I am coming to the end of my very first year in paid ministry and, of course, it has been a huge time of reflection. There were so many successes and more than a fair share of failures. While the failures might have sucked in the moment, there have been so many lessons that the Lord has taught me through them. One of my biggest failures (but biggest learning) happened at the very beginning of my career.

My first taste of ministry was interning for one of the guys on the High School team. I learned a ton from him because, frankly, the guy is a legend. He is a logistical mastermind, has a huge heart, and is a total servant. I saw the incredible impact he was able to make not just in our ministry, but our church as a whole. Being so new to the game, I wanted to be just like him.

So when I went out on my own, I tried to do just that, be just like him. The problem was that in my pursuit to be more like him, I lost what made me, me. I smothered the parts of myself that wanted to dress up for events or make a fool of myself on a video in order be just as reserved as he was. I slowly started abandoning the pastor that God created me to be.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one that has been there. So many of us have seen someone that is incredible at what they do and, in hopes of capturing their success, strived to be just as funny, just as smart, and just more like them.

While we might think that we will be more effective this way, we are actually hurting our ministry in the long run. When we try to be more of something we aren’t, we are completely mismanaging ourselves. We try to make our weaknesses our strengths and push our strengths to the backburner. We cripple ourselves.

This stems from the insecurity that makes us believe that we aren’t effective. Whether we are consciously thinking this or not, we are thinking that God can’t use someone like us. But the truth is that God can and wants to use someone like you. Each one of us is an essential part of the body of Christ. If we are using the body as a metaphor, don’t try to be a foot if you are a hand. God placed you exactly where he wanted you. If He wanted another foot in the body, He would have put one there. If He didn’t want you in the position you have, you wouldn’t be there. Trust that God doesn’t want you to be someone else.

In short, your ministry needs YOU. It needs your gifts, your personality, and your heart. Be authentic. Be real. Your ministry needs it.

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Director at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

I got to help pull off our December series, “Instalife” – Travis and I were put on stage design. Our goal: Create the best stage pieces yet while spending as little money as possible.

Personally, I am proud of what we came out with. In the center of the stage, we hung an Instagram logo and two signs on either side that spelled out our series title, “Instalife.” On the walls, we hung 12 blown up images of some of our students’ Instagrams.

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Sometimes I think people think that big churches just spends ridiculous amounts of money on everything we do, when we can actually try to be as frugal as possible. We have little (and sometimes no) budget that we need to stick to. Because of that… we improvise.

IMG_2331This is one of the Instagrams that we hung up on the wall. Looks clean on the front right? While the front may look like a million dollars, tells a different story. To put this together, we just “screen-shot” the student’s Instagrams and had them blown up to poster size as Costco. Because Travis and I are so cheap, we are huge believers in scavenging and recycling. The backing is made up of materials that we either “borrowed” from other ministries or found around the office. We glued the picture onto a Styrofoam board and duct-taped sticks to the back for stability.

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The Instagram logo? We used a projector to trace the design onto a piece of wood that we “stole” from college ministry. Luckily, we have some of artistic students that volunteered to paint in the design we traced out. Looked incredible!

For the finished look, we wanted everything to look like it was floating, so we used fishing line to hang all of the pieces. The Instagrams went up easy, but we were terrified that the Instagram logo was going to be too heavy and snap the line. The fact that it stayed up for both weekends really proves the power of prayer!

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Does your ministry do stage design? Share a story of a stage design that you thought killed it!

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Director at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.



When our student leaders commit to our program, they are committing to a full six-month “cycle.” At the end of every cycle, we launch applications for new student leaders and we give out renewal forms for the current student leaders. Besides asking if the student intends on committing to another cycle, the form includes a handful of other questions that provide us with valuable information that allows us track the progress of our students and help our program become more effective.

Thinking about putting one together? Here are some questions that I would strongly recommend to you:

1) What is the state of your faith? Obviously, it is important to know where your students are at in their relationship with the Lord.  Some students might be afraid to answer this question thinking that they might get kicked out if they aren’t doing great at that moment. Encourage them to answer honestly, knowing that you are there to help them along no matter how good or bad their spiritual walk is.

2) Recycled Questions. One way to check progress is to reuse questions that are on your application.  It is really interesting to compare their responses with what they wrote on their original application. My favorite question that we recycle is “what does it mean to be servant-hearted?”

3) How has the Student Leadership program impacted you? A more straightforward way to check progress is to directly ask the student how the Student Leadership program has grown or challenged them. Greater insight into how they have grown as a leader and as a servant can help you keep them accountable with the lessons they have learned and it can equip you to be more helpful in finding leadership opportunities that they would excel at.

4) What have you enjoyed about the Student Leadership program? Ask them what works. Instead of tracking the progress of your students, this question helps you examine your program. When the time comes for you to switch things up and refine Student Leadership, it will be helpful to know the strengths of your student leadership model.

5) What can we be doing to improve the Student Leadership program? You can’t refine your program without knowing where it can grow! This can be a scary question to ask, but the answers can lead to some really incredible changes. I love this question because it gives you another opportunity to empower students and allow them to speak into your ministry.

Does your ministry do something similar? What would you ask your students?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Director at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

GUEST POST: How to Say No

Josh Griffin —  December 30, 2012 — 1 Comment

If your student leadership program is structured like ours, you sometimes have to turn some students down. Even though you know that it is for the health of the student and the program, that conversation can be so freaking tough! It is SO easy for those conversations to go south. Just a little miscommunication could lead to a student walking away thinking that they are unwanted or unvalued by your ministry.

