Youth & Campus Ministry Burnout Panel with Octavia Miller, Joe Phenisee, and Amanda Rigby | Podcast Season 05, Episode 05
If you’re a youth or campus ministry leader – or you have one on your staff – you won’t want to miss this conversation! Join us today as we bring together a vibrant panel of three exceptional leaders in youth and campus ministry: campus coach Octavia Miller, campus pastor Joe Phenisee, and Reverend Amanda Rigby.
We’ll dive into their personal journeys into ministry, explore the challenges leading to burnout, uncover the telltale signs of burnout within their ministries, and gain valuable insights into their joys, frustrations, and aspirations for the pivotal roles they play in guiding and supporting the younger generations within the church. We hope this conversation deepens your understanding of the vital work these leaders undertake.
About our guests:
Octavia Miller is a third-year Master of Arts and Counseling student at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and a campus coach with The Impact Movement.
Joe Phenisee is the former youth pastor at Maple Valley Church. He is currently the Campus Pastor at Rainer View Christian Church. He was born in Korea and raised in Washington state. Joe is passionate about cultivating healthy church practices/culture.
Rev. Amanda Rigby is the Christian Education and Formation pastor at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, NC. Amanda also co-directs The Well, a practice of spiritual direction and therapy.
Rose: Today on our podcast, we have the privilege of hosting a remarkable panel, each bringing their unique experience and insights to the table. Join me as I welcome Joe Phenisee, former pastor at Maple Valley Church, currently a campus pastor at Rainier View Christian Church. He was born in Korea, raised in Washington, has just celebrated seven years of marriage and is passionate about cultivating healthy church practices and cultures. We have Octavia Miller. She’s a third year student in the Master’s of Arts and Counseling Psychology at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and a campus coach with The Impact Movement. And we have the Reverend Amanda Rigby is the pastor of Christian Education and Formation at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Amanda also co-directs The Well, a practice of spiritual direction and therapy. Amanda has served as a youth pastor for 10 years prior to where she is serving now. So welcome panel! I’m so excited for this conversation. I’ve been looking forward to this. Listen, I wanted to know if we could start out, we’ll just jump right in, if each of you could just tell us a bit of your story and how you began working with youth and what you’re doing now. So Amanda, why don’t we start with you?
Amanda: Sure. So I grew up in a large church in San Antonio, Texas, and that church was a huge part of my life and it was an intergenerational part of my family’s life. And so from a very young age, church and eventually youth group were such an important part of my life. And as I continued to grow, it became clear to me that I was experiencing a call into ministry, a call that continued to be incredibly vague until I did some more exploring. And so when you’re called in the church, oftentimes when you’re a young person, you’re encouraged to work with youth. And so just by proximity and age. And so I began working as a youth pastor when I was in college and continued that work through seminary and even after for what has been the last decade of my life. And so just recently transitioned out of youth ministry, which is a really, really strange thing because there’s such strong rhythms in youth ministry that I’m so used to that I’m just now adjusting to life without retreats and Sunday night youth group and all of that stuff.
Rose: Wow. Thanks Amanda. Octavia, how about you?
Octavia: Yes, so I’ve been working with college students since I was a college student. I grew up in the church. I was thinking about it this morning and I’m like, my grandma had a daycare. My mom led our youth at church. My other grandma was a school teacher. And so I was like, man, I really just come from a line of people that work with young adults or young people and youth. And so some of it just kind of feels innate, but while I was in undergrad as being a part of a college campus ministry, I just really prayed to God that he would raise staff that would work specifically with Black college students. And so when I was graduating, I felt like God was like, you pray for it, go do it. And I was like, well, all right, I guess I’m going. And so yeah, I’ve been doing that and I just love it. I think it is such a gift to be able to walk with people at that time, specifically college age, where they’re kind of just forming who they are and preparing to enter out into the world with no people telling them what to do. I feel like it’s beautiful to be a part of that part of their story and their journey. And so I think it’s really dope that I get to do that and I’m kind in it.
