4 Strategies for Managing Expectations

“What do these people want from me!?”

I complained to God.

Parents wanted me to fix their kids. The students wanted the “funnest youth ministry in the city.” My pastor wanted me at the church from early morning prayer at 6 Am to 4 pm in the afternoon (7 am on Saturdays) I had assignments to complete for the seminary, and I was losing touch with my family. I found myself saying too frequently, “I hate my life.”

I looked at a bunch of books on burnout and life management. Finally, I discovered this remarkable strategy for dealing with expectations. I hope that you, or someone you know, will find it helpful too!

Make a list of all of the expectations, duties, and responsibilities that you have in your life. Make sure that you don’t leave anything out. Then employ the 4 strategies on your list.

1. Delete the ones that are unrealistic and impossible.

You can’t  fix anyone’s kid. You can’t save a soul. Only Jesus can. You can’t change family dynamics in a day. You can’t be two places at once and you can’t work 18 hours a day. The Lord can do these things but you can’t. So, while people may have unrealistic expectations of you and your abilities you should not have them of yourself. In fact, the sooner your church or agency realigns their expectations, the better the outcome will be.

2. Delegate the ones that others could or should be doing.

You probably already know that you can’t do it alone but you may be trying to anyway. You may receive compensation for youth ministry and because you are paid, you assume that you are being paid to do the work. What if you saw your role differently? What if you realized that your role is to train believers to do the work of the ministry? If it isn’t already in your job description, put it there now.

We neglect delegation sometimes because we are too unorganized and don’t want to ask for help at the last minute. Take a look down the road. Youth ministry can be pretty routine. What roles need to be filled? Who can do them? Look at your list again. What can you assign to volunteers so that they will be able to make a meaningful contribution to the ministry?

Volunteers feel valued when they do meaningful work that gets recognized. By doing these tasks instead of allowing others to do the you may be robbing them of joy. As a rule of thumb, try to do only those things that only you can do. As much as possible let others do the rest.

If you don’t have a lot of adult volunteers allow students to do what they can do. Another rule of thumb: as much as possible don’t do for students what they can do for themselves. Meaningful responsibilities for youth give them feelings of identity and ownership of the group. Don’t rob them of this benefit.

3. Do the ones that are doable.

As each item is cleared away you will feel refreshed. The burden of them on your mind will lift and a sense of victory will return. Now you will be left with meaningful projects that you can tackle. These are ones that were reasonable and could not be delegated to students or adult leaders.

Some items will be quick and simple like booking a bus, or buying an item that you need for your group. Tackle a few of these first that give some quick results even if they aren’t your top priority. This will give you a better sense that you are digging your way out of this pile of responsibilities that you are buried under.

Next you need to get to those high priority tasks that are important and urgent. It could be visiting a student that has stopped attending your group. Maybe it is setting up a training session with your leaders or setting up a system of one to one discipleship. Here’s a useful graphic for determining with projects are important and urgent:


4. Depend on God.

When you are doing the work that He has called you to do there is a sense of peace, order and purpose. Everything is more difficult if you are overwhelmed by fear. When you know that you are doing the tasks that only you can do and that these are the ones the Lord wants you working on, you can just do the work and stay focused on it.

Of course things can go wrong and they will from time to time. The leader who was supposed to pick up snacks calls in sick. The teens on the worship team who were dating break up and neither shows up for practice. These are unavoidable but as we continue to give our ministry over to God there is a sense of blessing despite the challenges.

Faith in God manages anxiety. He knows we are but dust. Jesus says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Whose burden have you been carrying?

Not Fool Proof But Better Than What I was Doing

Finding this strategy helped me to stop running from one crisis to another. My usual approach that involved procrastination, taking on too much, letting people down, and making excuses wasn’t sustainable. These strategies helped me to begin to evaluate each request that came my way.

I still had a problem saying no when someone had a project they wanted me to do. What helped was seeing a list and a schedule for completing tasks. My schedule was able to answer for me. I was working on tasks that were important but not urgent. The work I was doing was manageable and meaningful. It was nice to move from living in constant crisis to productive activity.

This Works for Me. What Works for You?

Have any other ideas? I’d love to hear them!

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com


  1. Thanks Ron for the great article. I found your graphic to be particularly helpful & will be using it.

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