Healthy Youth Ministers Set Boundaries

You have just spent the evening with a couple youth from your youth group.

It was a last minute thing.  Isn’t it always, however?  Your wife is understanding and supportive. She knows you are living your calling. All in all, it was a good night. You are tired and can’t wait to get home to spend some much needed time with that loving wife.  Then again, while on the way home, you receive a text from one of your more troubled kids. As you pull into the driveway, the phone rings…it is now the “troubled” one’s parent. As you walk into the house talking, your lovely wife sees you are on the phone; she quietly walks over and lightly kisses your cheeks as she heads to bed. It is already going on 11pm.  She will be up with the kids at 6am to prepare them for school and ready herself for work. She will not wake you until 8am…she knows you will be on the phone for at least another hour.  Then you still have other “ministry” things to do before heading to bed. Does this scenario sound familiar? Are you exhausted? Are you tired of being tired? No time for your family?  Then maybe it is time to set some boundaries.

Steve Merritt eloquently described setting boundaries in an article for Group entitled, “5 Boundaries to Set in Youth Ministry” when he stated,

“I learned that if we’re available all the time, people will need us all the time. And if we’re always available, we’re sending the message that we’re indispensable. Availability is a boundary-less prison, but presence is purposeful availability. You must remember we can’t stop others from wanting our time, but you can usually decide when to give it. Simply, you should have times when you’re not available. Learning to set this boundary is a key to longevity in ministry—if you can’t (or more appropriately will not) do it, you’ll grow tired and resentful.”

Many of must admit we like being indispensable it is nice to be needed. Nonetheless, what we don’t want to admit is being indispensable and always being needed has a root of pride. Ouch! That hurt! Admitting that we enjoy being needed is a big step in understanding the difference in availability and presence. Presence is we are there for our students. Our students recognize, comprehend, appreciate and value that we love them and care for them. Yet, it is vital for them to understand there are times that we will not be available to them. This, not being available, does not mean we do not care. It means just the opposite; we care enough to make sure we are pointing them to Jesus instead of being their Jesus.

We all have needs. However, when we put the needs of our students above the needs of our own family or even our own basic needs, such as sleep, then there is a problem. You need to step back and reevaluate whether you have either consciously or unconsciously made yourself indispensable. Remember it is never too late to set boundaries.  Start today. It may be necessary to start with apologizing to your students for not setting these boundaries in the first place; maybe you started in your ministry single and are now married. Let them know that you are still there (remember presence) for them. Yet, you will not always be available to them so that you all can be healthy. To read more of Steve Merritt’s article on setting boundaries click here.

Dawn Whitmore lives in Eastern NC with her husband and daughter. She teaches a College and Career class at her home church. She has recently earned her Master of Science in Entertainment Business and has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies. Dawn is a CLASS certified Communicator and an Adult Sunday School Specialist. She is available for speaking and teaching engagements. You may contact her at