Nick Ballard
December 28th, 2020

I’ve been in ministry, specific student ministry and next gen ministry for over 15 years now, and needless to say, there have been a lot of lessons and habits I’ve learned along the way.  Some have been learned by experience, while others have been taught. 

I often think about what I know now and what I didn’t know as a 22 year-old fresh out of college. Frankly, I’m amazed that I, not only survived my first few years leading middle school and high school students, but that any type of ministry took place and was in the least bit effective. 

After all, what does a 22 year-old know?  At the time, I thought enough.  Looking back, I can confidently say not much.  And 15 years of experience, relationships, books, podcasts, conferences and failures later, I wish I could tell my fresh-out-of-college-know-it-all-self a few things that would help me set my mind a little straighter.  The truth is, what you don’t know can hurt you.

So, here are a few things I would tell my younger self….


In some ways, I’ve always taken my faith seriously.  It’s the most important thing in my life.  But now I realized how not seriously I really took my faith back then.  My faith was more of a driver for my job, not necessarily my life.  I’m not saying I lived contradictory to my beliefs, but I didn’t necessarily let it drive my life like it drove my calling.  My faith was my sidekick, co-passenger, helper.  Today, it’s my driver.  It drives my life, and therefore my ministry.  I realize that this sounds like a no-brainer for people who work in ministry, but it’s amazing to see how many church leaders use their faith as a co-passenger rather than driver.

For me, that meant making Bible reading and prayer time non-negotiable each day (still a challenge).  It meant implementing a 24-hour Sabbath each week.  It meant implementing a Daily Office (a short time to pause in the middle of the day to read, pray, journal, etc., and by far the most difficult).  It meant utilizing our church’s monthly Spiritual Renewal Day.  It also meant reading more spiritually challenging books, and not ONLY ministry/youth ministry books.

A faith-deprived leader cannot lead a faith-filled ministry.


I’m not going to lie.  My younger self had a difficult time accepting the value of adults.  I placed such a high value on teens, that adults were secondary.  I knew my volunteer leaders were important, just not as important.  Parents, yep, not important.  Other staff?  Not so much.  The truth is, while I do believe that ministry to students is crucial in the church, it cannot happen without adults.  It cannot happen without volunteer leaders.  It cannot happen without the partnership of parents (something I didn’t realize, having not been a parent at the time).  It cannot happen without the support of the other church staff, and especially leadership.

I wish I would’ve seen adults as partners in ministry, not in my way of doing ministry.


There is a treasure trove of experience and knowledge at our fingertips.  From podcasts to books to conferences to YouTube to Facebook Groups, the access to genius is amazing!  Not only that, but I wish I would’ve invested more in face-to-face, regular sit-downs with older, more experienced youth workers.  It’s hard to think what I missed out on by not asking questions and gaining knowledge regularly from someone farther down the road than me.  Sometimes, when you’re at a church that people look up to, it’s difficult to admit you’re not on top of your game.  I’ve had the fortune of being at 2 churches in my career, that are great churches.  But just because you’re at a great church, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from other great leaders.  I wish I would’ve invested more, relationally, with those wiser than me.


It’s typically in our nature to want to impress others with what we do.  For me, that was never truer than when I first got hired out of college.  I wanted to show everyone that I was the best hire they ever could’ve made.  Me wanting to impress, made me miss out on growth.  I was way too confident, and sometimes too much confidence produces arrogance and an inability to hear constructive feedback, which then leads to relational problems.  Instead of trying to impress so much, I wish I would’ve sought more feedback.  I wish I would’ve evaluated every aspect of my ministry more regularly.


This has been more evident in my life recently.  I have come to understand the importance of taking care of myself, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, in order to be the best husband, father, and pastor I can be.  Burnout is real, and it is serious.  It can damage ministries, churches, and families quicker than anything.  In fact, you can read more about burnout here… https://blog.youthspecialties.com/burning-out-and-finding-healthy-rhythms-in-ministry/.

I would tell my younger self to protect your days off…

Pour into your family.

Get a Spiritual Director or go to counseling.


Immerse yourself in a community that challenges and encourages.

There’s no doubt that I will have a list of things, 15 years from now, that I will want to tell my current self.  That’s the nature of age and experience.  But we can be ahead of the game!  We do not have to let our experience-deficiencies handicap our leadership!

What are some other things you would tell your younger self?

Nick Ballard

Nick is the Next Gen Pastor at Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, MO, which is outside of St. Louis. Nick has been in full-time student ministry since 2005. He's been married since 2004, and been a father since 2011. Nick loves student ministry, the local church, and believe that God has big plans for this generation of teenagers. Follow Nick at Twitter @nicksville or check out www.studentministrylife.com

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