Rose: Awesome. Thank you Octavia; and Joe, how about you?
Joe: Yeah, so I also grew up in the church here in Washington state. Grew up mostly in the Korean American church and then eventually moved around several different places, even made a Nazarene church and Baptist church, et cetera. And then when I was in high school, I actually avoided youth group from freshmen all the way through senior year. So I didn’t experience youth group during my high school years. And so I guess it’s only appropriate that after I graduated from seminary in New Jersey that through a mutual contact, I was hired as an associate youth pastor at Maple Valley. And so then I had to do the four years I skipped in high school just from the other side of it. So that’s how I got involved working with youth and really enjoyed my four years in Maple Valley. And now currently I’m here at Rainier View and Parkland.
Rose: Awesome. Thanks. Thank you, Joe. So listen, in your experience all of you in working with youth with young adults, what do you think the primary factors are contributing to burnout among youth and campus ministers today? What would you say? What have you seen?
Amanda: I’m happy to jump in. One of the things that I face, and I imagine that a lot of youth and campus ministers face is the call and the encouragement to do more with less and less and less. And for such a long time, I was doing youth ministry on a shoestring budget, and that was not a result of the church not caring about youth ministry or anything like that, but it was just a result of the financial realities of doing church work in this sort of post-Christian era. And I think that at times when I felt closest to burnout were the times where I felt like I don’t know how to do ministry with such a small amount of resources at my disposal. And I mean that both in the financial sense and in the people resource sense that I often felt very much alone or just working with a very small team of people. And I often wondered what would this work look like if I had more resources at my disposal? I think that thought contributed to a sense of eventually feeling a little bit burnt out by the work.
Rose: Okay. We’re going to come back to what that meant for you, how you knew, but I want to hear from, yeah, what are you seeing Octavia and Joe.
Octavia: Yeah, I want to add, when it comes to the lack of resources, that’s hard. And then couple that with, it’s not a job that you just clock out of. I think campus, like college campus ministry specifically, students are available all times of the day. Things are happening morning, we want to meet at night. And I think just always being accessible and available. I know for me specifically, I didn’t enter in with the best boundaries, and so if somebody needed me, I didn’t care what time I’m like, I’m answering, I’m showing up and just not feeling like I can say no or being like, there’s room to be off. It feels like your whole life is ministry, even if you’re just hanging out. It’s like that’s part of my job. It felt like everything I did with any student felt connected to my work. And even though I enjoyed it over time, it’s just like, man, I don’t really get a break if I’m here. The only way to get a break is to kind of get out, but then you can’t leave. And so much, it feels like there’s so much pressure to be there and to be present, and the cost is us sometimes. Yeah, I felt that.
Rose: Thank you. Yeah, I want to get into the cost. I do. Joe, what would you add to this?
Joe: Yeah, so in addition to what Amanda said about resources and what Octavia mentioned when it comes to just never being able to be off per se, I would add to this that I think for youth pastors and even children’s pastors, I imagine, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this really short clip. There’s a funny video of a person on a unicycle juggling a bunch of things while also doing a hula hoop and singing. And that’s kind of how I envision or think of the role of youth pastors or campus pastors or children’s pastors, is that they are expected to have some competence in executing scripture while also executing culture, while also teaching in a way that is accessible. And you’re also serving as a pastoral counselor, and also you’re recruiting volunteers and you’re training them and you’re administrating a budget, and you have to have that ability to navigate hanging out and being relatable with sixth graders all the way to 12th graders, or if you’re in college ministry from freshmen all the way to senior, but then you also have to navigate generations. You’re not just relating to the students, you’re relating to parents, grandparents, and on top of all that, you’re expected to be fun. So I think it’s a lot of hats. You got to wear a lot of proficiencies, you got to have all at once, and it can be incredibly difficult and high pressure.
