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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My Fountain of Youth in Youth Ministry...

I can remember exactly where I was and when it was that I made the decision to answer God’s call into full time youth ministry. It was the summer of 1999. I was serving at a week of Junior High Camp at Round Lake Christian Assembly outside of Lakeville, Ohio. I had just completed my four-year degree in ministry at Milligan College and was preparing to enter graduate school at Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, TN in September.

But for several different reasons, graduate school didn’t seem like the right fit. I was restless with classes that only talked about ministering to students. I was eager to begin. Shortly before beginning the fall semester, I agreed to help out a friend with his week of junior high camp. And I’m glad I did. It was during that week that God laid on my heart the desire to minister to students full time. As I looked around at the other counselors who were serving that week, I realized that they were doing what I wanted to do in terms of serving, leading and guiding students toward the cross and the Savior. My heart was changed that week. A few months later I found myself working the “best job ever” in a local church.

Fast forward to the present… This week I found myself lying awake in bed for the countless time. I was thinking about everything and nothing all at the same time. I was thinking about problems that had come up over the weekend. I was thinking about tasks that were looming and not yet completed. I was thinking about obligations that I had made but had been either unwilling or unable to follow through with. I was thinking about church office politics (and how much I hated it). I was thinking about lessons that needed to be written, messages that needed to be finished, emails that needed to be sent, phone calls that needed to be made, meetings, to-do-list items, projects, trips, calendars, attendance…

And then the question hit me: Why don’t I feel the same way about ministry now that I did eight years ago when I first began after that week of camp at Round Lake?

The question hit me like a ton of bricks. It certainly wasn’t something that I was really ready to consider at 1:47 am but since it seemed I wasn’t getting much sleep, I dragged myself out of bed, grabbed a glass of milk and pondered the question in the darkness of my kitchen.

Where did I go wrong? What was my problem? Was the problem with the ministry? the students? the volunteers? the church staff? the parents? that I wasn’t feeling the love and enjoyment that I had once felt? Was it a problem with me? Was a problem with the church? Was it a problem with the students? Was I reading my Bible enough? Am I getting enough fiber? These were questions that I didn’t have answers for.

Then it dawned on me. The last time that I felt honestly excited about youth ministry wasn’t all that long ago but had come from an unlikely source: volunteering in youth ministry. The problem as I am beginning to see it is that the longer I am in full time youth ministry the harder it is for me to volunteer with students in ministry. Now that I have more experience instead of volunteering for a week of church camp, the camp staff wants me to lead the week. Instead of experiencing the excitement of a trip to an amusement park with students, I am organizing one. Instead of hanging out at a table with students during an event, I’m upfront teaching and leading. All my ministry energy is going into the leadership of ministry to students but not directly into the students in ministry.

It began to make sense. Part of the reason why I can feel so burned out in youth ministry and youth ministry can loose it’s joy is because most youth leaders are always leading, giving, teaching and organizing and never following, getting, hanging and joining in with youth ministry.

So here’s what I’m doing. After writing this article to share some of my struggle with you, I looked up our area church camp schedule and am planning to send an email to the dean (in the morning) to see if he or she can use any more volunteers for their week of camp. But it doesn’t have to be church camp, it could be Young Life, a local high school trip, or some other opportunity that will put me into a direct hang out role with students. I need some time volunteering and hanging with students to get back my fountain of youth in ministry.


Just a few thoughts from the trenches...

Jim

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