barely hanging on

Sometimes funk is more than a style of music. I found myself in a mental funk the other night as I reluctantly climbed on the elliptical machine after a really long day. It’s been a rough several weeks for me ministry-wise. In the trenches, it can be tough to take a big-picture view of the value of your efforts, and it can seem like all is for naught (speaking at least a little melodramatically).

It seems like this can often be the case with school teachers as well, but I think it hits youth ministry folks especially hard when they are drawing near the end of their journey with a group of kids. You get close to the end of a school year and you realize the kids are becoming who they will be with or without you. It doesn’t accomplish much to fret and frantically try to cram in a bunch of content (or relating, or life lessons, or whatever) if you haven’t done it long before mid-April.

While most leaders in our middle school ministry invest three years to complete the emotionally intense process of welcoming a new group and then walking with them until handing off the baton to the high school ministry, Rene and I do it every year. This year the outgoing 8th graders were our first group to have for just that one year, and all current 6th, 7th, and 8th graders were or are “our” kids. We absolutely love welcoming each new group as they come in, but to be honest, it gets exhausting when you focus on how little you think a group, or any individual student, has grown in that year. In many ways, yes, they do grow. Their voices, faces, and bodies change so quickly. Many get braces, cell phones, or new wardrobes to match the persona they’re trying out. The ebb and flow of early adolescence makes for quite a riptide sometimes.

So here I found myself physically worn out from a week of irregular workout schedules. As I near the finish of the senior video project, I’m very much ready to catch a breath, but I can’t allow myself to do so until it’s all in the box and ready to ship. And within my ministry relationships, several of the guys that I’ve tried to connect with this year either can’t come to small group anymore or have started to gravitate toward other leaders. That is always a tough moment.

I have to remember that my (our) role is primarily to be the Welcome Wagon to the new group and help them find connection with the group, students they may not know well at first, but most importantly, with other leaders. It’s these other leaders that are going to journey with the group over the long haul. We can catch up briefly from time to time after they move on from 6th grade, but the leaders who commit to be with them all 3 years are the ones that will reap the late night conversation at camp or a retreat, the phone call in crisis, the kid-initiated invitation to the special life event. Those can be pretty sporadic when we get the one year.

God will do amazing things in and through every group of 6th graders we get to care for, even for a while. He is nowhere near finished with them.

I ramble here more than I intended, and my digital Sabbath beckons strongly as it’s been a pretty intense week. Through what I consider to be divine intervention, even leaving open the likelihood of angels ministering to me as I sweated on that elliptical, God reached out to my heart and pulled me above water for a big breath. I needed it! Moments like that, while it is futile to manufacture or replicate in the future, are so refreshing when He allows them… just when I need it most. I clearly saw a picture of the way we operate in ministry as running alongside each new “heat” of runners for the first lap or so, then doubling back to the starting line to get the new group ready for the gun to sound. I am confident that through the leaders that God has called to the full three-year journey, through their families, and by His promise that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philipians 1:6), God will do amazing things in and through every group of 6th graders we get to care for, even for a while. He is nowhere near finished with them.

How did He do it? How did He turn my funk on its head? God certainly works in mysterious ways, even in directing the song shuffle on an iPhone. A song by Last Place, fronted by my good Camp friend Jeremy Davis, came out of nowhere and almost rendered me incapable of seeing the workout display through the tears. Or sweat, but probably a mingling of both. (I am sure the exercise-induced endorphins didn’t hurt either – Elle Woods nailed that one spot on.) I share the lyrics below, along with a link to listen on their MySpace music page. You can also get the whole EP on iTunes. May it be an encouragement to you or someone you know who is waiting for God to ____________.

Listen to  “Waiting” by Last Place

Sometimes I like to pretend that this life, I got it all figured out
But God I know that You and all Your ways are bigger than myself
You see right through me, right into me… Lord, I’m only a man
Still I try to seek your blessings, on my own selfish plans

So I’m waiting on You, God, ’cause only You hold the keys
I’m fading to You, God, I’m learning Your ways
When I’m down on my knees
…and waiting on You

So now, my God, I’m seeking out Your will and praying for Your patience
And in the morning, God, I’ll lay my whole life down and wait in expectation, yeah
You’re above me, but You still love me though I am incomplete
No more will I wrestle, cause I’m Your vessel, and I’m waiting at Your feet

And I know that I’m not perfect
But sometimes I just forget
I wanna dance for You, God
Just please give me the steps
I try to be patient
I try to be strong
But the truth is, God
Well, I’m barely hanging on
Just barely hanging on

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About andrew burden

andrew blogs about being a volunteer youth leader, teacher, video editor, husband, friend, child of God
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