How to Help Students set Technology Boundaries

True confessions: I love when I hear that parents are setting technology boundaries for their children. Not because I want kids to suffer, but because I know parents are thinking about the effects that technology use will have on their children, both short- and long-term.

However, the reality is this: not all parents set these boundaries. In fact, more times that I would like to admit, I’ve heard a parent say something like, “It’s my kid’s phone, I can’t take it away.” And rather than be the parent, they treat their child like an adult, and leave them to navigate technology on their own.

Here is the point when youth leaders (and kid min leaders) can step in and work to educate students on navigating technology use and setting their own boundaries. We can model healthy use, and explain the whys behind our suggested boundaries. And while you may think kids won’t listen (and you are right, some won’t), some will, and it will be worth the effort.

In my experience, all it takes is forced time away from a phone for some students to realize they really don’t need technology as much as they think they do. On virtually every trip I’ve helped to lead–from week-long mission trips to weekend retreats–we have told students to leave phones at home or we will collect them for the duration of the trip. At first, students are upset, but a few days in and I’ve always heard a comment that went something like this: “I’m really glad you took away our phones; I really don’t miss mine at all.” Sometimes a forced break is all it takes for a student to realize the world outside of technology is amazing and filled with unique opportunities they won’t get on social media.

So how do we as youth leaders help students (and parents) set healthy technology boundaries? I think we start by not only suggesting certain boundaries, but explaining why they matter. Below I have listed a few of my top suggestions, and I would love to hear yours! Feel free to leave them in the comments, or tweet me @MrsEliseMance.

Set specific “no technology” hours.

The best thing students can do, especially if they struggle to get off screens, is to set specific times to be off their phone and technology in general. A key time to do this is at night, when lights and notifications can disrupt sleep. I recommend leaving the phone somewhere other than their bedroom and using something else for their alarm (like an actual alarm clock, or asking a parent to wake them up). If they use their phone for their alarm, they should put their phone on a “do not disturb” setting, which will keep notifications from popping up, but still allow an alarm to sound. They shouldn’t sleep with their phone in their bed.

Another key time for a “no technology” boundary is whenever they’re spending time with others. This sounds like a lot, but think of the last time you tried to have a conversation with someone who was on their phone. Or better yet, the last time you were on your phone when someone was trying to talk to you. It’s virtually impossible to do both, and you miss out on a lot by not being present in the moment. This may be stretching, but even starting small (like at meals, when out with friends, when they first get home from school) will help.

Besides needing rest and practicing the art of face-to-face interaction, time off of technology can help protect students from negative and hurtful influences. When people my age and older got home from school, we had a natural barrier from drama at school and bullies. Now, bullies and drama follow students everywhere thanks to social media. Sometimes enforcing time off screens can help protect students’ mental health and give them a break from negative voices.

If a student needs help setting these types of boundaries and they use an iPhone, they can set restrictions for themselves under Settings > Screen Time. There are options to schedule downtime, set app limits, and set content restrictions. Plus under “Screen Time,” you can see how much average time you spend on your phone and what you’ve been doing.

Limit who you interact with.

The sad reality is predators use technology to find and lure young people. This has been an issue since the advent of the internet, and any medium where one person can communicate with another can be used by predators (including gaming networks, social media apps, and video sharing sites). It’s devastating how many stories of missing young people include a detail that they “had been chatting with an adult they met online.” We don’t need to scare students, but we do need to make them aware that strangers online can be just as dangerous as strangers in “real life.”

I encourage students to only communicate with people they have first met offline, people they know and their family knows. And even then, if the person is bringing up topics they don’t want to or know they shouldn’t talk about, they should stop communicating with that individual and inform an adult they trust. Not only can predators attempt to lure children, but some sites share locations, which can make students easy to find. The best thing for students to do is keep their profiles/accounts private, turn off location services, and only communicate with their friends and trusted adults.

Carefully consider what you share.

It’s okay to be yourself on social media, I don’t list this recommendation to encourage students to be fake. But I do think they need to exercise wisdom in what they decide to share. People always like to quip, “Nothing posted online ever goes away,” but it’s true. Even apps that claim to make your content disappear will save it on their servers, or other people can screen-shot and save it. In addition, your online presence sends a message about who you are and what you believe. That message can point people to Jesus, or it can be self-absorbed and self-serving.

