Processing That Summer Ministry Experience

This post is dedicated to those of you who think you already have, or still are processing your summer ministry experience. You will generally fall into one of these two categories:

  1. “Everything was amazing. It changed my life forever”. This reaction is normally spoken by those who got on airplanes and went to new and exotic places. Some worked very hard building things for two weeks, sweating profusely and being exposed in real life to sights, sounds, faces and souls that are a lot more heart-tugging up front and in person than they are on a video.  For those who took those trips I applaud you for going and remind you to please remember the following:  you took a two week trip.  You did not commit a lifetime to the foreign field, don’t really know what it is like, and all Americans are not spoiled hypocrites.  You are in the initial stages of processing an experience unlike any you had before so give it time to gain perspective. Be nice to your classmates and fellow church members when you get home. For those who spent an “entire summer” in (name that country) you are not experts on any place you lived in for just a couple of months.  You were probably caught tourist sights, had some ministry experiences, and got just enough exposure to fall in love with someplace.
  1. “It was a total waste of time and all I know is I never want to do that with my life. I might even crawl through glass before I spend another week in a cabin with 7th graders”. This reactions is typical of people who spent the summer doing things within the realm of their skill set, faithfully serving in settings with fairly predictable outcomes.  Nothing was spectacular except the level of aggravation pre-teens can arouse in an adult and the work got to be rather repetitious  “I never want to do that” can be said of many jobs.  I once spent a summer making shoe tongues (really, 40 hours a week, stamping out leather shoe tongues) and I can honestly say the high point was sharing the gospel with people at lunch.  The job itself was mind-numbing. Years later I learned that five people converted as a result lunch time conversations but at the time I thought God had me in the factory so I would have greater insight if I needed to write an essay on the hardships of working conditions around the time of the Industrial Revolution.

To those in group “a”, the dust will settle and while the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, you were entrusted with a great experience and now need to ask the Lord how to best use it for His glory. Other people are not called to live up to your experience, but you are, so if the Lord gave you that opportunity, He gave it to you to use wisely for His Name’s sake. Whether it is pray for the people with a certain need, support work in such a place, or return there yourself, treasure the experience. It will not be wasted.

To those in group b, you have had the tough and real experience of faithfully doing things that need to be done and are not personally thrilling. Good.  It’s part of growing up and growing up means learning there is a lot of value in things you do not enjoy.  As you get some distance you will see more of the bright spots, remember the kid at camp who dogged you and will one day pray he or she can find you again and thank you for what you have done to help them.  For those camp counselors and youth pastors you met who looked tired and burned out, the summer is a lot of work for camp leaders and youth pastors and they were tired. Cut them some slack and buy them a smoothie. They are not less genuine or less passionate. They might just be tired. But they are faithfully serving an age group that is notoriously time consuming, self-centered and thankless.  It is an interesting reality that if a group of 50 people banded together to save a life it would make national news.  Yet that scene is repeated over and over again in camps and VBS and summer programs across this nation, when college students, and youth workers spend themselves and the eternal lives of dozens are saved and as it was not observably dramatic the miracle of what occurred goes unnoticed. The fact remains that 80% of those who come to Christ do so before the age of 18, so before anyone bashes a youth pastor, show some respect. Those of you doing those jobs no one wants to do, are actually the “top harvesters” in the kingdom.

Fall is coming. Perhaps you graduated and are now beginning to really transition. Perhaps you are returning to school. If you graduated and don’t know what to do next, take a peek at my last blog. If you are going back to school, embrace what you learned this summer and keep growing and you will find that you eventually have a healthy perspective. The great part about having a fantastic experience is you realize this is not about you but something so much bigger.

The great part about having an uninspiring experience is you will understand it was not a waste because the experience wasn’t about you. You did those skits, sang those songs, and got covered in mud for some kid for whom that was the greatest week of his or her life. Life is not about you and your ride on an elephant or the camp staff who showed the same maturity as the campers.  It’s bigger than that and you all did the part you were given for these short weeks. Now be thankful: You all had a great summer.

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