Rose: Right. Right. Let’s talk a little bit about, have any of you ever, you’ve mentioned maybe coming close to burnout or have experienced burnout yourself. Tell me about what were the signs, what was happening when you were feeling either in burnout or close to burnout? Yeah, just what are some of the things that you experienced in that state?
Octavia: I’ll say I didn’t know. I wasn’t really aware. I just thought, you just supposed to work hard. You’re just supposed to go after it. One of my roommates, who was actually my boss too at the time, one day, she looked at me and she’s like, man, it feels like a light in your eyes is kind of gone. I was like, I lost my light. But that kind of hit me, and I was just like, man. And so I just began to reflect. And I remember asking a friend, so do you think some of my light is missing? And as I just sat with that, I just realized how much I had switched from relying on God to be my strength and being dependent upon the Holy Spirit to carrying me every day, to really carrying the burdens of everything, of wanting to do campus ministry well, of holding the responsibility of the hearts and minds of college students, the weight of being not the only person, but one of few people, specifically working with Black college students in my ministry location. And so all of that, I think I just didn’t realize how much of it I was holding on my shoulders. And so her naming that for me really gave me a moment to go like, “dang, where have I lost part of myself? Where has my life gone” And so that was kind of a warning sign to me. I don’t know if transitioning from that to full-time grad student and grad school was the smartest decision because I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of burnout. But I just, I think the warning signs for me, and I really began to just notice how in my body I just had become tired or my capacity just seemed less, or I just wasn’t as willing to just jump into everything. I’d be like, hold on, I need a second. I need a break. So those are the big warning signs. And then how I’ve began to notice my body was like, Hey, we’re getting tired. We don’t have it.
Joe: Yeah, you know as Octavia was talking about other people noticing, that’s actually how I was able to identify in myself as well. Because as you know, Octavia, sometimes it’s not really obvious for yourself. You just kind of are in the midst of doing ministry. And yeah, there does seem to be this idea that you’re supposed to push through. You’re supposed to work hard because this is for God and Jesus after all, so why wouldn’t you? But for me, I think, yeah, it was also the same deal of people pointing it out, colleagues, especially my wife as well. And as they pointed it out, and I’ve reflected on my time of being in burnout, one of the things I realized was a lot of my regular rhythms got interrupted where I was subsisting off pizza all the time with youth, or I was not sleeping as much or I was just, all the regular things you should be doing for health, taking time off and making it intentional, turning off your phone, creating some boundaries, just all those things were not in place for me. And so when people pointed that out, and then I started seeing that, I was like, oh, okay. I’ve created the environment for myself. In some ways.
Amanda: I would say it was very similar for me. I had someone remark that I seemed less joyful, and that sort of revealed to me a whole other part of myself that I think I was just ignoring. And another thing that showed me, revealed to me that this was happening that I was approaching burnout was that I kept missing meetings because my calendar was just jam packed. And I’ve never done that before, except for in that really, really busy season, just sort of coming close to burnout. And what that looked like in my work was that I lost creativity. I found myself unable to sort of dream big and think about the next thing or think about something new. And that was very rare for me. And then I also said, okay, well maybe some time away. And I think that I took about a week and a half of vacation, and when I came back, nothing had changed. And vacation in ministry is such a funny thing because often you have to do more work either ahead of or after or both if you take a vacation. And so I think sometimes vacation can be more work than rest depending on where you are in your season of ministry. And so just coming back from that vacation and realizing I didn’t feel any more rested was a big sign for me that I was approaching burnout.