Students can ask themselves a few questions before deciding to post or share content with others, and look for positive alternatives if needed.

  • Does this post/content honor Jesus and represent my relationship with him? (Every post doesn’t have to be overtly religious, but it does need to reflect my identity as a Christ-follower.) If not, don’t post it. Instead, share something that points to God’s glory and the place He has in your life.
  • Would I be embarrassed if this post/content were made public forever for everyone to see? If so, don’t post it. Instead, share something that the world could see and know that you’re a child of God.
  • Am I looking for attention or affirmation from people and using this content to get it? If so, don’t post it. Instead, spend some time reflecting on the attention and affirmation God gives you and share truth out of that.
  • Is this post/content hurtful or slanderous toward myself or someone else? If so, don’t post it. Instead, share things that uplift others and yourself.

I encourage students to carefully critique their content. Again, not to perpetuate the idea that they need to carefully craft their online persona, but to remind them that what they share does matter. It is as much a part of their spiritual journey and witness for Jesus as their conversion story.

These are just a few tips to get the conversation going around technology and help students think critically about what they are doing. For some students, they may need more specific guidance and accountability, but this is only something you will know after beginning these conversations with them. So I encourage you, start those conversations. Ask the hard questions, and don’t forget to explain why something matters.

Our Picks: Go-To Websites [Part Two]

Last week we took a look at some of my go-to websites, but I couldn’t fit all of them in one post so I wanted to share some more with you. These websites are ones that have a lot of resources, but also allow for you to be equipped and affirmed in what you do. Some of them are more broad in what they provide, but others will be very specific as I believe they speak to areas in student ministry that we will all face at some point during our ministry careers.


This website is a ministry of Jim Burns and Doug fields designed to help equip, grow, and strengthen families. As youth workers we must understand that we are being called to not only care for the youth we work with, but also to care for and help their families grow together and in their relationship with Jesus. Homeword provides a lot of free resources including a culture blog, an advice column, devotionals, blogs, and help for leaders. Jim’s blog has a lot of helpful information that will be highly beneficial to anyone in ministry. You can also sign up for seminars, training, and coaching through their website which is a great opportunity for equipping you or your leaders. There are also items you can purchase from them, and I would highly suggest purchasing as many of Jim Burn’s books as you can because they will help you succeed in ministry in so many ways.

CPYU (Center for Parent/Youth Understanding)

This website is managed by my good friend, Walt Mueller, and is honestly one the best resources for youth workers that I have ever come across. With decades of experience in youth ministry, studying culture, and educating youth workers and parents, Walt brings a wealth of knowledge to the table and looks to help you succeed. A few go-tos on the website for me include their blog, the podcast, movie and music reviews, trend alerts, and top tens. The resources on this website are endless and it isn’t just for understanding students and culture, they also advocate for sexual integrity, digital kids initiative, and college transitions. This website is one I am on constantly and have found to be exceptionally beneficial to my ministry.

Fight the New Drug

This is a great website that helps people who are struggling with pornography, as it provides resources, equips, and highlights the damages of porn and its subsequent results. Their blog is very helpful and beneficial, as well as their social media feeds, and they post content that is relevant for students, parents, and youth workers. This is not the 90’s and early 2000’s style of anti-porn websites, but rather one that looks to educate, help, and heal those caught in this vicious cycle. They are not a faith-based organization nor are they a legislative one, but one that looks to help others by raising awareness through science, facts, and personal stories. This is a great resource to have in your quiver to assist others and to help guard your own heart as you serve.

Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle is a professor, speaker, and a best-selling author who has taught on a wide variety of topics. Sprinkle looks to communicate Christian truths through thoughtfulness, honesty, and grace. He covers a wide variety of topics on his website including sexuality, alcohol, hell, and grace. His blog is thoughtful, provoking, challenging, and engaging. He will force you to think, dig deep into Scripture, and consider how you are communicating God’s Word to the upcoming generations. Sprinkle also has a podcast that is called Theology in the Raw in which he will look at different theological issues and also answer questions that you submit. This website is a great one for getting help to answer those hard question from students.

