's soulTime Out: Weekly quiet times for the youth worker’s soul.
(by Tim Schmoyer)

Two weeks ago in my post, “Being a youth pastor is not the ultimate calling,” I mentioned that I started reading Dan Miller’s book, “48 Days to the Work You Love: Preparing for the New Normal.” It’s really challenging the way I think about work, play, hobbies, passion, gifts, talents, my job, my calling, and more. Similar to Dave Ramsey’s common-sense approach to finances and the influence it had on my wife and I, Dan Miller’s book is not a particularly revolutionary concept — it just makes me believe it’s possible to spend my life doing what I thought was probably a fairy tale. Better yet, it gives me 48 days of steps and assignments to get there.

In chapter 5, Miller tells a fable about animals in an organized school that had adopted a curriculum for running, swimming, climbing and flying. It’s a fairly detailed story, but for the sake of brevity, he tells of a duck that was a better swimmer than the instructor, but had to stay after school to work on his running and climbing skills. In the end, his feet became raw and his ability to swim became just average. Along with the mediocrity came a weariness that prevented him from enjoying what he really loved and excelled at: swimming. But since average was acceptable in the school, no one thought anything of it, except the duck who really loved swimming.

How unfortunate is it that we often spend so much of our time developing skills in areas that are not our strengths? Miller recommends we invest into what we’re good at. In fact, he even breaks it down like this for organizing our work strategy:

  • Work where you are the strongest 80% of the time.
  • Work where you are learning 15% of the time.
  • Work where you are weak 5% of the time. (page 82)

When it comes to youth ministry, how many of us are spending 80% of our time in our areas of weakness? For example, a church hires you because you’re relational and they want a relational leader for the kids, but then you get stuck behind a desk where you spend 80% of your time doing administrative work. In the long-run, it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone: you don’t enjoy what you do with most of your time, the church is frustrated with your clear lack of administration skills, the kids aren’t getting the time from you that you want to give them, and you end up taking the stress and frustration home to your family.

But too often youth workers write it off with verses like, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…” (Colossians 3:23) or, “I will praise the Lord at all times” (Psalm 34:1) or even, “Do everything without complaining or arguing…” (Philippians 2:14) as if serving in church ministry is an acceptable form of martyrdom where it’s acceptable to “suffer” for the sake of serving Jesus. I’m not saying there aren’t appropriate times to suffer for Christ, but it’s different when you’re “suffering for Jesus” because you’re a duck that’s trying to be a runner.

What we do for 40-50 hours a week is a big deal! “Our work must be a fulfillment of our unique ministry; otherwise, we are wasting a lot of our time and energy” (48 Days, page 86). Life is too short to waste your time on what God has not equipped you to do, even if it seems like a very godly task. Instead, be thankful for how God has uniqued created you and use it for God’s glory in whatever way that works best.


  • Approximately how much of your time do you spend where you are the strongest? Where you are learning? Where you are weak?
  • Have you adopted a martyr attitude about serving in ministry? What’s causing it?
  • If you could serve the Lord in any capacity doing anything in the world and money wasn’t an issue, what would you do?

“Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).

Posted on April 10, 2011

  • I love this article! Great insight to keep track of, even weekly. Going to put this on my wall as a reminder.

  • I don't think 80-20 is a feasible split for most jobs, not just youth ministry. I do believe there are a number of people who are in youth ministry who shouldn't be doing it for a living because they are so ill-suited for it. (even if it's not much of a living…) Not everyone gets to do what they love, just ask the thousands of unemployed artists in NM or all of the washed up sports stars in TX. Sometimes the best you can do is do what you love as a hobby. Some of the more fortunate ones get paid to do what they love as part of their job. I would consider myself truly fortunate because I do get to do what I love and am suited it for it. 65-35 is a great split for most people and better than most people will ever do. Stewarding our giftedness is much neglected responsibility of many believers. I do encourage everyone to have a better "sober estimation" (rom 12) of themselves as well. But only doing what you love only is a pipe dream for the majority of workers.