Rose: There’s so many different ways we could talk about the symptoms of burnout, right, like exhaustion, emotional numbness, reduced productivity. Amanda, what you just sort of alluded to, a lack of fulfillment anymore. Like the joy you used to get out of doing it has disappeared. Withdrawal, irritability, cynicism, we could make the list, right? Because different people experience it in different ways. It can manifest differently in each individual. And I think another important piece is all of what we’ve talked about and also how we listen to our body. A lot of times when we’re in burnout, we have chronic headaches, we have stomach problems. So just even listening to our body, which I kind of heard from all three of you, one of the things that I wonder about, and as I have actually spoken to some youth leaders who they would say that their main issue in all of the things you’ve all named, but their bosses. Now, Octavia, your boss said to you, the light’s gone out. You had someone name it for you. A lot of times I hear from campus ministers and youth pastors, my boss is the main factor in driving me and doesn’t listen to me. And I’m wondering, have any of you, I don’t know if this is a great question for you to name people, I’m not asking you to do that, but even in people that you know or have experienced, in your opinion, what role should organizations and churches play in addressing and preventing burnout for youth in campus ministry?
Octavia: I’ll hop in here and I’m going to answer a little bit on the side because you guys might have a different, we’ve had different experiences, but I think for me, working specifically with Black students amongst the staff that did not work with my students, and I had expectations to show up for staff things and to do these things. And it wasn’t that those things weren’t helpful, it was just that felt like an added layer on top of everything else that I was doing, that I was doing that the rest of my team was not doing. And so just that there was, I think managing expectations, because I have to also add that I was the only Black person on my team, the only Black woman on my team, and the only other ethnic people were the other people that I worked with. And so that reality too of when I show up, but also it’s adding into the burnout, it’s that there’s an extra layer of work for me to be present in this space. And there’s an extra amount of work that I have to give in order to be here to be comfortable. I’m preparing myself for anything that could be said. And I got no beef with nobody on the team. So if anyone hears that, we have no issues. But there was that reality for me that when I showed up, there were moments. I felt like the only, and that is exhausting, that is so hard, feeling like you need to be the representative of your entire people group. And so that was hard. And so I feel like a way to kind of aid in that is to have real expectations, but to also make room for me to go, I need to call in Black today. I don’t have it. I don’t feel like showing up with y’all in this. Go have a great day. I’m going to go take a nap. I’m going to go lay down somewhere, or I’m going to just kind of be in a space where I don’t have to work as hard just to be present. And so I feel like in some ways that was given to me, but at the same time, people are like, no, we want to hear from you. We want to see you. We want to know what’s going on. And I’m just like, come be with my students, come to, that’s how what’s going on. Don’t make me the representation for all of this, but actually come alongside so that way some of that work is taken off of me to show up and bring everything.
Rose: Octavia. Such an Important point. I think for those that are leading in churches and organizations and you are leader, but you’re not a part of the dominant culture. I love that you name the extra weight and burden that puts on that leader that the dominant culture sometimes doesn’t even know. They don’t even have any clue that that is an extra burden. When you talk about being the representation for a whole people group, it’s just so unfair and it’s a heavy, heavy weight. So thank you for naming that. How about you, Joe, or Amanda, when you think about what can people, organizations that supervise campus ministers and youth leaders. What do you want them to know?
Amanda: I think one of the things that would have been a gift to me at various points throughout my tenure as a youth pastor is having someone, whether that was a staff person or not, who was equipped to do my work when I could not, and for whatever reason, whether that was vacation or I needed a day, just one day or anything like that. I think it was really hard when I knew I needed to be away. And I also didn’t know who to ask to take my place in the meantime. And I think that’s true for youth ministry, for campus ministry is also true for other kinds of jobs and ministries too. But I think being intentional about building up a team of folks, again, whether that’s staff or laity or whatever that looks like, but a team of folks that carry the work rather than just one person. And ultimately, I got there with a team, especially the longer I was in a particular church. You can build up a team over time, but especially at the beginning of certain jobs that I did, I felt very much like if I leave, I don’t know how it’s going to continue, which maybe doesn’t sound like the end of the world, but it was a big deal to think about leaving without having someone there to sort of pick up the slack. And so finding ways to empower youth and campus ministers by coming alongside them and learning what they’re doing and not just saying, here’s some money. Go take care of the young people, but learning what they do so that you can be a partner with their ministry. I think that can be one of the biggest gifts to give to someone who’s working in youth or campus ministry.