Christopher Yuan

Dr. Yuan is a noted writer, professor, speaker, and author who communicates in a raw and authentic way. Dr. Yuan’s testimony is one of a young man who was addicted to drugs, dealing drugs, and living as an openly gay man until he had a radical interaction with Jesus. His book Out of a Far Country chronicles his journey and looks at how God’s grace has ultimately changed his life, and he also seeks to clarify that God isn’t calling us to a certain sexuality, but rather to holiness. Dr. Yuan’s website has information about his story, speaking engagements, various articles, and videos to help in understanding and ministering to those struggling in this area.

Nancy Pearcey

Nancy Pearcey is an author, speaker, professor, and visiting scholar who speaks on a variety of topics including sexuality, identity, and healthy image. Pearcey is a thought-provoking writer and speaker who is a former agnostic and now an ardent supporter of Christianity. Her books are a must-have for any youth worker as they deal with many of the cultural issues our youth groups are currently facing. Her website includes links to her books, interviews, and more information about her work and ministry. Her Twitter handle is a must follow as she consistently posts relevant and thoughtful information.

Rosaria Butterfield 

Rosaria Butterfield is a former lesbian who was an outspoken critic of religion and all that comes with it. Through a radical conversion with Jesus her life changed, and she began to pursue Him and His mission for her life. Her website has some amazing resources including commonly asked questions about sexuality and the LGBTQ Community with very thoughtful and personal responses. Her questions page also has many other key areas that she focuses on including growing in your faith, personal struggles, politics, and social change. She also has a a link for finding certified Biblical counselors who will love, care for, and walk with people. This is a great resource to have for those moments when you need clarity, wisdom, or help in caring for those in your flock.

My hope is that these resources help to equip you and make you a better minister to those under your charge. You may not need all of these, but I do hope that at least one of these websites helps you as you follow the calling God has placed on your life.

Our Picks: Go-To Websites [Part One]

On this edition of Our Picks, I wanted to share some awesome online resources with you. Throughout my time in ministry these websites have provided me with a lot of skills, resources, sermon tools, and much more. This will be part one of the picks because I didn’t want to overwhelm you with too much information. Instead, I want to encourage you to click through these resources and see what will be most helpful to you. Next week I will drop the second part and hopefully those will also be beneficial.

Some of the resources will be repeated from our last edition of Our Picks, but I will also go a little more in-depth about what you can find on each website. My prayer is that these resources can help you in your current ministry position and that they equip you and your ministry.

The Source for Youth Ministry

This is an amazing website with a bunch of free materials that is curated by Jonathan McKee and other youth ministry veterans. Jon is a great guy and friend, and the content he puts out is next-to-none. You can find free resources including thousands of games, discussion starters for movies and music, curriculum, messages, event ideas, articles, and much more. His online game generator is a must-have resource: simply plug in what you need and his website cultivates a game for your group. This is a lifesaver. Aside from all the free stuff, Jon also has tons of materials you can purchase and his books are phenomenal. I personally have purchased most, if not all, of his books for the solid materials and practical application they offer.

The Source for Parents

This is another website that Jonathan McKee has started because he understood the need for student ministry leaders to walk alongside parents and help equip them. This is a must-have resource for youth leaders as you look to walk with families and help them to be all that God has intended. Jon includes video game reviews, conversation starters for current music, discussions for current Netflix and Hulu series, cultural insight, curriculum, an opportunity to submit questions, and tons of amazing articles. Jon’s insight into the parenting world is solid, and will help you grow as a leader and shepherd to the families under your care.


This website has been churning out amazing student ministry sources for a long time and has a litany of great materials. The first thing you should do is create a log in and sign up for all their emails. You will get a ton of free resources sent right to your inbox that are great to have in your repertoire. Once you have your log in set up, click around the website and see what you can find. They have a freebie section that you need to just download everything from, and the paid resources are some of the best I have seen. The Deep Discipleship curriculum is amazing for student leaders or for small groups to work through as they grow in their faith. Also, if you are a church that has a D-Now weekend, make sure to check out all of their studies for that and you will find ready-to-go resources right in your hands.

Download Youth Ministry

If you haven’t heard of DYM yet, you need to check this website out! This is the brainchild of Doug Fields and Josh Griffin, and it was created as a place to have amazing curriculum, resources, and games. It also allows youth workers to sell their curriculum to others as a resource and means of income.

