praying hands


Prayer as a Youth Minister

The last retreat I led was really, really difficult; the second it began, I wanted to leave. It was probably one of the best retreats I had ever led, the teens were great and had profound experiences encountering Jesus throughout the whole weekend, but I was tired, burnt out, and missed my family. Despite being surrounded by people having mountain-top experiences, I felt like I was in a spiritual desert.

Ministry is ironic because those of us who minister often find it difficult to be ministered to. We encourage and teach teens to pray, but how often do we pray outside of ministry? We tell others to keep holy the Sabbath, but we put in twelve-hour days on Sundays. Isn’t it ironic?

Prayer is a relationship, but if we compared our prayer life to any other relationship, it would be glaringly apparent that something was wrong. Imagine that a husband and wife decide to become business partners, and suddenly their entire lives, conversations, and interactions become about work. When we “go into business” with Jesus, we risk our entire relationship with Him becoming about the ministry we do and not focusing first on the love that we share.

To fix this, a couple would spend intentional time together apart from work. They would set boundaries so that work did not seep into their personal relationship. They would ensure that if the business suddenly went under, their relationship would still be intact. They would need to remember the passion and love they had for each other before the business began, just as we need to always let our passion for the Lord come first. Here are a few tips for ministers to stay faithful in prayer, so our prayer life can animate our ministry:

Take A Sabbath
Plan when you will have a Sabbath every week. No responsibility is so important that it circumvents the rest and worship that the Lord commands: “You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; every one who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” (Exodus 31:14). Did you catch those consequences? Death or expulsion. We do not face those punishments directly, but if we do not take our Sabbath seriously, then ministry will kill our spirits and rob us of the time to be in our own community.

So, take a Sabbath. Take a day off where you get to spend time in intentional, personal prayer and leisure. Go for a walk. Spend time in silence with Jesus. Talk to God about your life outside of ministry. Yes, you read that right; you have a life outside of ministry! Devote time to be present and connected to your family and friends. No ministry, work, or ministry-related conversations are allowed.

Set Boundaries
You are not the sole person responsible for walking with every teen. You do not need to be “on-call” 24/7, that is God’s job. Delegate responsibilities, use away messages, and turn off notifications for ministry-related apps when you are not on the clock. Do not bring “business” home into your personal time with Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray constantly,” not “minister constantly.” The emails can be put off until tomorrow; prayer cannot.

How do you draw the line? Begin and end every workday in front of the tabernacle if you can, or at least in prayer. Offer the day’s work to the Lord when it begins: lay everything on your to-do list at His feet so that His will would be done in all of it. Return at the end of your day and leave everything you have worked on at His feet; do not take it home with you. Rather, give it all to the Lord because it is His already (CCC 874).

Pray Away From Ministry
It can be hard to disconnect from ministry when we try to pray in the same spaces. Take a break from the parish or the Mass time that you usually attend and periodically attend elsewhere so you can worship without being bombarded by questions or overdue paperwork.

Daily prayer is essential, but be sure some of that time in your daily prayer is not about ministry. Instead, focus on your own heart and come to your Father in Heaven as His child, and not always as His laborer in the vineyard.

We often lead others in prayer, so take time in prayer where you can be led. Try practicing contemplative prayer; let the Lord speak and lead so you can do what you rarely get to do: receive. Spend time in Scripture and spiritual reading so that the Lord can speak to you, but do not start taking notes for your next talk. You need to be nourished, and not all of that food needs to be given away the moment you receive it. Let some things simply be for you.

Go have a date with the Lord. Spend time reconnecting, and remember: no talking business.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

About the Author

Matthew Zemanek

Matt Zemanek is a passionate Catholic, husband, father, minister, speaker and worship leader. Matt has a Master's Degree in Pastoral Theology from Loyola Marymount University and has been serving in ministry since 2005. He loves being Catholic, evangelizing, leading worship, riddles, spreadsheets, escape rooms, iced tea and a good book.

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