Lead Yourself First
Here is a hard truth that we must face: we can’t lead anyone further than we have gone ourselves. It’s hard because, truthfully, it is easier to apply programs and methodologies to anyone other than ourselves.
Our leadership and success are completely dependent on who we are and how we take care of ourselves.
I think of some leaders who I have seen who really struggled in ministry:
- A young man who volunteered for us struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. Ministry was fun for him, but he was not actually able to pour out to others.
- A staff member who struggled to find spiritual growth elsewhere, so he spent his lesson time trying to preach and teach the things he needed to learn, rather than what the kids needed.
- A leader who struggled with self-worth issues and tried to receive his main validation from the youth he was serving.
Let be me vulnerable. I have had many failures and struggles over the years in leading myself. Though I am a veteran in youth ministry, I am a human being first. I have dealt with depression, doubt in God, and real fear. I have had troubles at home that have spilled into ministry and made it harder. I have had days where I wanted to quit and days where my shortcomings were very loud.
The point of this article isn’t to say you must be a superhuman to be a youth minister. The Lord recognizes our imperfections and calls us to serve anyway.
Here is the deal though: If you want to lead young people well, you must lead yourself first. You must take responsibility for your own spiritual walk, your own mental health, your own morality, relationships, finances, etc.
When I struggled with depression, I sought counseling. When I couldn’t make a big decision in my life and it was wrecking me emotionally and paralyzing my actions – I sought out a spiritual director. I leaned into Christ and prayed more and asked for help authentically.
Filled with Christ
That’s what Christ asks of all of us. He does not ask us to pour ourselves out until there is nothing left, but to constantly allow ourselves to be filled with Him. It is when we are walking with Christ and taking care of ourselves that we can be prepared to lead the youth that we serve.
If you aren’t daily leaning on Christ, when the hard parts of youth ministry hit, you will fall. Like the man who built his house on the sand, the storms will knock you over. If you aren’t walking deep with Christ, life will kick your feet out from under you.
We hear the stories of prominent Christian leaders who are exposed of leading “double lives” and having major scandals and sin. I believe those leaders were so focused on leading others that they never did what it took to lead themselves first.
Our work in youth ministry is not against flesh and blood, and our enemy will work hard to exploit the places where we aren’t leaning on God.
It’s not just about sin. It’s not just about when hard things happen, either. Even when things are “going well,” if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you aren’t properly taking care of your ministry.
No One Can Do It Perfectly
Doing spiritual disciplines well and always showing up to church on Sunday does not fix all of life’s problems. Checking off the right boxes does not guarantee success. This is not intended as a guilt trip to say that you must be 100% or you are failing at life. I’m not saying that you must add seven new spiritual practices to be well. This is intended to be a springboard for the Lord to help us ask this question: How are we doing? Are we taking care of the things that matter for ourselves?
What About You?
So, how is it going for you? What is the condition of your heart? Do you find yourself growing closer to Christ? What is sin like in your life right now? What things are weighing you down, and what support do you have to work through it? What Christians are you connecting to for help?
What actions are you taking to lead yourself?
What do you need to say no to, today, in order to take care of yourself for the long-haul? What do you need to say yes to?
May we be intentional at leading ourselves! May we take the proper steps to truly thrive in our spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional lives. May we not get caught up in going through the motions for the sake of rituals or looking good, but may we truly dive in deep with Christ. May we do it for His sake, for the sake of our souls, for the sake of our families, and for the sake of the kids that we serve.
Joel Williamson has been working with young people for two decades leading a non-profit reaching at-risk youth. He loves youth workers and is passionate about equipping them for effective, transformational ministry. Joel currently works as the Chief Strategist and CFO for Youth Core Ministries, serves on his church's youth team, and lives with his wife and daughter in Noblesville, IN.