Rose: So good, Amanda, because sometimes I think for children’s pastors, youth pastors, for whatever reason, you get recruited and then it’s like sink or swim. We’re throwing you out there just what you’ve said. And so many do sink because they just didn’t have the training or the support and help coming alongside. So good. Thank you. How about you, Joe? What do you think that you would like?
Joe: Yeah, so as I was thinking of answers, there were several things that came to mind, but actually Octavia just gave me a huge flashback actually, of that experience of being the only minority on leadership and the extra burden that can create. So when I became the youth director pastor at Maple Valley Church, that happened right on cue with Covid in March, 2020. And so that’s when I started learning how to do the job. Then we went virtual, and then as you know, the summer of 2020 was quite an experience and quite an unveiling of dynamics within a church. And so there is quite a bit of, I would say, yeah, I think that time period also contributed to the burnout as well of just being unable to, I’m even trying to find a language right now, but how do you describe grief? How do you describe the ways that the anti-Asian violence that came up, how that impacts you or as you see police brutality and how do you even begin to engage those topics? Really, topics isn’t the right word. How do you engage those realities that people are going through? And as a church, we’re trying to develop a language for. I would say that in youth ministry, one of the biggest things that happened for me was eventually when we did hire someone who was also a person of color and all of a sudden, oh my goodness, there’s someone here in the building who gets me, who I don’t have to explain things to, who can just connect with me on a level, can empathize with me and pray with me. I would say that there is something to be said about churches and organizations needing to hire in cohorts, if that makes sense. Or just creating a network for youth leaders and college leaders, whether just, especially if they are minorities in the dominant culture, to have people they can receive care from, to have people that can acknowledge them and their experiences, and even that they can be mentored by as well. So that’s what came up for me as Octavia was speaking. The only other thing I would add just from my own experience is that I don’t know if you’ve experienced this Amanda or Octavia, but at least in a lot of church cultures that I’ve been a part of, there’s this sense that youth pastors and children’s pastors are sort of an intermediary step into real pastoral hood. And not even a year into my job, I’ve already had people in the congregation asking me, so when are you going to become a pastor? And I think that also helps contribute to burnout. And I would say that part of it is, I think there is this, even if it’s not named, there are churches I think that operate with this idea that youth pastors and children’s pastors is a fun thing that we can push aside to the younger people, but the real work in ministry happens with the adults. And if we can name that and actually take more seriously investing in our youth pastors and investing in our children’s pastors and campus pastors, that could be one step forward towards creating more help.
Rose: Thank you. Yeah. Well, as a leader, how do you manage the expectations placed on you by your organization, by you even named for youth and campus ministers? I mean, you’re dealing with an organization, a church, parents, students, you have a whole bunch of different folks that you’re dealing with. So how do you manage the expectations placed on you by all of that? And what are you doing now to prevent burnout?
Octavia: I would say, and this kind of ties into our last question, so I’m currently studying in grad school, and so when I was commissioned here, my team, my now leaders were like, go be a student. Do not worry about being on campus. Don’t worry about leading a ministry. What can you do that you can be involved, but make your priority be your work right now as a missionary is to be in a classroom getting an education. And so I think that was one way where I felt like, man, I can take a break. And my first year I struggled not being on campus. I felt like this is what I’m supposed to do. People support me to go be with students, to go and share the gospel, not to go sit in a classroom. And so I think that was really hard to even get into the mind frame of just, I feel like the expectations people have of me is to go do my job, to go do what I said I was going to do. And so being a student, I’m like, they’re not going to want to support me anymore. They’re going to be like, what is this girl doing? But just I had to, in order to deal with those expectations, I had to remember or even just come to the realization that what I’m pause, this pause is I’m investing and they’re investing in me so that I can gain more skills and the ability to care well for Black college students in a more holistic way. And so it took me some time to see this time, even now, as something it is okay to pause and I’m not abandoning them. I pray. I still coach people. I’m so connected. We have conferences, there’s things still happening. And so part of it, even in myself was like, man, I just have to trust that where I’m not God is. And so if I’m not there, if I’m not, I don’t know what’s going on, but I know that this ministry belongs to the Lord and these are his people, and he won’t reach them by whatever means and by whoever’s there. And so I don’t know that I’ve been able to handle everyone’s expectations. I think when I think about it, I’m like stressed. I’m like, shoot, I got to do something else. And daily I have to go back and go, we’re working towards something and this time is good and I need to sit down. I need to sit down and receive from the Lord. I need to be refreshed in his presence. I need that so that I can return back and not continue the same cycle of just going so hard that I crash and burn.
