looking forward, looking back, getting dizzy

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The Roman god Janus was the deity of doors, gates, and beginnings and endings. He had two heads, facing in opposite directions, and was thought to have knowledge of both the future and the past simultaneously. He was especially worshiped at planting and harvest time, at births and marriages, and any times of beginnings. From his name we derive the first month of our calendar.

I identify with Janus – without the whole omniscient deity thing – at the beginning of each summer. In the span of the first several weeks in June, I welcome a new 6th grade class, get a sneak peek at next year’s group as I lead a group of new 5th grade boys at VBX (Vertical Bible eXtreme), and participate in the mission trip with the 7th and 8th graders. Talk about dizzy!

I love getting to know my new group of boys. They always bring such life and energy to the middle school ministry. Summer is always a highlight of my year as I hang out with them, not just at programs and special events, but starting to watch them play sports or grabbing a few to go swimming or whatever. It’s great to start connecting with a few of the boys I’ll get in a year, too. Because I invest in the week of somewhat controlled chaos that is 4th and 5th graders, I almost always know the majority of the boys when they come in 6th grade.

It’s the letting go of the past year’s group that is the hardest part for me. They’re not really going anywhere, but they aren’t my direct responsibility anymore. (For some that’s a reprieve; most I wish I could keep longer.) It’s been the toughest adjustment for me personally as we are now in our 4th year of focusing on 6th grade each year (the other leaders stay with the group all through middle school). I will continue to meet with Ben as long as it works out to do so, but most of the past year’s boys will gradually grow into their identities as 7th graders without my direct involvement. If an older student invites me to a game, I’ll come. At camp, I will again pop in and out of cabins and check in on them. But the bulk of my energy will always be needed to pour into the new group.

We are like the coaches who train intensely on the handoff portion of a relay… Except once the handoff is made, there is still a distance race to run.

I was trying to think the other day what the right metaphor would be for our unique role as 6th grade specialists vis-à-vis the other leaders. I kept trying to make various travel guide analogies fit, but nothing seemed to work quite right. Special teams vs. offensive and defensive coaches didn’t work either. What I settled on was a track team with a very full slate of coaches. We are like the coaches who train intensely on the handoff portion of a relay. That transition zone is the most important part of the race. Except once the handoff is made, there is still a distance race to run. It’s those other leaders that will coach them through the hills, valleys, and hurdles to come down the stretch. So it’s a relay/hurdle/cross-country hybrid. Sure, that works.

I hope we’ll be able to keep doing this special ministry for a long time. It’s what we love, it’s what we have committed to, and it’s what we do best. It’s our sweet spot, and no matter how appealing other lanes may seem, God has consistently blessed our obedience to walk this path.

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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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  • http://www.innovideocreative.com innovideo creative

    Not to mention the month-long buzz after finishing the senior videos!

  • http://www.innovideocreative.com innovideo creative

    Not to mention the month-long buzz after finishing the senior videos!