The 5 Habits of Healthy Youth Ministers

St. Catherine’s biggest retreat of the year was right around the corner. The paperwork was extravagant with over 200 plus teenagers and middle schoolers participating. Almost every organization from the parish was involved throughout the weekend which, therefore, shut the parish office and all other events down for three days. We took over every space and built crazy, awesome environments. The week leading up to “go time” meant that the to-do list was mighty, and my hours at church were long. Usually, this led to meals that consisted of bags of potato chips, my husband dropping off fast food, and surviving each day on vitamins, prayer, and fountain soda.

If we’ve been in ministry long enough, we’ve been in a somewhat similar situation. There are weeks where we spend more hours on the church grounds than anywhere else. There are nights where we loosely define dinner by scarfing down Chick-fil-a (not that that’s always a bad choice!) or skipping a meal altogether. Sometimes we sacrifice sleep, prayer, [good] food, and relationships for the sake of the kingdom!

Obviously this is an example of one of those out of control weeks where stuff simply had to get done. Unfortunately, in my years of parish ministry, I had way too may days that looked exactly like this. Instead of leaving the office on time to be with my husband or friends, I worked late. Instead of having a few days off, I’d leave the office early occasionally and end up working from home on emails. Instead of leaving to head over to daily Mass, I’d pick up the phone and then get stuck longer than expected. I lacked healthy boundaries and I lacked healthy youth minister habits. Here’s a good reality check that I needed to be reminded of often.

In the world of working with teenagers, MINISTRY. NEVER. ENDS. There is always something we can do, program we can create, or way we can do more. So as you begin a new school year, what habits do you need to get in check so you can be healthier, holier and happier in your ministry?


Prayer should be the top priority for you as a minister. I’m not saying I did it well, and I still don’t struggle. However, daily prayer should be as consistent as the choice to brush your teeth. Make prayer time an actual appointment in your calendar so you don’t miss it or schedule over it. A “meeting” with Jesus is the best choice you could make each day.

Eat well

I always ate on the run. Back in college I studied the importance of being in community and fellowship when eating, and why as Christians, we should sit down and be with people when we eat. Have you ever eaten a meal in your car? Of course you have! There’s probably a French fry that’s six months old under your passenger seat. Set aside time to actually eat and choose to eat purposefully, not mindlessly.


I loved being in my early twenties and acting like I could conquer the world on only 4 hours of sleep. I found it to be some false standard which somehow impressed people. It was nuts! Now, as the mom of two small ones, I attest to how sleep makes us all better people!

Go Away!

I was never, ever good at taking time off. I don’t remember if I ever took vacations while at the parish. There always seemed to be a good excuse for something that had to get done. I should have simply put up an away message on my email and walked away. Don’t be like me – be mindful of what days you take off each week and accept that it’s OK to turn the emails off on your phone. I’d encourage you to discuss with your pastor what people can contact you while you are away so you have the peace of mind to let go for a few days. When I apprehensively went on my first maternity leave, my pastor laughed and said, “Go! If everything falls apart, we’ll order the teens pizza and tell them Jesus loves them. See you in 6 weeks”.

Choose People Over the List

There will be those moments when staff or parents drop into your office and push your to-do list back a few hours. I always had staff members drop in to talk at inopportune times but instead of shoving them out, I sat, listened, and built relationships. Then, when the bulletin misprinted a big article about my Core recruitment, you better believe on a Thursday afternoon at 4 pm all the staff who had spent time sitting in my office for years were found stuffing 3,000 bulletins with the updated information.

Being good to the people whom you work and serve with, even when it feels like you have to put something off, is worth every second. Remember that week of my biggest retreat? I’ll never forget working on the retreat in our parish hall at 8:30 pm one night. A parent of a teen walked in with a hot plate of freshly cooked ribs, rice, green beans, and a glass of milk. It was certainly a good reminder to stop, sit, pray, and eat healthy. May we be youth ministers who take care of ourselves so we can take care of others, all in the effort to lead teens closer to Christ!


Image via FlickrCC 2.0, Logo added 

About the Author

Katie Gray

Katie Gray serves as Life Teen's Central Region Director. She spent six years leading Life Teen and Edge at a parish in St. Louis and adores a good dance party with her husband and daughters. Her goals each week include getting closer to Heaven, eating chocolate candy without nuts, and spending less than $100 at Target. You can follow her crazy blessed life at LT_katieG.

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