Rose: Yeah. Thank you. How about you, Amanda, Joe? How do you manage expectations put on you, and even the ones that you put on yourself, because we all do that in the ministry. We have these unspoken expectations internally that somehow got in there that this is what we should be doing and we can’t stop or we’re failing. And so how do you all manage that or the expectations from people? Yeah.
Amanda: I think this is a word both to myself and to the people that had expectations for me as a youth pastor, but what I’ve learned is that youth ministry is a marathon and not a sprint, and it requires the ability to celebrate even the smallest milestones as wins. When I started my most recent youth ministry position before the work that I’m doing now, there had been someone who had been sort of like a part-time youth pastor whose focus was really on something else. And so when I arrived there, there, really wasn’t much of a youth ministry to speak of. And so I got to start from scratch, which was a ton of fun and was really, really hard. So I think that my first Sunday at this church, there were four students there. When you start from there, something like having 10 students at a youth gathering is a huge milestone, a huge celebration. I think my expectation, especially having worked in larger churches with well-established youth programs before that point, my expectation was very quickly it would catch fire and be the most successful youth ministry that you’ve ever seen. And I think what I had to learn was that the work of youth ministry, at least in this particular context, but I suspect elsewhere too, was in the small moments, the small wins, these tiny little fruits of the spirit that you see moments that probably don’t make great stories or even make sense outside of what happened. But celebrating those wins I think is a huge shift in the way that we measure success in ministry. And so sometimes I kind of shy away from measuring success in numbers, and I look for other smaller ways to measure fruit in ministry. And I think that helps sort of manage expectations by saying, we’re not looking for X number of college students or youth in our church. We’re looking for this kind of fruit. We’re looking for helping people follow God in this way, helping them determine what their calling is in this way and celebrating when we see progress in that way. And so I think both for myself and for supervisors or for people in the church, having that shift in a mindset from we just really want a big youth program or a big college ministry program to, we really want a fruitful youth program or a fruitful college ministry program. I think that shift is huge in managing expectations.
Rose: Oh, could not agree with you more. If we only measure by numbers. And I’ve seen not only youth pastors, but lead pastors burnout from that expectation put on them and always feeling like they were failing. So I love the era that we’re in with so many celebrity, everything, big, success, all of that to celebrate the small wins and care about the fruit that’s really happening that other people might not ever really see except for the people that you’re ministering to. And as that person goes out into the world, that because of that influence makes a difference. That’s the kind of fruit. So I love that, Amanda. Joe, when you talk about entering your pastoral role at Maple Valley, at the start of the pandemic, we not only had the pandemic, we had everything in 2020, all of it, the racial divisions, the politics, all of it happened, which many of us would say, when we look back on it, that all the fault lines, especially in churches, were exposed. Things that we all lived with prior to that got exposed. And now it was a very, very, in many cases, hostile environments, very divisive, a lot of fighting. So I mean that you must have had a lot of expectations put on you that year, your first year of doing ministry. With all of that going on, how did you manage the expectations? And maybe you didn’t look back now and go, this is what I could have done different. I just didn’t know. Yeah,
Joe: Yeah. Well, I’m not going to say that. Oh yeah. I definitely succeeded with flying colors in that experience of dealing with expectations and managing them. Something I learned pretty quickly during that time was sort of, Amanda mentioned a little bit of you have to set a different standard for what success and pay looks like. The other factor that came into play during 2020 was that because you were online so much, you had to see everyone else’s youth groups in the area and around the country. And there was this insane amount of pressure of, wow, that church across the street, what is up with their video production? And my goodness, what are they doing over there? And you kind of get caught up into this game of, I need to compete because now my students not only have access to us, but have access to everyone else. And so how do we engage in that? And what I had to eventually learn, and something that the Lord really taught me in that time was like, yeah, it’s not about that. And really where the success comes and youth ministry is not when you can perform and when you can do all