In order to utilize the full potential of the website, I would encourage you to create a log in and sign up for one of the memberships. It does cost money for the different memberships, but the Gold Membership is one the best deals in the youth ministry world. You get free downloads each month, online credit to the store, training resources, access to Sidekick (a ministry presentation tool and so much more), a newsletter builder, and much more.

There are also freebies on this website that are super helpful, but the curriculum and games can be lifesavers in student ministry. You can search based on your needs, the type of group you ministering to, and what you are looking to teach in order to help your youth group grow and flourish.

Youth Specialties

Youth Specialties is an awesome resource for everyone to be aware of. Their website hosts a job search function for youth pastors which allows you to search for a job, post a job, or search for applicants who may fit a need in your ministry. They also have a great blog that is curated by youth ministry veterans, current youth workers, and amazing writers from all over. The content that is provided is extremely beneficial for youth workers and will provide you with main tips and tools for working in ministry, as well as refreshing your mind and spirit. There is a great search function for the blog to find just what you need, so make sure to spend some time checking this out.

Parent Ministry

In order to have a successful student ministry, you must be thinking about ministering to the student holistically. This means, in addition to caring for the student, you have to be ministering to their parents, and their families. This website is one of the best out there for how to do just that. The materials they offer include a ready-to-go parenting website created for your ministry, tons of discussion starters and activities for parents, book reviews, articles, research, curated experiences for families, parenting classes, newsletter materials, and so much more. Another huge part of this website is they have content for either parents of students or parents of children, or you can get both and get all the material you need to help you minister to families.

There is a cost to all of this material, and they only open membership once a year. In order to know when the next enrollment period is, make sure to sign up at the bottom of the homepage. You will not regret this, and you will become a better youth worker as a result of leveraging this amazing resource.

Campus Ministry Link

An area many student ministries need to grow in is the transition from high school to college ministry. It isn’t always easy or fluid, especially when students are going away for school and entering a new environment. It is often hard for students to get connected to a church or ministry because they are overwhelmed or ill-prepared for how to even begin the search. This then leads to many students walking away from the church and their faith.

Enter Campus Ministry Link. This is a relatively new resource that is designed to combat the statistics and create a place to help students get connected to churches and ministries in colleges. This website is a search tool designed for students, parents, youth workers, and churches. Once you have selected the appropriate designation for who you are, you can search for schools and find the ministries and churches that are in that area. Or if you are a youth worker or church representative, you can add in your church information and help other students who are searching.

I recently rolled this out to our graduates and their families, and everyone was able to find at least one ministry or church near their school through this resource. The website also has some amazing resources including articles and video clips that are worthwhile and beneficial. I will say that since the ministry is just getting off the ground it isn’t foolproof or without glitches, but it is definitely a resource to have ready and one that I have found very helpful for my graduates.

Navigating Marriage and Ministry: An Interview

One of the things Nick and I love about student ministry is that we individually have a passion for it, and get to do it together. It was something we both felt called to before we met, and it is something we have pursued throughout our marriage. It’s special to share a similar calling, something that we both believe in and value.

But we know it isn’t like that for everyone. We all have varying degrees of involvement in our churches and ministries–both as church-employed spouses, and not. In this interview-style post, we will approach the topic of spouses doing ministry together. Nick and I hope that our experience can offer some encouragement and insight to other married couples who may be navigating (or preparing to navigate) this whole marriage + ministry world. For the sake of clarity, Nick is employed full time by the church, while I volunteer as a small group leader and work outside the church.

Question: As the spouse employed by the church, how has support and participation from your spouse helped you in your ministry role?

Nick: I honestly don’t know where I would be without Elise. Having someone by your side who shares your passions, champions you, and bears the weight of what you are doing has been so encouraging and life giving. It has helped me to know that I have someone I can talk to who understands what I am feeling. I have been able to bounce ideas off of Elise. I can get a girl’s opinion on topics, conversations, and the ministry which is so needed. Without Elise I wouldn’t be where I am today, and honestly she has made me a better pastor by challenging and pushing me in what I am doing. She has been my biggest and most vocal supporter, especially as we have candidated together.

Q: What advice would you give a couple considering jumping into full-time ministry?

