Sometimes in student ministry things get straight cray cray. Sometimes in student ministry things get cray cray, while at the same time things in personal life get a little cray cray too. Often times, this leads to burnout. But sometimes, it leads to seeing God do some stuff that will blow your mind. This past month almost resulted in the former, but ended in the latter. I’ll elaborate below, but bear with me as I’ll probably chase a few squirrels and get off topic…
I’ve been promoting and reminding our students about summer camp since October. Yes, I said October…I got started early this year, don’t judge. I ended up having the privilege of meeting with the director of the camp along with the worship leader, to be a part of the planning and input process. Initially, we had a pretty awesome response to camp. Out of our 25 or so students, we had a little over half that seemed interested in making it to be a part of the camp. The fun part, i.e. fundraisers, were to begin almost immediately. As we began doing fundraisers to offset camp costs, it became apparent that some of the 15 students that had originally committed to go were not quite as committed as I’d hoped. Evidently Sunday morning pancake breakfasts weren’t very popular among those who didn’t want to pay out of pocket. However, that was our best avenue to raise that money, so we muscled through. In the course of about 5 months, about 6 students had amassed about a third of the needed money to send them to camp. Our student ministry has been blessed with some incredibly giving people, and we had the money to send them to camp with or without the fundraisers. That being said, I felt that our students needed to learn some of the responsibility that I had only halfway learned in my youth group days, so we did the fundraising events anyway. By the end of April, I had been chasing kids down trying to get some “for sure’s” so I could turn in a close guesstimate for camp numbers. If you’ve ever been a part of getting a youth group ready for camp, or any other trip longer than a weekend-long you know the amount of chasing that goes on. Some of this was brought forth by my own procrastination, and some was from a chorus of “IDK’s” from students. Needless to say, my excitement level for getting our students ready for camp was beginning to wane a bit.
In the midst of all of this, I felt that God was calling me to pursue a full-time position at a church, and in February went in view of a call to that church. Enter more emotional, mental, spiritual and physical exhaustion as we began seeking God’s will for us. God closed the door for us to be a part of the ministry of that church, and so we were back with our students again getting back to being ready for camp. Through all the situation with the door being closed, naturally more stress and exhaustion began setting in. But, God is sovereign, and His plan is way better than ours was/is. I began to slowly see some of “my” students start growing, and that was really cool! Some of the exhaustion began to decrease a little bit, but there was still that pesky commitment from students that I needed about camp. As we made our way into the month of May, I had several students drop off of our list due to varying reasons. One of the discouraging things that happens in ministry, is feeling like you’re failing because students cross their names off of event lists that you’ve put a ton of time and thought into. This was one of those situations for me. I had begun planning and getting kids excited about camp back in October and here in the home stretch, I had kids dropping like flies! I began texting parents and seeing what was up, to find out that some had other things pop up, while others just didn’t know why their kiddos had un-signed up. Enter in some more discouragement and add some frustration.
Selfishly, I wanted to take 20 students to camp this year. During this month of agony and frustration where students were disappearing from my camp list, God started to do work on my heart. I realized that I had begun to focus too much on looking like I had a successful ministry because I was taking a bunch of kids to camp from a small town. Lame. God would work out who needed to go, it was still up to me to do some leg work to get kids to go. He was going to be preparing the hearts of those would attend, including mine. As I began the internal battle of realizing that numbers didn’t matter, I started having more kids drop off the list…again, fear and doubt began to creep in. At one point, I thought I was going to have to sit out camp because there were no boys going, only girls. Fast forward to the last day that I could turn in numbers without getting special approval from the camp director.
