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God > Family > Staff > Students

When I first joined staff with DiscipleMakers I was young, unmarried, without kids, and didn’t lead a staff team. I lived without much balance, because I could. I didn’t have a long list of responsibilities other than myself and my job. I could give myself whole-heartedly (1 Corinthians 7:32) to the work of ministry! Ten years later the Lord has given me far greater responsibility: I’m married, I have two kids, and I oversee staff at multiple campuses as a team leader. I’ve learned the need for balance and wisdom in managing my full life. 

Many days it feels like I just don’t have the capacity to do all that God has called me to. A new baby requires significant care. So does a new staff member. However, I shouldn’t neglect my wife. And it’s necessary to be serving in a local church. But my primary job on campus is to disciple the student leaders. And also write my talk for next week. Oh, and fill out that administrative paperwork. And mentor the young new leaders. And support raising. And every leader should be a reader. And I can’t forget a daily quiet time with God!

Whew. Can you relate? 

I hope to provide you some guidance on prioritization, with a simple principle: 

God > Family > Staff > Students

God is more important than your family.

Your family is more important than your staff team.

And your staff team is more important than your students.

Does this mean that your students aren’t important? By no means. But this principle does provide boundaries that lead to sustainable ministry, and gives wisdom for how you can best serve your students in the long run. It gives a general rule to live by that helps you make hard decisions.

Let’s dive in a bit deeper.

As a college ministry leader…

God has called me to serve students. I lead Bible studies, mentor the leaders, and share the gospel. It’s a joy! We should work diligently at this great calling from God, and resist the temptation to coast or work half-heartedly. We need to make sacrifices of time and energy in order to fulfill our ministry. 

As a regional staff team leader

God has called me to serve my staff. I disciple my teammates, organize meetings, coordinate our campuses, and serve as their supervisor. When a staff person needs greater care, I prioritize staff over students. It’s hard if there’s a conflict with a student, and it’s sad if a student drops out of the fellowship. But it’s much harder when there’s a conflict with a staff, and it can significantly slow down a campus ministry if a staff member leaves. We want to care well for our staff, and not view them as a cog in the machine.

Jesus modeled this when He prioritized time with disciples over the crowds (Mark 6:30-32).  Staff are our fellow laborers whom God has entrusted to us. We may disappoint some students when we can’t give more time to them, but it’s worth it to give our best to staff to keep them healthy and strengthen the unity of our staff team. And when we invest in a staff member, our investment is multiplied as they invest in students, both now and in the coming years. Staff turnover can be devastating to a campus fellowship, so retaining those staff through adequate care is a strategic goal. 

As a husband and father

God has called me to serve my family. I change diapers, care for my wife, wash dishes, read stories to my kids, and coordinate schedules. It is easy to neglect family and focus on ministry, since there is often more glory on campus than in the home, but God calls me to prioritize my family (Ephesians 5:25-33, 1 Timothy 5:8). There’s no way I can delegate my fatherhood. I can’t call in a substitute for my role as husband. But staff care and student ministry can be delegated to others. Jesus was unmarried during his earthly season, as was Paul, so it can be easy to look to them and assume a level of ministry involvement that is just not possible as a husband and father. The married man’s interests are divided (1 Corinthians 7:33) as he is called to serve the Lord and his family.

As a Christian

I exist for God’s glory, and my greatest joy is in knowing Him. I read His Word, present my requests in prayer, spend time with His people, and worship Him with holy living. It’s easy to fake a good Christian life and maintain the Sunday morning facade, and even to maintain a thriving ministry for a season. But if we are not connected to the Vine (John 15) then we have no sustaining life flowing through us, and we will shrivel and cease to bear fruit. My priority above all others is to abide in Jesus. Everything else flows out of this. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 and Deuteronomy 8:3). And Jesus lived this out: He left His family, His ministry, and even His disciples for sustained periods of personal communion with God. He exhorts us in Matthew 6:33, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” 

A note for single/unmarried staff:

Obviously, you have a family too, but not in the same sense as a husband has a spouse or a father has children. The responsibilities to your parents aren’t the same. I would encourage you to place your local church family and your local friends into that principle in this way: God > Family > Church Family & Friends > Staff > Students. If you neglect your local church family and friends for too long, your ministry will suffer, and it will bring imbalance to your life. A local church should be so life giving! “No man is an island,” and no Christian “hand” or “foot” (1 Corinthians 12) can exist without the rest of the body of Christ. 

The order of priority is God > Family > Staff > Students. This is not only how God has called us to live, it also reflects the increased level of risk if we neglect any one of these callings. If we neglect our students, our specific campus ministry will plateau, but we can always reinvigorate it a few weeks or months later. If we neglect our staff, not only will our ministry plateau, but we may negatively affect other campuses. If we neglect our family, our marriages and the legacy of our children start to fall apart. When our home is in shambles, our students and staff will soon be affected. But more than anything, if we neglect our relationship with God Himself, everything is negatively impacted (Matthew 16:26). God is the sun at the center of the solar system of our lives. If we lose intimate fellowship with Him, we run the risk of our entire lives falling apart, and all the planets going out of orbit. 

Let’s finish with a few practicals:

  • Establish a daily time with God: read the Bible, pray, journal, etc. Guard that time and say no to whatever you have to in order to spend time with your Creator. 
  • Maintain a weekly Sabbath when you don’t do any ministry work and you spend extra time with your family. This isn’t just a good idea, it’s the fourth commandment. I recommend keeping your phone off, in a drawer for the day. Nothing saps your energy faster than a constantly buzzing device! 
  • If you have some admin work to do, consider working from home. That way you’re around the house to serve with fussy kids or change diapers. You’ll be a little less productive in your tasks, but you’ll be more connected to your family life. 
  • Find a good local church and invest deeply. This helps in all four areas: it cultivates your relationship with God, it serves your family by providing for them spiritually, and it models living in Christian community to your staff and students. 
  • Prioritize your staff communication. I have a filter for my email that shows me only the unread emails from my staff team so I can work on them first. 

We don’t need just 6 months of high energy ministry from you or from me. We need decades. Jesus says the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Luke 10:2) so it’s a huge loss if we’re down a laborer! That long-term stability comes only if we are rightly orienting our priorities and not burning out or neglecting our various callings. I pray the Lord sustains and strengthens you, and bears good fruit through your life.

PS: If you’re interested in learning more about balancing life, sustainable ministry, managing time, and prioritizing your family, here are a few recommended books: Zeal Without Burnout, Do More Better, and Date Your Wife. Also Steve Lutz has some great wisdom on the seasonal nature of college ministry in his short article: Forget Balance. Get Rhythm.