Nick: Make sure you are both on the same page with what you are doing. I am not saying you both need to have the same level of passion, but communicating about what you desire, where God is leading you, and what you want out of this are huge conversations. I have seen many friends struggle because they didn’t share their heart with their spouse and they have had to stop pursuing ministry to heal their marriage. So be open and transparent is the first part.

The second is protect your spouse who isn’t on staff. Often times churches look to hire two people for the price of one. Unless your spouse is getting a paycheck, they aren’t an employee and shouldn’t function as such. Talk through expectations as a couple, and then with the church staff.

Third, protect your time together. Don’t let ministry keep you from spending time with each other or your family. Don’t let ministry become a mistress.

Elise: Communication is key, both before you jump in and while you’re in the midst of ministry. Talk through what your ideal level of involvement looks like, and what areas you want to pursue. I would also recommend coming up with a mission statement of sorts, something that will help keep you centered on your ministry goals as a couple, and something you can revisit over the years when your goals might change.

It is also essential to set your priorities. My first priority is my relationship with Christ and my spiritual well-being. This means I often have to say no to things so that I make sure I’m being filled. I can’t give out of a dry well, which for me means I can’t be a leader or volunteer every time I’m asked. My second priority is to my marriage, and to support my spouse in his ministry role. Personally, I love being involved in student ministry, but I have to make sure I’m pouring into my husband even more than I am the students I serve.

Q: What has been one of the hardest aspects of pursuing ministry as a married couple?

Nick: Honestly, the hurt that comes with doing ministry. I am fiercely protective of Elise, and it has been so hard watching her get hurt by the church. Because we do ministry together, she knows when I am hurting and I know when she is. Ministry has extreme highs but really low lows too, and those cut deep. Let me encourage you to always protect and stand for one another. To always be each other’s champion and greatest advocate, but to also bring in people you trust. Have people you can go to who can speak into your lives and help care and guide you.

Elise: One of the hardest things for me has been sacrificing personal desires for the sake of God’s calling. And honestly, you will experience this whether you’re the one hired by the church or not. But for me personally, it’s meant letting go of some of my career goals and past jobs. It’s meant re-ordering my personal priorities in order to run wholeheartedly after what God is calling us to. It’s meant re-learning what it looks like to live a valuable, fulfilling life, as defined by Christ and not society. I’ve had to learn to identify the lies I tell myself, and speak truth into my heart and life.

Q: What advice would you give spouses not employed by the church, especially if they are struggling with being in a ministry context or knowing where to serve?

Elise: Again, communication is key. You need to communicate with God and with your spouse. If you’re struggling, tell God about it. Yes, He already knows, but the act of dialoging with Him about how you feel will help. It’s also important to make sure your spouse knows how you’re feeling, not in a way to guilt them but so that they can support and help you. Don’t blindside your spouse with your struggles when they become too big to suppress and inevitably blow up.

My other recommendation is to take action. If you’ve been serving somewhere and feel burned out, take a break. If you haven’t been serving and aren’t sure what to do, try getting involved in a ministry that interests you or could utilize your gifting. Sometimes the best thing to do is make a change–step back or step in and evaluate. I do encourage spouses of youth pastors to give student ministry a fair chance if they haven’t already. It doesn’t hurt to check it out and see if God is calling you to that area.

Nick: This is tough for me because personally I haven’t been on that side of ministry. But what I can tell you is this: if you are serving in ministry and your spouse isn’t, make sure to communicate often and clearly. Make sure to talk about schedules for work and for home. Make sure to set aside time for you as a couple, and also be willing to not just talk about “work.” Ministry is exciting and challenging and we want to share that. But that can be hard for your spouse if they aren’t involved with your area of ministry.

Let me also encourage you to help your spouse find where they need to be. I am thrilled that Elise serves in student ministry with me, but if she didn’t I would be okay with that. In fact if she served somewhere else, was using her gifts, and pointing people to Jesus, I would be beyond thrilled. Encourage your spouse to serve where they are passionate and their gifts line up.

When we were searching for jobs this last time, I had a huge prayer request: God help us to find the church we are called to and one that has a place for Elise to find deep friendships and affirmation of her gifts. I didn’t mind if Elise would want to serve elsewhere, I just wanted her to be affirmed and valued in her relationship with Jesus. That is what we should be desiring for our spouses.