The day started out like many others before it, students not willing to commit because their friends weren’t going. I just wanted to cry. I remembered camp being the highlight of my summer as a student, tons of fun and no parents! After church, amidst my doubts and faithlessness, we ended up with 3 boys signing up to go. Still being tired from the emotional roller coaster, I felt a small amount of relief in getting 3 guys signed up. Fast forward a week. I got a call from my gorgeous wife telling me that someone had rear-ended our van pretty hard and that she was okay. To make a long story short, the van ended up being totaled and had to buy a “new” van to replace it without being quite being ready to do so. Enter lots more stress as camp was just over a week away, and we had no vehicle yet. I could feel myself begin to slip into a stupor as things from the outside began to outweigh the focus I needed to get camp paperwork finished and notarized and stuff. Fast forward to the second day of camp a little while later…
It’s almost mid-week, fatigue and exhaustion are eating at our group. The guys are all having a seemingly enjoyable time, and the girls were, well, being girls at camp. If you have to ask what that means, then you are either a junior high girl at camp or you have never experienced taking girls into a close proximity cabin for a week. Drama wasn’t horrible, but attitudes weren’t incredibly happy. My attitude was beginning to wear out and I’m almost positive that it affected all of our kids. Some serious talks took place, a late-night prayer meeting took place between my lovely wife and I seeking God’s provision for patience and better attitudes all around. Thursday of camp (day 3) brought about mildly better attitudes, but greater exhaustion. Around 10:00pm we began our after worship church group meeting, and I could see looks on student’s faces that I wasn’t sure how to read. As I began to think and pray on the looks, I began to realize that there was some spiritual warfare going on in our students that night. After we finished our evening activities, I checked my phone and noticed I’d missed a call from a parent. After the student spoke to his parents, he asked me to sit down and talk with him for a minute. He expressed his desire to go home the next day, he wasn’t quite sure about how to explain why he was feeling the way he was feeling other than that he just wanted to go on home. I told him to sleep on it and let me know in the morning how he felt. After morning worship and lunch, we sat down again and had another conversation. In this conversation, he told me he couldn’t figure out why he just felt bad. Not sick bad, just bad. At that moment, the Lord opened my eyes and gave me some discernment and reminded me of the times I had felt that way. I was able to explain to him that he was experiencing Satan fighting to distract him from what God was going to do, and that I had been there before. I told him that I wanted him there, but I wouldn’t force him to stay. We prayed and asked God to bind Satan and for some encouragement and perseverance. After another hour or two, this young man came back and wanted me to know that he wanted to stay! Praise God! I was stinkin pumped!
Heading into evening worship that night, I had a horrible sense of torment. As I was sitting during the beginning of music, I was overcome almost to the point of tears for the hearts of our students. I’m not usually an outwardly emotional person, as far as crying and such, so this was not the norm for me. At that point I knew God was going to do something crazy awesome that night. Earlier in the week, the first night of camp actually, a ton of students responded to the call to salvation. Each night after, the number dropped a bit. The speaker for the week, Brian Burgess, began the service the final two nights with an invitation to those who felt the call to follow Christ. On this final night, only one young man stood up in response to that call. As he stood there, his face scrunched up and tears began to flow. If you can, picture with me a room filled with 650-700 students, sponsors, staff, and ministers. Everyone sitting down, save one 15ish year old young man who stood without hesitation, crying because of the new life he had received from repenting and believing in Christ as Savior. If that image doesn’t give you goosebumps, please check your pulse. I knew this night was going to be something special. As the service continued on, God was speaking through Brian directly to the students, sponsors, staff and ministers, molding and breaking hearts. At the end, Brian requested that anyone who felt called to vocational ministry stand. Guess who stood up among those answering that call? You guessed it, the young man who hours earlier had requested a second time to go home. Praise God that he persevered and recognized that he needed to talk to someone about what was going on. This 12-year-old young man is someone you’ll be hearing about, or maybe won’t be hearing about because of his faithfulness to Jesus. There are just people you meet from time to time that you know are going to make an impact on the Kingdom, and he’s one of them. He likely will never want any recognition for it, but his faithfulness to God will be apparent. Along with this young man, another young lady felt the same call to vocational ministry. Our girls overcame the drama that had been problematic earlier in the week and had become united in their desire to begin leading a Bible study on campus together. They have also sought out some teaching from my wife, which is really fantastic! I am incredibly humbled to see that when I quit trying to manipulate the environment I’m in and turn over the “control” I think I have, God will show up and show off!
As I sit here typing this, I’m tired. But, I’m excited to see what’s in store that God is going to do next. It is often when we’re the most tired or frustrated and ready to quit that God will use us or move in someone to bring glory and honor to Him. My encouragement to you is to run the race as Paul describes in 2 Timothy 4:7, and get excited when you are tired from serving. You never know what’s going to happen when you anticipate seeing the Holy Spirit move.