Q&A: The strain youth ministry has on my family

I sometimes post the youth ministry questions readers submit, with permission, of course. Figured I’d turn it into a regular series starting today. Please voice your answer in the comments below.

Wes Olsen of Seattle, WA, is currently leaving his Christian school junior high teaching position to enter full-time vocational youth ministry. As he and his family begin the transition, he asks:

What is the strain that being a youth pastor has had on your family?

Hey Wes! That’s a great question. The strain youth ministry has on my relationship with Dana is actually pretty minimal. I think there’s a couple reasons for this.

1. Before we met, we were both youth workers at different churches. I was working part-time at a church while attending seminary and she was the interim youth director at a church near Houston. When we started dating we both already had an idea about the demands of ministry, expectations, and pressure of working in a church environment. There wasn’t a whole lot of adjustment required for her except to shift from being the main Youth Director to being my main supporter.

2. We’re both P.K.’s (Preacher’s Kids), so we each grew up having a “behind the scenes” outlook on ministry. We married somewhat knowing what to expect and how Pastor marriages work.

3. We’re intentional about not letting it strain our marriage. I say “no” all the time, not because I don’t love people or want to serve them, but because I already spent 5 hours in the office and 3 hours out with kids that day. It’s time to go home and hang out with Dana. Rarely do I have meetings in the evenings. In fact, I have an evening meeting at church about once every 3 months or so and that’s it. I arrange my schedule so I’m either home with her or she’s out doing ministry with me.

4. She’s involved in the youth ministry with me, so she has a handle on what’s going on, personalities I work with, and has the same heart for the kids that I do. She understands what I’m talking about when I ask her opinion on various issues we’re facing. Since we do ministry together, it’s less of a strain and more of a mutual affection.


Have a youth ministry question you’d like me and other readers to answer? E-mail it to me! Please keep your question brief and to-the-point. Thanks!

Posted on April 29, 2008

  • That's great input, Susan! Dana and I don't have any kids yet, so I'm glad you gave your feedback.

  • Hi, Guys,

    Just thought I would give an additional perspective to the strain youth ministry has on the family (or can have if you’re not careful). My husband and I were married for 5 years before we had children. It wasn’t hard to do youth ministry and spend time with my husband as well. After all, he understood what ministry was all about…he was right alongside me in all of it. At 28 we had our son and at 31, our daughter. So now I have two small children as well as a husband who need my time and focus.

    My husband totally gets that some seasons or weeks are busier than others, but my kids won’t get that. All they would notice is that Mommy is not home. So, being with them and having QUALITY time with them is extremely important. After all my family comes first before ministry.

    Now, I have tons of job responsibilities, too, and there are about 3 nights/week that I don’t get home until 7:00 or sometimes 8:00-8:30. So, my husband and I are very intentional about making the evenings where we are home and the weekends times when we focus on family. We make sure we have that quality time with the kids and each other.

    I also have to set boundaries with my position and I have to say no to things. I have to understand my limits and know my priorities. My family is ALWAYS top priority, so when I consider what I can take on ministry-wise, I always keep in perspective the impact on my family.

    When you are faced with a decision to add more to your plate, pray about it. God will lead you to what He needs you to do. We should never take on more than He desires for us to do.

    So, I am a very busy woman–and I am still working on refining my ability to set boundaries. BUT, I would say that I’m doing pretty okay with it. My kids absolutely know I love them. I spend great quality time with them. We do lots of stuff together. I also accomplish a lot in my ministry and spend great quality time with the youth as well. I don’t know how it all works sometimes, but I just make the decision everyday to do whatever it is God would have me to do. He seems to work it all out!

  • I echo Dana's comment too. For 8 years my wife and I did youth ministry together. She would always be at events helping to set up and to clean up. We were able to bond over a shared goal and shared work.

    But after our son was born that changed. She isn't able to spend late nights at the church with me anymore. She isn't able to come early to events because that means she would have to bring our little boy too.

    It has made a huge difference not only in our relationship, but also in my job. Suddenly my main volunteer was no longer available and I was forced to find new people to help.

    But as for me and my wife, we have started having dedicated nights that are just for us. I have also made a bigger effort to be sure to be home before she heads to bed. That means shortening up a few events and leaving when students still want to hang out and talk, but without dedicated time with her I wouldn't be able to do most of the ministry that I do.

  • The strain that youth ministry has put on my family has at times been great. My wife helps out when she is able but she has other responsibilities that don't leave her much time to work with the youth. This causes conflict often, especially because she is pregnant and we have a soon to be three year-old son. I am currently in seminary, going to school in the evenings and I own my own business, as well as teaching on Sundays and Wednesdays. There is little time right now for our marriage,so we try to make the most of every opportunity to spend together.

    I think the key to keeping the strain off your marriage is to find those moments when you can be together and make the best out of them, even if its only 15 minutes. My wife knows and is affirmed that she is important and vital to me but she knows that this time is only temporary. My prayer is that I would continue to depend on my volunteers more and delegate what is able to be delegated. I think a key with avoiding youth ministry strain is saying "no" to things that other people might be able to accomplish. Just because someone thinks that "it would be a good idea if the youth…" , doesn't mean you ahould be doing it.

  • Chuck, you're absolutely right — you MUST say NO and not do youth events just because they sound like a good idea. Having a full youth calendar is often not that effective — kids have enough to do already.

    If this time is only temporary, as you say, then I suggest you temporarily say NO to something other than your family. What would happen if you stopped teaching on Sundays and Wednesdays, for example? Have someone else do it. If no one else steps up, then there should be no more Sunday school or Wednesday nights. That's just the way it is. Be firm about it! Family should always be a top priority no matter how stressful and full life is. I think that's partly why Dana and I don't have a lot of ministry stress on our relationship. It's not fair to your wife to essentially say, "I know this is stressful on our relationship, but just for the time being, it's gonna come first," ya know?

  • Hey Tim you are right, I am actively pursuing some people to take over on Sundays. My mentor has been hammering on me to get some of my load off of me and on to other people that are willing and able. My hesitation has been that these are my kids and nobody is gonna do it like me. Unfortunately that is a recipe for failure and it takes away from others putting their gifts to use. A large part of the last three years ( which is how long I have been leader) has really been a learning process. I have learned that the best that I can do for my kids is to lead by example, and I want that example to be a Godly man who has his priorities in order.

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