Q: What if I don’t want to serve in student ministry? How can I still support my spouse who is working in that area?

Nick: I just want to say, it is okay that you don’t serve in student ministry. You don’t have to and you shouldn’t feel pressured to. What I would say is rejoice when your spouse shares good news and God stories. Get excited with them. Let them know how proud of them you are. Also, be understanding of the differences in schedules and time commitments, but make sure you talk through those as a couple. If you are finding time together isn’t a priority share that rather than harbor it.

Elise: I think one of the best things spouses can do is create a safe place for their church-employed spouse to come home to. I like to think of our home as an oasis, a calm in what can sometimes feel like a storm. No it isn’t always clean, and it is a rental, but I try to make it feel like home. I want it to have a calming effect so that when Nick gets home, he feels like he can rest, unwind, and recharge.

Q: Whether one or both spouses serve in student ministry, how do you set healthy boundaries? How do you make sure your marriage is a priority and that ministry issues do not bleed into your family time?

Elise: I think it’s essential to have “us” time built into our week. For us, this looks like regular weekly date nights and intentional time together on days off or over dinner. It doesn’t have to involve a ton of planning or a big production. It can just be take-out and a movie, or board games and snacks. Whatever it looks like, it’s time for just us to be together as a family, and to intentionally take a break from talking about ministry. Depending on the context, it also means not allowing phone calls or texts to interrupt our time. I strongly recommend having at least one “no-interruptions” time each week so that it is clear that your family is a priority.

Nick: I have worked in a variety of ministry settings with the workloads and hours being different in all of them. Having served in ministry for fifteen years now, I finally feel like we are beginning to have better boundaries.

The first thing I do is set hours for myself at work based upon a forty hour a week cycle. Now I know there are times we have to put in more hours, but we shouldn’t die to serve our ministry, we should die to self so Christ is glorified. And in order to die to self that means our priorities need to be correct: God, family, ministry. So for me, that means in order to have a healthy family life, I need to make sure I balance my work life.

I also try to limit work at home. When I am home I want to be fully present with Elise, and I would challenge you to be wholly present with your family as well. Sure I get the random texts and calls, the work emails, the Facebook messages, the Instagram tags, but my priority is my family and I am honest with people about that. If people don’t call me, I don’t hold it as a priority unless I see something that says otherwise. I try to create healthy boundaries between work and home.

I would also say making sure to have time with your spouse is huge. Elise and I have regular date nights on Fridays, and we talk about it. Not just to each other, but our students know, parents know, the church staff knows. In fact every Friday as I walk out, one of the receptionists asks what are our date night plans! It is awesome because people see the value that family holds in our lives and frankly, as a champion of family and student ministry it should. People should see it, and they should value and respect it. One of my favorite things is when our students see us out on a Friday and come say hello, but also ask how date night is going. They love it! And it helps to show young women what they deserve and how they should be treated, and it shows young men how to respect, honor, and uphold their sisters in Christ. Let people see you love your spouse and family, and they will intrinsically see how you love Christ.

Q: As the spouse not employed by the church, what are some ways your church-employed spouse can support you?

Elise: I think a big thing ministry-employed spouses can do is simply encourage their spouse, regardless of the context. Call out their gifting, support their passions, speak truth into their life. Sometimes it can be easy to feel discouraged, like we could be doing more, like we’re living in the shadows, or like we’re not contributing. Take time to uplift your spouse, and to encourage them to pursue their talents, hobbies, or interests.

Also, make sure time with your spouse is a top priority. I don’t want to fight against the ministry in order to have time with my husband. That’s a battle that can be difficult to win. Rather than make your spouse fight that battle, create intentional, quality time together. Take a break from whatever you’re working on and don’t bring it with you.

Q: I serve in student ministry full time and my spouse serves in a different ministry. How can I actively ensure I don’t leave them out of important decisions?

Nick: Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is huge! I can not say this enough. Make sure you talk through your schedules and calendar dates, and I would encourage you to plan six months out. Most ministry calendars are done by month or semester, so you know what is coming down the pipe. Take a day or evening and compare your calendars and make sure to show each other what you are doing. But even more than show, share the heart behind the events and planning. Let them hear and understand why things are happening when they are.

