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.

1. Have grace for yourself, and trust Christ IN you!
- When I focused on all the things I could have done better or the mistakes I made I became paralyzed and unable to minister to my students. I learned it was so important for me to have grace for myself and trust that God was bigger than that time I said too much, or didn’t say anything at all, and that He is in me, guiding and using me despite myself.
- Also, don’t be afraid to ask for advice! Talk to other leaders and pick their minds. The Lord has given us all different gifts. More than once I’ve found another leader’s approach to a certain topic helpful.

2. Meet the students where they’re at — full of grace.
- Over half my life group struggles with sex and drinking, BUT they keep coming to group. I try to challenge but never judge, and show them grace and love ALWAYS.

3. Be open and transparent about past struggles — with discretion, of course.
- The first time I met some of my girls was at Summer Camp. It wasn’t until later in the week when I opened up about my past relationships that the girls felt comfortable enough to let me in on the really difficult stuff they had been facing.

4. Hang out together outside of group.
- This helps foster community. The closer your students become as friends the easier it is for them to connect in your group on a deeper level. Even the students that wouldn’t normally bond find they enjoy each other’s company.

5. Hang out with your students one-on-one.
- This is where discipleship happens. In the beginning your students may be apprehensive so hang out two or three-on-one. This is where you have the chance to really hear their hearts and poor into them on a more personal level.

6. Encourage them and let them know you’re available.
- Never underestimate the power of a birthday card or a text letting them know they were missed when they didn’t show up for group that night!

Hope Schoen is an intern on the High School Ministry team at Saddleback Church.