    • I love ya, Aaron, but I have to disagree. Everyone can do what they love, it just depends on what price they're willing to pay to do it (it's not always a pay raise) and how much they wan to think outside the box to do it. Artists and athletes may not all get to do what they love in the traditional sense, but what about starting a sports league teaching others or selling your art on ebay? Or maybe turning your art into decals for cars or refrigerator art, I dunno. I'm shooting for the 80% because I really believe it's possible. In America we often think "work" is something we have to push through each day and we prove our maturity and responsibility by doing it in spite of not liking it. I think that's just a waste of our time. I'd rather find a way to turn my play into something that pays the bills. I think 80% is very attainable.

      • I think you and I agree that everyone can do what they love. I believe like you believe that everyone should pursue what they love. Where we disagree is that I don't think that most people can do what they love 80% of their time and make a living at it. (that is at least 32 hours a week) I think there is a good chance you can do what you are passionate about 80% of the time. For every fantastic dream-job there are many other jobs like data-entry, filing, and sales. (of course people may love those jobs but not that many people LOVE data entry, filing, and sales) Running a sports league is not at all the same as playing sports especially if you don't like to coach or do administration. Think about how much organization is involved in running a sports league. (almost as much as a youth worker does) A good friend of my runs the PeeWee football program here in Abq and it is much more like running a mortgage company than playing football. There are only so many dream jobs and not enough for everyone to have one.

        I'm not saying it is impossible. Heck, I think I'm pretty close to that 80-20 split now and love it. I've also been voting and praying for you that you get this cool youtube opportunity so you can achieve the an even higher split. (95-5 anyone?) On the flip side of that doing what we have to so we can pay bills is being responsible. I don't think that is purely American. Ask most people who have jobs in India if they love their job. I'm sure they love having a job as many people don't, but I doubt many of are working in the 80-20 range. And just because I'm gifted at swinging a sledge hammer b/c I'm a big guy means that is what I want to do with 80% of my time…

        Josh wrote a good blog about this a while back. It is about careers and loving what you do compared to the NT ethic. I liked it.

        • Well, the little league thing was just an example, and I agree, not a very good one.

          I'm gonna strive for 80%. Since I've been self-employed, I'd say I'm pretty close to that right now, as well. Just not sure the self-employment thing is gonna be sustainable long-term, that's all.

  • Good post! I was challenged in focusing on my strengths after a Willow Creek Leadership Summit where Marcus Buckingham spoke about this. In school, you always sort of learn to develop your weaknesses and this was the first time I'd thought of doing the exact opposite. It has completely changed the way I did youth ministry. Granted, there will always be things that simply need to be done, like cleaning up after activities or doing admin (although I am one of those people who doesn't dislike admin :) But in general I've tried to find people who were great at stuff I was weak at (like pastoral stuff, counseling). I discovered that I became more effective and actually had more fun doing things I loved and I was good at, and other people loved getting the chance to use their talents. It takes a different way of approaching your job and your tasks and it doesn't mean you'll never have to do things you don't like anymore, but it can really improve the effectivity of your ministry!

    • It's great that you're in a job that lets you be flexible with where you spend your time, Rachel! That's awesome!

  • Pingback: What’s your biggest weakness? | Small Town Student Ministry()

  • Darlene Moscogilio

    THIS ARTICLE IS SO AWESOME. I have really felt God's calling on my life to be a dancer. Some of my friends have told me that I'm really pretty good. But I just thought that God wanted me to stay at my same old boring job. I feel like I'm stuck there. I think it is time to just step out on faith that God has given me this passion for a reason. I love to dance SO MUCH!! Thanks to you!!! And to DONALD MILLER!!!

    • You're welcome! I highly recommend you buy Dan Miller's book and go through the 48 days before jumping to any conclusions, though. He'll walk you through several things you need to think about, do, and try before making a jump into something.

  • waynewrz

    Tim, enjoy you blog man. I've ordered your book as well as this "48 days" book. Got them in the mail today so will start reading in between my classes (at Multnomah University) and family time.

    • Awesome! Hope they both bless you, man! And thanks for the encouragement!

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