Sometimes Great Ministry Means Taking One More Step Forward


By Russ Polsgrove

A few years ago my friend hiked Mount Kilimanjaro. He told me two things about his trip:

  1. The view at the end of the trail is much better than the view at the beginning.
  2. Toward the end it’s quite frustrating. No matter how wide your steps, the rocks slide under your feet, so you only gain a few inches every time.

Ministry sometimes feels like that.

10 years ago, the high school ministry position at our church was vacant. As the middle school pastor, part of my job was to work with interim staff and a few volunteers to keep the ministry moving. A big breakup between a couple in the youth ministry had caused a major rift in the social dynamic of the group, and we scrambled to put something together that would be a bonding experience for the teenagers in our church.

So we hastily put together an overnight event. We should have taken more time to plan it, but we felt desperate, and wanted to get everyone in a room together just to spend time with each other. We went to a minor league hockey game in town. While we are all sitting together, a small group of teenagers snuck away from our group, went outside the arena and were barred from re-entering by security. We tried to play some group games in the middle of the night that resulted in a screaming match between four or our students. The HVAC unit went on the fritz, so we fluctuated between sweltering heat and freezing cold. When we look back on that event, we laugh. We joke about what a disaster it was.

It’s funny now, but it was terrifying at the time. It felt like a failure. And when something I do feels like a failure, I feel like a failure. The ministry felt like it was in shambles. Our interim HS guy, who had been a volunteer for years, thought there was no coming back. The week after, we had the smallest crowd in the history of our high school ministry, and we felt personally responsible for it. We didn’t know where to go from there.

Then the next week came. And the next. And our ministry slowly started to find its footing. It’s been 10 years, and our high school ministry is stronger than it’s ever been. Now, I could give you all types of metrics to show you why it’s stronger than it’s ever been, but I’d rather tell you stories.

  • I want to tell you about that interim director—at the time a volunteer working a day job at a machine shop in town—who now oversees our entire family ministry staff, while still being the point person for high school ministry. He’s the best youth pastor I know.
  • I can give you a name of a student that was AT THAT VERY EVENT who now works as a youth pastor in another city. She was one of the ones that kept everything together when it felt like everything was falling apart.
  • I can tell you how excited I am about officiating 4 weddings for former students who live, love, and serve because of their faith.
  • I can give you names of 25 students who have asked us for recommendation letters to work at summer camps to share the story of Jesus with children.

In retrospect, I don’t know if I’d consider that one event a failure. It didn’t go well. We should have done things differently. But we moved forward, and sometimes that’s all you need. A willingness to act. Not one day, or for one event, but repeatedly move in the same direction. It may feel like you’re taking steps backwards. At times you probably are, but if you have a commitment to keep walking forward, you’re going to look back and celebrate. The view at the end of the trail is much more beautiful than the view at the beginning.