Today I had a terrifying realization. More on that in a second.

The soul is the capacity of the Christian. If the Holy Spirit is the juice, the soul is the battery cell. Worn-out batteries lose the ability to hold juice and can no longer carry out the purpose for which they exist, and so are thrown away. Worn-out Christians who don’t care for their souls lose the ability to utilize the Spirit and no longer carry out the purpose for which they exist, and so their hopes and dreams become impossible.

Our capacity to work with students can only go so far as our soul’s capacity to pour out the Holy Spirit. And our soul’s capacity to pour out the Holy Spirit rests on the care we take to keep our souls healthy.

This is what I realized: there is a possibility that, some point down the line in my ministry career, I could have a broken-down soul, but as long as I “perform” my role well, no one would ever know.

How is it with your soul? We don’t often hear that question in Christian circles. In ministry, we tend to gauge our spiritual effectiveness on external qualities: the busyness of our schedules, the size of the crowds in our services, the scope of our spheres of influences. In his book Replenish, Lance Witt writes, “We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul.”

It’s not vision. It’s not leadership ability. It’s not ministry experience, or charisma, or innovative thinking that makes a healthy ministry. Powerful, earth-shattering, life-transforming ministries happen because they are led by men and women who take care of their own souls.

Who in your life is asking you how is it with your soul? And if they did ask you, what would you say? I’m afraid to admit that if I’m not careful, in the future I might be able to slide by the accountability of others and do ministry on abilities, ideas, and experience alone— for a season, until the fumes of exterior ministry run out and the nakedness of the interior, decrepit soul expose me as a fraud.

Students don’t need a visionary. They don’t want someone who pulls off massive programs with ease. Those things are important and valuable, but the fundamental responsibility of the youth worker is to be spiritually healthy. It’s about being God’s person instead of doing God’s work. You have to focus on knowing Jesus better before you strategize about showing Jesus better.

I want to lead a thriving youth ministry. But first I need a thriving prayer life. I want God to give me growing responsibility and growing influence. But he won’t unless I commit to growing myself.

How is it with your soul? The potential of your ministry is totally dependent on the answer to that question.

Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for about four years.