“How do you decide which students you spend time with one on one? A parent asked me, as she sat in my office at church. I had been a Youth Pastor for about five years at this point and this mom was looking for a new church. At the top of her priority list was an active youth group where her daughter could get involved, stay busy and make Christian friends. With this list of needs, she also expressed that the church must employ a female youth pastor. So far so good, I thought, as I got the sneaking suspicion that I was being interviewed. In my role at the time, I oversaw the youth ministry that served around 250 teenagers. This is why the mom questioned my philosophy about which students I spend time with and how I make those decisions. It was a good question, one that I as a mother will want to know from my kids Youth Pastor one day. She was a very thoughtful woman and I knew that she was taking this church shopping season very seriously. She rightly discerned that her daughter’s peer group and mentoring relationships were among the most important things in her life.

The problem was, I didn’t know how to answer her. The truth was, I made decisions about who I spent time with based soley on need. If a pastoral care need came up that was in need of my ‘professional’ attention, I attended to it. I no longer led a small group of students. I didn’t have a discipleship group. I was running an organization with dozens of volunteers. I was equipping parents and planning large group events and leading a staff. The truth was, I didn’t really have time to spend a lot of one on one time with the students. I didn’t tell her this because that didn’t sound very spiritual.

Over the years in Ministry, however, I have developed a philosophy that speaks to her question and allows me to spend more intentional time with my students/volunteers/parents. It is what Andy Stanley calls the “Do for One” leadership principle. All of us, whether we lead large or small ministries or organizations, can glean wisdom from this principle. The “Do For One” principle embraces the fact that the leader cannot spend equal time with every person they lead. In my case, as the Youth Pastor, I cannot have a deep mentoring relationship with every single student, parent and volunteer that I serve. I can, however, take the opportunity to do for each one what I wish I could do for all. Whether it is at a congregant’s request or in response to a need, I can be fully present with whoever I am meeting with at the time.

This means that I don’t have to be overwhelmed by the amount of people I “need” to connect with. I can instead embrace a ministry of presence to whoever is in front of me and give them what I have to offer. I can go to a volleyball or football game and watch a student without the guilt of not being able to go all the games. I can disciple and connect with a volunteer. I can equip and support one parent the way that I want to support all of my parents. This philosophy of ministry recognizes my own limitations. It also removes me from the center of all that happens in my ministry. It acknowledges that I, as the pastor, am not the solution to everyone’s needs. The truth is, I can only do so much with the resources I have been given. This is also why equipping leaders is a part of my philosophy. (See my last post). I can trust that as I “Do For One” that there will be enough to go around.

How are you doing with the “Do For One” leadership principle? Are you finding yourself stressed out and guilt-ridden because there is “not enough” of you to go around? Do you find yourself half-present when you are with a congregant instead of fully present? Maybe it is time to take a deep breath. De-center yourself from the story. Trust that God will accomplish God’s purposes in your ministry. And do for one what you wish you could do for all.