these things. But when students feel heard, when they feel safe, when they feel like they can connect with people in this group. And one of the reasons why we were able to survive that time of being online, and we were able to come back in person and actually grow in numbers post that the quarantine period was because we had so many amazing adult leaders who were willing to meet with students in groupings. And so at Maple Valley, one of the best things they did was they have two adults for each grade level in addition to me as their youth pastor. And so really investing in those leaders, having those leaders go out and connect with students and me doing what I can with my few who I connect with, I think that was the way we were able to continue to do ministry in a really kind of hostile environment. So that’s kind of the first thing that just came to mind for me was that managing expectations is just kind of coming to a place of saying, it doesn’t all depend on me. Ministry doesn’t all depend on me. I don’t have to be that celebrity pastor over there to be successful. This is not about fame or this is not about being flashy. This is about how do we have real connection and relationship with students in really difficult times, and those conversations are going to happen in those small spaces away from the cameras.
Rose: Yeah. What you just named about having the people support so important, I mean, we talk about at the Center for Transforming Engagement, the streams of resilience, people, practices and purpose, and even as Amanda said earlier and Octavia’s experience, who are the people that bring support to you, whether it’s your supervisor, your pastor, a spiritual director, a therapist, or just peer friends that are in the same sort of trenches? Because in light of 2020, I mean for youth pastors and campus ministry leaders, you had to adjust quickly like everyone else, but pivoting to the remote virtual engagement, addressing heightened mental health issues. I mean, here you have young adults and youth listening to the divisiveness, and we know that there was already a trajectory not going well for young people in mental health issues that just got exhilarated and exacerbated from 2020 on navigating all the uncertainty in just the social spaces and then how you balance that with your own lives. And then of course, all the social justice issues that became very divisive. So I think when I hear the three of you, some things that I heard are, you need care if pastors, senior pastors, our listeners, youth supervise, campus ministers or youth pastors, youth lay leaders, they need care. They need training. They need to know they’re not alone celebrating the small wins rather than putting such high expectations that people are always feeling like they’re failing, just so, so important, the support that’s needed, and especially if you’re in a minority people group, even extra care and checking in, what do you need? And I think Octavia and Joe, both of you kind of even named that sometimes you don’t know what you need, so it takes people around you to name what they see in you so that you can get an idea of what might be the need. So I so appreciate all of you, appreciate your honesty, your vulnerability in talking about this issue. And I just want to close with this question. What advice would you give to a youth or campus ministry leader who is currently experiencing signs of burnout or feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities? What would you say to them, to our listeners that might be in that space today?
Amanda: One of the things that floats around in ministry circles that I’ve been in is this quote, I’m not sure who said it, but it’s something like “good leadership is the art of disappointing people at a rate that they can handle.” And so I think my advice is disappoint people. I think I was so afraid of doing just that I neglected my own care and my own spiritual life in such a way as to sort of hurdle me toward a state of burnout. And so I think just, we talked a lot about managing expectations, but I think also being willing to disappoint expectations, especially if those expectations are not based in reality or are not healthy or faithful to you as a youth pastor, as a campus minister or children’s pastor, I think being willing to disappoint people and knowing when it’s okay to disappoint people or even to disappoint yourself for the sake of your own health and vitality and longevity in ministry. I think that’s probably the best advice that I could give. But then secondly, I just have to throw this in there. I’m a little biased because I am a spiritual director, but one of the things that totally saved my life over the last couple of years of ministry has been meeting with a spiritual director on a regular basis and having someone who was looking out for my spiritual wellbeing as I was doing that for so many others. And so I cannot overstate just how vitally important I think that is, spiritual directors are great, but also therapists are wonderful. Or finding a group of other pastors or leaders that you can meet with, just having at least one other person who’s going to look out for you is essential.
