The Bullied Youth Worker

Are you being bullied ? 

We are very concerned when a student is being bullied but would we notice if it was happening to us? As I hear stories from my students who have gone into youth ministry in the past 23 years, some have left because they felt bullied and were unprotected. Here are some of the ways that you may experience bullying in youth ministry and what you can do about it.

Unfair Expectations

Too often part time youth workers have full time expectations. The expectations may come from students, parents, or the church. Determining what a youth worker can accomplish in 20 to 30 hours can be difficult to determine. One thing is clear –it is not full time. In one retreat alone a part time youth worker will invest their whole work week. If they are expected to complete a mission trip the 20 hours could be eaten up in the travel days alone! How will this time be compensated in time off or extra pay?

Mission Creep

In student ministry, last year’s expectations never seem to be enough. At the same hours per week the youth worker is expected to accomplish more in year two. Even after the records show that the a full time youth worker had averaged 55 hours a week, more ends up on their plate. In some cases the expectations double and the student pastor doesn’t get any extra help.

I have seen churches add on committee involvement, new outreach events, extra trips, and whole new ministry departments like taking over the young adults. Every year there is something new. When the student pastor tries to drop things that have been added on, it becomes a job performance issue.

Bullying Tactics and Mind Games

Have you ever been asked to come to a meeting with a supervisor and not told what the meeting was about? I see this as a power play or poor management. How can you prepare for a meeting like that? Has your job ever been threatened, or when you have discussed work conditions been told something like “if you don’t like it you can leave.”

Another tactic is the golden carrot. “If you meet these objectives we will consider moving you to full time.” With this goes -moving targets. “You did grow the youth ministry to 40 students but what have you done for young adults?”

Are You Being Bullied?

People in ministry work hard. High expectations are part of the calling. We understand this. When our passion is exploited however that is bullying. When we live under heavy psychological pressure or when expectations are added without letting other things go, we are being taken advantage of. When power plays and mind games are used to keep us in submission, we are being bullied. When unfair hours are expected and we are not compensated in time off or extra funds we are being abused. Churches don’t always recognize this. When a youth worker says that they love student ministry churches or agencies sometimes assume that unfair hours or pay are not a big deal.

Speak Up

If you are afraid to speak up, or have no one on staff that you can trust, it may be because you are in an unfair situation. If you can find an objective third party you can determine if you are being bullied or if you just signed up with an organization that demands a lot. Supervisors may not always know about or appreciate the time that we are investing. Keep track of specifics, log hours, and document the added expectations. Share them in an unemotional way with your supervisor.

Discuss Management and Expectations

It may be scary but you may need to talk about the ways in which you feel you are being mistreated. We tell students that they need to talk to someone about being bullied. It is the same for adults. In some cases, this may require talking to your supervisor’s supervisor or someone in your organization like an executive pastor who will hear you out.


Most pastors were not trained in human resources. They may not be aware that you are feeling bullied. In their mind, God’s work is so important we have to give every waking moment to the Church. Some feel that if you are paid for 40 hours you should volunteer another 10 on top of it like the other volunteers in your church. If you were hired under that expectation but you go beyond it many weeks, you need to find a safe person in your organization to share this with. If there are ways to get support and help with your work find ways to do that as well.

Most of all, my concern for you is that you are being fairly treated. My prayer is that you would be loved and cared for by your church and that they would truly appreciate all that you are doing by treating your fairly.


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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