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By Bob Krulish

That’s a wise and wonderful piece of biblical advice, but howdo you guard your heart? Being in vocational ministry and maintaining devotion to Christ is tricky. The lines often bleed over between the two. It’s easy to presume our service IS relationship with Christ. Oswald Chambers said, “Beware of anything that competes with your loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of true devotion to Jesus is the service we do for him.” True service, the kind that can have a lasting effect, must come from our personal devotion to Jesus. 

There are a lot of voices in youth ministry: Your own, wanting to provide a healthy, rich environment for students to encounter Christ—and, just for full disclosure, your voice of pride, wanting to look good and be successful. In addition, you’ve got parents’ expectations, volunteer leader expectations, the pastor and church’s expectations, the expectations of your family…all different voices, and that’s just to name a few! These can all be very loud and demanding. So what do we do?

What I want to share isn’t new. But maybe it will encourage, help refocus, or embolden you.First Things First

It’s a way of thinking. “For as he thinks in his heart, so ishe” (Proverbs 23:7). How do we think about ministry? I ask our youth staff this question: “What’s the main targetof your ministry? What’s the main focus?” The answer is invariably “teenagers.” Is it a trick question? No. Not really, anyway. If we asked Jesus what the main focus of his ministry was, he wouldn’t have answered “mankind.” In fact, he did answer: “…it is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34), and later in John 5:19 “…the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” He himselfis the goal. He’s our first target—NOT teenagers or mankind.

Second Things Second

Same as the first! God wants all my heart. That’s why he says, “seek first the Kingdom of God…and all these things will be added to you.” What things? Could it possibly be a fruitful and healthy ministry that reflects him? What’s the most important thing I can do as a youth minister? as a spouse? as a parent? Seek him. It’s hard.Sometimes he “plays” hide and seek with us. Look for him, pursue him, and sneak up on him!

What’s the goal of marriage? Is it to have children? Nope. A couple gets married because they love one another. There’s passion and desire to be with the other person and to “seek” them above all others. The couple doesn’t have a conversation that says, “Oh, you like kids? I do, too. Let’s get married so we can have kids.” That would be silly. Nobody gets married for that reason. No, they love one another, get married, and oh-by-the-way…they might have children. It’s the same with ministry. “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself”—and voila’, you may have spiritual offspring! He’s the voice you want to listen to. 

Third Things Third

The crowds saw Jesus’ ministry of miracles. They were wowed, and said to him, “What must we do to do the works of God?” Or we might ask, “What must we do to have a successfulyouth ministry?” Here’s what Jesus would say to us: “This is the work of God, to believe in the one he has sent.” You might be asking, “Are we ever going to get to something practical or program-related?” Yes.

Fourth Things Fourth

In the church I serve, we have a phrase we use all the time: People over program. Which means: Always lean on the side of investing, building, nurturing, encouraging, provoking, leading, training, confronting, and loving your leadership teams. NOT to the exclusion of program, but value people more than program. Duke University has a perennial powerful basketball program. Every good ball player in the country would like to go to Duke and play under Coach K. Why? Because at the end of their experience with him, they know they will not only be better players, but better people. Yes, Coach K has a greatprogram, but in front of that he values his people to the extent he hardly has to recruit. People wantto go there. Build people over program.

Listen to God, seek God, love God, believe in God, and put people above program. These guarantee nothing. But they foster keeping and guarding your heart in the Lord in the midst of vocational ministry demands.  Text Box:

Bob Krulishis the associate pastor and men’s pastor at Greenwood Community Church in Colorado. Before that, he served as a leader in Young Life for 23 years. 

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