Guest post by John Miller

You’ve been preached to: Leaders must multiply themselves. Great leaders create great leaders.

These are good and true. We should be recruiting, training, equipping volunteers. We cannot grow a healthy ministry without a committed team around us sharing the load. It’s too much for us to handle by ourselves. However, If we exclusively work ON the ministry, strategically tweaking programs, plotting events, and overhauling projects, and neglect serving IN it, we’ll shorten our ministry life expectancy.

A mentor told me “If you’re not spending time with teenagers, then you’re done with student ministry.” Gut check. I have fallen into the trap of working ON the ministry without working IN the ministry before. I’m not alone in this, either. My mentor wasn’t intending to call me out specifically but to make a point: interacting with teenagers shoulder-to-shoulder is essential for the longevity of a youth minister.

Time with students is a necessity, not a luxury.

Sometimes relationships with teens can be gray-hair catalysts. Do you know how many different ways there are to get in trouble on a cell phone these days? Some of our kids struggle with issues that no one should have to deal with, let alone 16 year olds! When I hear a student open up to me about his world, my perspective changes. My heart is softened in a way that it wouldn’t be had I heard it secondhand from a small group leader prayer report.

Sometimes I need Alex to sit across the table from me, look me in the eyes, and tell me he’s hurting. He’s struggling. He doesn’t want to give up. He needs some support.

What an honor to be in this seat. What a privilege to hear the pangs of a student’s life. It’s moments like these that inspired us to get into ministry in the first place! If we only work ON the ministry, we run the risk of becoming hard-hearted toward the struggles of our few. Let’s fight against that.

Our hearts must remain breakable.

If we stop serving students, we’re done in youth ministry. If we don’t make connections with a few kids like Alex, we are risking our perspective. We’re missing stories of life change. We may even allow our hearts to harden just a bit.

Unfortunately, hard hearts lose compassion.

Hard hearts lose drive.

Hard hearts lose purpose.

Let’s be committed to not just work ON, but work IN our ministries. Again, we ought to allot time to creating great leaders. We ought to architect the vision of our ministries. Those “ON” tasks may take up the majority of our office hours. Great. But don’t neglect doing something, anything, to connect with the students in your ministry.

I recommend committing to lead a small group, no matter the size of your church. From a leadership perspective, you’re modeling what you’d want an excellent leader to do and many may follow your example. But from a heart perspective, you’re eye-to-eye, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the Christian life. You’re keeping your heart soft. But while you’re picking gray hairs off of your collars, you’ll be remembering how you were exactly where Alex needed you to be.

And you’ll remember why it’s all worth it.