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.

What To Do When You Graduate

OK, the philosophical stuff is fine but what do we really do when we graduate?

First, all college graduates have the same problems transitioning to the work world. For everyone who said, “I have a useless degree from Bible College” please be reminded you are actually trained for a vocation. My first degree was in sociology and I was trained for nothing. You can actually apply for a job with your degree and it is remarkable how few look at the job postings on their own school’s website.  The postings are there.  Everyone has a time of transition and secular students do not get a free pass.

Our nephew attended a prestigious business school and graduated the year the economy crashed. He ended up as an elite firefighter and the joke on the fire line was, “What was your major?” Responses ranged from Engineering to Law.  A bachelor’s degree is always an asset and you do not need a second one to gain additional skills to tide you over while you transition. I went back to a community college and took some courses in accounting to improve our income situation and I landed a great job at a big company, while never wavering from our call to missions.  So be thankful for your degree.

You didn’t go to Bible College to get rich in the short term but because you are a longer-range investor. You have vision. You won’t settle for things that moth, dust and rust can ruin.  Since you have vision, use it. To transition, you will have to do some crazy wild things that are totally off the charts. You’ll actually have to do them for the rest of your life so start practicing.

Radical Step One: “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up”. Take a ministry position, even if it is not full time, or not paid, in addition to whatever else you need to do to meet your adult financial obligations. You have to start someplace and that place is usually lower than you hoped.

Your first job, unless daddy and mommy can arrange it for you, will be less than your dream job. (And if daddy and mommy can give you a great job right off the bat and do, they have zero judgement) No one in any field starts at the top. It’s counter-culture to our kingdom mentality where we imitate the Great Servant. As for your friends going off as missionary associates fairly soon after graduation, think twice before you get jealous. Firs they fund raise, which is a real job. Then they face that obstacle called “language learning” . Having recently started on Arabic I am sure that many unreached people are still unreached because learning their languages is like rocket science. You do not get to learn a language by inoculation. You actually have to work at it.

So, all you Jesus-loving servants out there: it’s OK to work in a church part time doing youth work, children’s work, or serving in some capacity that is not your full time dream job. You might not find little kids or youth are your passion but if you serve the Lord, He promised to raise you up. Take a job even if it is not “your thing”. It’s “His thing” and you claim you are all about Jesus so act like it. You might not think the soul of the 5, or 15 year old is quite the same as if you were speaking to the teeming masses but if you save someone from a nightmare life or an eternity of hopeless, it’s really OK if you had to dress up in that inane VBS costume. Worse things can happen. Ask a Christian in Iraq.

Radical Step Two: Trust God. The most terrifying issues for graduates are their loves lives and dealing with your debts. Most people are in debt when they graduate. I applaud every parent who has jumped hoops to enable their children to more quickly get to work by sacrificing so they are not in a ball and chain relationship with the government. However, debt is a reality for most people. Last week I met with a couple in ministry where something like 70% of his take home pay was set to go to loans. We spent a day working together and when all was said and done he got an adjustment where he now pays 1/3 of what he did before. Your payments are negotiable.

Your love life is not as negotiable but keep in mind: marriage is something you cannot “walk back”. We women are “made to complete” someone so we tend to get more anxious about this. Guys are normally still figuring out if their future wife is the right one long after the girl has feels sure. This means you are like 99.9% of other people on the planet. Guys often have to figure out their work then their love life. You can certainly think of exceptions but as a general rule of thumb, just get moving and trust God for the right person but don’t hang out waiting for things in the wrong order.

Radical Step Three: Keep your vision. Remember when your heart broke for victims of human trafficking? Or when you thought of people in places so isolated no one in this day and age had the guts, or gumption to walk into where they are and try to live among them? The vision might tarry but at the appointed time, it will come to pass. Don’t let debt, doubt, or circumstance cloud your vision. Don’t let your broken heart for the hurting be dulled by a wide screen TV at home. Nothing great happens overnight but it is during that waiting period when your endurance and vision is truly tested. Sadly a great many people compromise their way out of their destiny because they lack the patience to wait and keep their eye on the ball. Don’t invest in the world or the things of the world. The Love of the Father is not in them.

Lastly: Don’t forget who you are. No one is to look down on you for being young. You are a royal nation and a holy priesthood and every day you get up there are good works prepared beforehand in Christ Jesus for you to walk in them. Go find yours today and every day and you will soon discover that you did not get a useless degree. You were blessed with a foundation for the work to which God has called you. And for practical advice: develop a good sense of humor. There’s a lot of enjoyment on the journey.

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“The 42%- Part 2: We Know We Believe

Consider:

“There is no other name given to mankind by which they might be saved”.

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”..

“No man putting his hand to the plow and turning back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

“You were bought with a price and are not your own”.

“Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth for you are dead and your lives are hid with Christ in God”.

“They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth…….. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”

Beautiful encouraging words! We believe:

All those words are true.  We believe, we are people for whom the greatest ransom in history was paid. We believe we are inheriting a glorious incorruptible kingdom. We know, for just a fraction of eternity, our eternal, perfect, forever-lives are hidden with Christ in God and we know we have just a small window of time called ‘life’ to share this great salvation with others.

We believe the response to redemption is self-evident. Compelled by powerful love that pursued us to salvation, we are incapable of ignoring the plight of billions trapped in isolation and hopelessness.  We know the uselessness of investing our lives in that which is eternally insignificant.  We believe Jesus is returning and we know this visible world is nothing more than a blink of the eye.  We believe and see with glorious anticipation that incredible city whose builder and maker is God.  We know that we have been tasked with loving others as sacrificially as we have been loved so we long to put our hands to the plow and stay on task.  We know no better expression of gratitude to our Savior, than to accept His invitation to discipleship and we rejoice in the privilege of being called.

In my heart I am troubled by something I don’t know:

In light of what we believe,  why are 42% unreached?

We know we believe, don’t we?
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