A few tips:

  • Create a shared Google Calendar of ministry events, work days/hours, and key meetings.
  • Periodically go to each other’s events to support one another and show unity in your marriage and the Body of Christ.
  • Share your heart and passions with each other.
  • Never value your ministry and calling over your spouses – God has uniquely called and gifted each of you and neither ministry should detract from the other.
  • Never use a ministry as weapon or assault. Don’t say “my ministry wouldn’t do that or schedule this way.”
  • Be transparent about what you are doing and with whom.
  • Be willing to admit when you mess up or don’t communicate.
  • Always be transparent and honest about how you are feeling – never harbor hurt, frustration, or anger. Those are seeds that the enemy would love to cultivate.
  • And once again: COMMUNICATE.

Q: I feel like we have a good marriage/ministry balance. Now what?

Nick: Praise God! That isn’t always the case, but if that is where you are keep pursuing it. Never get complacent in that, because when you do satan will love to throw a wrench into your marriage. This could be a time issue, a communication issue, or the issue of your work becoming your mistress. Keep protecting your time, relationship, and ministry balance.

I would also say that you should find ways to share this with others. Are there other couples you could pour into and mentor? Are you demonstrating this to your students? Have you shared about balance and healthy living? Find ways to not just keep a good balance but to equip and help others find theirs.

Elise: Keep up the great work! Because ministry and life are always changing, I don’t think we can get too comfortable. Keep pursuing your spouse, keep setting healthy boundaries, keep pursuing Jesus. And while you are doing that, find others who you can come alongside and encourage. Look for a younger couple to mentor. Share what you’ve found helpful with other ministry couples. Encourage those who are struggling. We must remember that none of us can do this alone, we all need each other.

We’d love to hear from you! Share your insights into maintaining a good marriage/ministry balance, how you set healthy boundaries, and the ways you prioritize your spouse.

The Art of Rest

Recently I shared with our student ministry that rest is vital and necessary in our lives, and in fact is commanded by God throughout Scripture. Rest is something I have never been good at. I am a high capacity person: I wake up early, can run on little sleep, and just go. Rest has been something I have struggled with for so long, and after walking through the message I shared with my high school students, I knew I needed to share this with others and keep preaching this to myself.

Rest is holistic; it isn’t just sleeping or napping or tuning out, but a state of refreshment by pausing and being with God, allowing Him to take your burdens, and stopping to enjoy what He has given to you. I find that I can be with God but I don’t always give my burdens to Him or pause to enjoy life. Even on vacation I catch myself counting the days we have left, and thinking about what will happen when I return, rather than enjoying the time away.

As I was self-assessing, I came to this realization: there are others in ministry who function in the same manner. We understand our calling and mission and will sacrifice our own time, energy, bodies, and whatever else it calls for to see that mission fulfilled. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how un-biblical that actually is. God doesn’t call us to kill ourselves, but instead to find our rest and strength in Him. He sustains and empowers us.

From this understanding and some evaluation of past ministries and ways of living, let me encourage you to think about implementing these tips into your life to help you in resting and staying in ministry longer.

Spend regular time with Jesus.

This is one of those that we teach and espouse often, but it is also true that in our lives this can be the first area to suffer when we don’t rest well. We may still read our Bibles and pray, but when was the last time you spent quality time with Jesus? When was the last time you truly worshiped and just rested in Him? This is a challenge for anyone, but we as ministers of the Gospel must make this a priority. Truly our rest only comes when we are with Christ and giving Him everything.

Spend time with your spouse and family.

We are called by God to first be in relationship with Him and then to be ministering to, loving, and sharing life with our families. Often the priorities get misplaced in ministry with family being the number three priority (or less in some cases) because ministry becomes an idol. In fact, in the Epistles you see Paul talk about having your marriage in order before serving in ministry, because a marriage reflects into the ministry regardless of health status. But in order to rest well, and to be refreshed, we must pour into and care for our families. If we aren’t sharing where we are at with them, the stress will continue to grow, and potentially we may view the family as a contributing factor. Bring them in, share life, love them well, and watch as family changes into a refuge for you.

Have regular date nights and honor them.

