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.

From time to time I post a question that comes into the blog for YOU to answer. What advice would you give this youth pastor who is asking about starting over again in a much smaller context than his previous experience. I’ll post some of my thoughts next week on how I answered him over email, but was hoping you could weigh in with your thoughts, too. Weigh in!

I’m a 20+ year youth ministry veteran of large church ministry but I find myself at a different place of ministry right now. My family and are a part of a faith community that consists of maybe 125 people and most of those are college students from the local university. I was recently approached by the pastor about developing something for students (junior high and high school). Before I was approached I felt like I needed to offer my time, so I welcomed the conversation.

To this point there has been nothing for students and we’ve lost some families because of it. I was, and am, energized by the possibility but to be honest, there’s a part of me that is at a loss of what to do. I realized I’ve always been a part of building onto something that has already existed. This is starting from complete scratch! I realize not having anything is not necessarily a bad thing, because what ever we do, and how we do things, will have to be about relationships.

I guess my reason for contacting you is to simply ask: what would you do? How would you go about starting a ministry? If you could start from scratch how would you do it? What would you not do?


I got the call last week that I was invited to be a sessional instructor at a local Bible College teaching Youth Ministry Philosophy in the fall. I am really excited to be returning to teach, not only to share my heart for ministry, but the chance to meet young leaders just exploring the possibility of going into vocational or volunteer youth ministry. Its so exciting to spend time with young passionate leaders ready to change the world for Christ. In many conversations I have with young leaders there is a few things that I encourage and warn them about and here are a three of them.

Find a balance early: I have seen it before, the new young youth pastor comes into town, single and ready to impact students lives, spending 40 hours a week making a great youth ministry, planning, dreaming and studying. But when the workday is over, heading off to watch a students basketball game, then a badminton tournament, teaching a bible study. Soon that 40 hour week has become 80. The challenge is that students can begin to expect that and when the single youth pastor meets a significant other and eventually transitions into marriage, it can be really hard to dial back the time expectations that students have gotten used to. Find a work life balance early, learn to go offline and be available, but not too available.

The Honeymoon period is real: If you are new in a Church, there is a certain amount of time (sometimes as much as a year) where you can do no wrong (within reason!), and if there is something you need, its time to ask for it. If the 30lb laptop that used to belong to the Senior Pastor isn’t going to work ask early for something that will suit your needs and vision. Your ideas are fresh, people want to help you get settled and build momentum, so ask for it early, as they are more likely to approve legitimate needs. Don’t be shy, but don’t be greedy.

The person before was better: (read further!) Not everyone experiences a healthy ministry hand off and you might be picking up a neglected or abandoned ministry. If so it is inevitable that no matter how poor the situation you are inheriting, that there is likely something that the person you are replacing did better than you. They may have neglected the leaders, hardly taught the Bible, slapped together events, but if the former leader was great at giving high fives, you will hear about it. Students can be guilty of romanticizing the past and their teenage honesty will have them reminding you often of the glory days from before you arrived that were not as glorious as they might think. You are you, God has equipped you to lead and placed you there, and students may have very vocal and unfair expectations of you, but try your best to not let it get to you. If you are lucky enough to inherit a ministry where the leader left really well after a great tenure, the shoes you are stepping into might be huge, just stay the course, be gracious in receiving criticism and focus on what God wants to do in the ministry.

There is something really exciting about meeting and working with young leaders, and helping them navigate through some of the pitfalls is even more rewarding when you watch them come through it and thrive.

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself, too!

You will never arrive.

I know that thought might be frustrating to you. Week after week, year after year, you’re headed toward some goal, and it is a goal you will never reach. In our calling, you’ll never reach the finish line. Here’s what I mean:

You put together the best 5-year plan ever created. You put into action a strategy to build your ministry on the eternal purposes of God. You had a moment where God showed you where you should lead your group. So you write it out, you take the first steps. You gain some momentum. Things are going great.

In fact, you’re moving from what started as a dream into seeing it actually happen in your ministry. Lives are being changed. It is going better than you ever dared to dream it might. You’re close to the goal. You can see the finish line.

Then … you realize that the area of your ministry that was so strong last year was starting to drift away from the original vision. What worked like crazy two years ago has plateaued. You lose a key volunteer. Apathy sets in, or spiritual dryness becomes commonplace. The amazing group of seniors graduated and the batch of incoming freshman are … well, freshman.

You may get closer to the goal, but you’ll never really get there. You’re not supposed to. You need to be OK with that fact. Youth ministry is about seasons of success, seasons of failure, busy seasons and busier seasons. Youth ministry is good, bad and ugly all wrapped into one. You will never arrive – God’s church and your leadership will always be a work in progress.

So wherever you are today in this cycle of never quite arriving – setting goals, almost reaching your goals, evaluating where you are at or completely starting over – celebrate! Celebrate that God wants you as part of the process and His church. Celebrate that God wants to use you to reboot, retool, relaunch or redo something.

It all keeps you humble, and those are the best youth ministry leaders. Leaders that never arrive.


Thought Dennis over at Volunteer Youth Ministry had a good post today about helping volunteers get off to a quick start in youth ministry. This is probably a big factor in helping them stick. Here’s a clip, head there for the rest:

b. Participate in a trip

It’s common for new volunteers to confide in me their discomfort and feelings of inadequacy when they first join our volunteer team. My pat response to them is to not only be patient, but to go on the next student retreat. This is the fastest way to break out of the cloud of unfamiliarity associated with newbie volunteers.

During a long bus ride, daily cabin times and many meals together, youth leaders will naturally develop deep connections with students. My first 3 months as a volunteer at Saddleback Church’s High School Ministry were a desert of awkwardness. Serving for a week in Mexico with our students was the first time I felt traction as a leader in the ministry. Ten years later, even though I’m still on the volunteer staff, I am the go-to youth pastor to the students under my care.