Rose: Yes, I love that, Amanda. Their only agenda is for you to be healthy. They don’t need anything else from you. That’s the agenda that I really love that, and I think it’s so important. So yes. How about you, Octavia or Joe?
Octavia: The first thing that came to mind was just lay down. Go sit down. And I mean that. Go to sleep, take a nap, fuel your body with things. And we talk about in our program, how do you abide and delight? What is delightful? Where can you find refreshing? Again, like I mentioned earlier, we’ve been called to these places that God already is. God is already there and present and just know that it is not on you to be God for all of your students, all of your youth. That’s not your job. Your job is to walk well with the Lord and to show up and trust that the Holy Spirit will move and do what the Holy Spirit is going to do. I don’t want to be God. I want to be like Jesus, but I was not called to be God. So I know that what I can do is limited. I’m not the one that can do the impossible. I cannot do all things. I can only do so much. And what I can’t do, I can’t do. Let God do that. So I just really, now I’m saying this because I didn’t walk through it, but lay down, everybody around me know I’m an advocate for taking a nap, resting. If you’re doing too much, you’re doing too much. Go have a seat and just give yourself a break and do things that are nourishing and refreshing to your soul and make that a practice. And so it’s not just like, oh, I do this one thing and then I jump back into work and work and work and work, but make it a practice to be still, to calm down, to take a nap, to take things off of your plate and make that normal, just as normal as it is, or it can do this, make it normal to take care of yourself and to listen to what your body needs. Yeah,
Rose: So good. Thank you. Octavia, how about you, Joe? What would you add?
Joe: I would say that for those who work with the next generation, whether in a youth pastor setting, children’s pastor, or even in campus ministries, to know your value and really understand that you have value and that your value is not tied to the ministry itself, but in just being someone created in the image of God and who is beloved by God, and to surround yourself with people who are going to remind you of that, as Amanda said, that could take a form of a spiritual director that might take the form of a therapist, that might take the form of a network of people who are going through what you’re going through. Sometimes what’s even helpful is finding mentors who have been in your position before and who are further along in ministry and experience. And I would also say that the second part of this is I would say that’s really important for senior pastors and anyone who serves an executive role in any kind of ministry, whether in church or in campus, to be sure to empathize with those who work with the next generation. I think sometimes it’s easy, at least in the church setting, when you get into that executive pastor, senior pastor role to forget what it’s like and to not really be in tune with those who God has really placed under you so that you might serve them. I think a lot of what can help prevent burnout, a lot of that weight should be placed on executive and senior leaders, and they need to be in tune with, where are my employees at? How are they feeling? What kind of help and support and equipping an investment do they need? And that’s a challenge to myself as well as I move into an executive role. I’ve been in it for nine months now. It’s not to lose the pulse of where the next gen pastors are at, because it can be really easy just to forget all of it and to just kind of focus on your own thing. So that would be my word to all the executive senior pastors out there listening to this.
Rose: Such a good word. And I would add to it, if I had a dream and it were possible that a priority in budgeting, whoever sets the church budget would budget in care for their pastors. So if that means they need a season of going to therapy or they have once a month with a spiritual director, just I think, Joe, I love that the burden shouldn’t be on the person that’s serving in these. It should be on the people that are over them that are setting the budget and letting us know what priorities are. Well, listen you three, I cannot thank you enough for joining me, for being honest about your own stories and giving us insights from your own experience as practitioners. So thank you so very much for being with us today.
Amanda: Thank you.
Octavia: Thanks for having me.
Joe: Thank you for having us.