Man, I wish I had done this sooner in my marriage. When Elise and I were first married, our schedules did not work well together. Hers was fluid and changed each week, and included working weekends. Mine was Sunday through Thursday, and there were some weeks we saw each other only as we went to bed. Date nights weren’t a thing because nights together didn’t happen often. Because of that we ended up not growing as a couple, and we knew something had to change. We picked a day (Friday nights) and have become very protective of that. We tell everyone about it, and now even our students ask what we are doing on date night. In essence we are setting an example for the families we serve by leading out. Let me also encourage you that when, not if, you are out and a church member or student stops you to not cut off the conversation in a rude way, but be honest and let them know you are on date night. It may feel awkward, but you have to protect your time together.

Honor your days off.

Let me say this: you get days off, treat them as days off! Don’t do work on your days off, don’t just “pop into the office for a few minutes.” Don’t be checking your email, or responding to a work-based text. We, you, deserve days off and rest like anyone else. This may mean you have to set up or reestablish boundaries at your job and within the context of your ministry, but it is healthy to do so. Yes, in ministry you can feel like you have to always be “on” but don’t let that detract from your time away and with those you love.

Find a hobby and do it.

Often when it comes to rest, people still need to be doing something. Rest doesn’t mean idleness or laziness, but resting in God and who He designed you to be. For me I have gotten into various hobbies over the years: cooking (let me know if you want my truffle, oatmeal cookie, or burger recipe), candle making, reading, biking, and much more. It hasn’t always stayed the same, but it allows for me to decompress and commune with God. Often during these moments I find myself talking to God, humming worship songs, thinking about Scripture, and finding ways to just be silent and rest in Christ.

Use your vacation time.

I will be honest: I am horrible at this. I always have extra time at the end of the year, and I am so bad at looking to use that time. In a way I feel guilty because I am taking time from where God has called me. But the reality we must face is threefold:

  1. Your vacation is part of your employment package so use it – letting it go to waste is like wasting your paycheck. One of my bosses made it clear to me that you were given this time because you deserve it and are worth it, so use it.
  2. By not taking your vacation time, you are essentially telling your family they aren’t worth your time, and the church is more important than they are. You must set an example for them that God has called you first to them, and then the church. And one of the ways you show this is by being with them, not just on days off, but on vacations and special moments.
  3. You aren’t the cornerstone of your ministry, Christ is. I think sometimes we worry about taking time off because we don’t have anyone to run the program. I get it, I have been there. But one of the worst feelings I have ever felt is when I had students and parents look me in the eye and say “this ministry will die because you are leaving.” If that is the way we run our ministries my friends, then we have failed. Our ministry should be rooted in Christ, and as such we should be building teams of people like He did who can do what we are doing. We should be training others to do what we do, which will allow for them to grow and bring freedom and peace into your own life.

Keep track of your hours, responsibilities, and other duties as an employee of the church.

Many times we just give of our time and it is easy to overextend yourself, especially if you are salaried. However, that isn’t healthy or needed. If you find you are always working, always doing, always on-call, start tracking what you are doing and bring others in. If needed, go to your supervisor and let them know what is happening and be honest with them. Let them know if you are struggling. Let them know if you need help or are drowning. I know this can be terrifying because the “what ifs” begin to abound. But if our leaders are truly following Jesus and being sensitive to His heart and leading, they should be good shepherds who care about their staff. This starts by being open and honest with them about where you are at.

Take time away from social media.

Social media can be defeating and debilitating. The sin of comparison can often make youth workers feel inadequate, envious, and lesser because of what they see others doing. If you are feeling exhausted or burned out, don’t just take time off, take time away from social media. It can be a fast for a day, a week, or month, or it can be by having regular unplugged days for you and your family. Elise and I have done this periodically in our marriage where we noticed we weren’t always communicating because we we using technology to fill that need. Eventually we took Monday nights and said no technology. It was awesome! We talked, played games, went on walks, and bonded as a couple. Let me encourage you to consider doing this as well.

Rest is hard, especially when you are in ministry. But we must rest. In order to be effective disciples of Jesus, spouses, parents, and ministers, we have to be resting in Christ. Let me encourage you to build healthy habits of rest and refreshment in your life, and to make sure your priorities are in order. Now go take a nap, spend time with those you love, and lean deep into Christ for sustainment.