Here are some things that I do in order to help the conversation be as fruitful as possible:

Balance Truth and Love. As I said, it is so easy for a student to walk away from the conversation feeling unwanted by your church. Leave no room for doubt that your ministry truly values and loves them. However don’t allow your fear of hurting their feelings to sway you from telling them the “why.” The conversation can’t be fruitful if you aren’t honest with their weakness.

Give Action Steps. Saying “no” to a student without talking it through with them is what leads to that feeling of worthlessness. It makes it so that they are only focused on what is wrong with them instead of what they can do to grow. Use this conversation as an opportunity to speak into a student’s life. If they are being turned down because of poor spiritual health, give them resources or adivce to help take them to another level. If appropriate, tell them what they would need to do so that, next time, they could be a student leader!

Be Clear. Do your best to make sure they fully understand what you are saying. Ask if they have any questions. Give them time to speak into the situation and feel heard. It is natural for us to try to make awkward conversations as short as possible, but take your time them. While this might be just another thing on your “to-do” list, it is a big part of their day; keep that in mind!

Pray. Of course, shower this conversation is prayer. Pray that God speaks through you. Pray that the student’s heart is receptive and open to what you say. Pray for it all!

What advice would you add to the list?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Director at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.



Every weekend I do my best to have a couple outside voices share their learnings from the world of youth ministry. In all honesty is started as a simple way for me to get away from feeding the monster I created when I started this blog now 6 years ago. Still today I enjoy reading other opinions, even when I don’t always agree with everything written, and often find myself learning from their posts or nodding in agreement.

Here is a selection of the most-viewed guest posts over the course of 2012. Some really solid stuff here:

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Investing into the relationships that you have with your local high schools can be a total game changer for your ministry. To continue building our relationships, we are sending Christmas gifts to some of our local high schools. While we would love to give a gift to each member of the faculty, our budget only allows us to give a couple per school. This year, we decided to send gifts to the principals (because they run the school) and the ASB directors (because they put on the campus events).

To each person, we’re sending:

  • A Starbucks Card
  • Card with our Christmas service times on it
  • Handwritten note (communicating the three points listed below)
  • Contact information

Our gift isn’t extravagant, but I believe that the Lord can use it in huge ways. My prayer is that the recipient will know three things from getting our gift. I pray that they know:

We are thankful. I want them to know that our church is deeply thankful for what they do. I want to celebrate their passion for seeing students grow and develop. We know how hard it can be to work with high schoolers and how rarely words of appreciation are heard, so I want them to stay encouraged and know that we see what they do.

We are here. I want our schools to know that our church is here to serve in any way that we can. If they have a wall that needs to be painted, we want to paint it. If they are putting on a canned food drive, we want to promote it. If something happens to a student, staff member, or the school as a whole, we want to pray for them.

We care. I want them to know that we love their school and that we love them as an individual. This is huge for those that aren’t Christians. To them, our ministry isn’t representing just our church, but the Church as a whole. Every letter, phone call, service project, and cookie plate is a chance to reflect Christ’s love. Investing in these relationships can mean investing in incredible evangelism opportunities.

What is your ministry doing for your schools this Christmas?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Director at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.



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Last week our student bands gave you 4 free songs, and today a couple of our high school team want to give you a gift of their own, too. If you want to get A Very Colton and Travis Christmas Album for yourself – you can right here for absolutely FREE  – it’ll make your Christmas that much better, I promise*!

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*this is a joke, the whole thing is absolutely terrible. Wonderfully terrible.

Our first annual Student Leadership Christmas party is just around the corner and I can’t be more excited! Because they work so hard and give so much to our church, we want to go all out with this party to show them how much our ministry appreciates them!

Now it wouldn’t be a true Christmas party if we didn’t have gifts! We wanted to make sure that each student walked away from the party with an awesome gift (and I’m not talking about the 1993 VHS Workout tapes they are going to get at the “white elephant” gift exchange). We wanted them to get something that was well thoughtful and picked out just for them. So this Christmas we decided to write each student leader an individual challenge that would grow them not only as a Christian leader, but as a Christ follower as well.

If this sounds like something you would want to do for your Student Leadership team, here are some tips to get started:

-Pray! Pray that God speaks through you as you write to your students. Pray that the Lord give you wisdom, discernment, and insight as you speak into their lives and continue to shape them into godly leaders.

-Think about what they’ve done and what they’re doing to discover what they can do. What could your students be doing to take their ministries or projects to the next level? Challenge them to think big and “outside the box.” Also reflect on how you’ve seen them lead in the past. Is there a leadership characteristic that they can grow in?

-Think about who they are. Get inspired by a student’s talents, gifts, passions, and even their experiences. Think of ways that they can be using their shape for ministry. Is one of your students really passionate about prayer? Challenge them to think of more ways to integrate prayer into your ministry. Was a student in and out of the hospital as a kid? Ask them how God wants to use their experience for His kingdom.

-It’s okay to use similar challenges for multiple students! Don’t focus finding a completely different challenge for every student. Focus on finding ways to grow each student as a Christian leader. Most of the time, there will be more than a couple students who would benefit from the same task. For example, many of our seniors are being challenged to mentor a younger student. We believe that it would be a great next move for each of them

-Try to get specific. As I said, it is okay to use the same challenge for many students but, when you can, try to get specific. For example, we have a senior named Cassie that would be a great mentor for a younger girl. Another student leader, McKenna, recently told me that she really looks up to Cassie and wishes that they were closer. So I challenged Cassie to have an intentional relationship with McKenna. If you see an opportunity like that, take it!

-If you can’t think of one, find someone that can. If you come across a student and have no idea how to challenge them, ask someone that would. Find an adult that knows the student personally or has seen their leadership in action.

Have you done something similar in the past? What tips would you give?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.