back in the saddle

i’m a middle school leader. that’s what i am, what i do.

i thought sunday, august 19, would never come. i hope it’s not terribly cliché to assert that nothing could fully have prepared me, however eagerly i anticipated the day. after 1 year, 6 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, and just over 14 hours (give or take a few minutes), rene and i finally returned to roles as full-fledged middle school volunteers.

donut on a string

in the meantime, we attended (and ate cake at) something like 16 parties for Christ community’s class of 2011 (they were the last class we had stayed with from 6th to 8th grade before staying with 6th grade every year afterwards), not to mention 4 cyt shows with ccc kids, and checking out no fewer than 10 churches before realizing we already belonged and fit at jacob’s well. a lot happened in other areas, too, in the interim. most of this chunk has gone unblogged, but i still hold out hope i’ll somehow squeeze in a reflective flyover of this period before too much more time elapses. (bug me in a couple weeks if i still haven’t.)

but there we were, in a room full of 6th to 8th graders, donuts to be devoured, foosball/chess/wii to be played, and relationships to begin. we both had to shake off the urge to play the wallflower or cluster like lunch ladies with other adult leaders, but wow, it felt good to be doing this again. i couldn’t help later in the day but recall words sung by cassie in a chorus line:

cassie a chorus line

i…
i’m a dancer
that’s what i am
what I do

i…i am a dancer,
give me the steps
i’ll come through

give me somebody to dance for
give me somebody to show
let me wake up in the morning
to find i have somewhere exciting to go

i… i am a middle school leader. that’s what i am, what i do. i’ve wrestled long and hard with how my role as “just” a volunteer over the years integrates with the other aspects of my life. but after countless lock-ins, small group discussions, road trips, sharing the gospel, fast food stops, praise and worship from the pogo-bouncy to the reverent, food fights and shaving cream wars, and “prime time” conversations at youthfront and elsewhere, i can honestly say that i never feel more alive, more “me” than when i am with middle school students, journeying with them in the way of Jesus.

i am immensely thankful for the wise counsel of alan mercer (longtime middle school pastor and now executive pastor at Christ community), who all but forbade us to get involved in youth ministry at our next church until we had been involved in the life of the church for at least 1 year. in that time, we’ve gotten deeply plugged in to a “corpus” (i.e. small group) as well as the men’s and women’s ministries. no longer is the precarious dilemma of not knowing any adults outside of the youth program weighing on our life and ministry.

i’m also super stoked (sorry, had to rip off my southern-cali friend dennis‘s word) to get to know and build with adam cooper. he’s been on the job at jw for just over a year now, and prior to that there really wasn’t anything youth-specific in place on a regular basis. he expressed his eagerness to have us “seasoned” (i.e. old) veteran leaders on board. beyond that, i count it an honor to be involved in pioneering forms and rhythms of ministry for which there is no precedent. no sacred cows to grill here!

that said, i am in a place where i don’t want to assume that any particular activity or way of relating that was effective in the past will be what i should do now. after devouring presence-centered youth ministry and already seeing fruit in a life of awareness of God’s presence, i pulled an unread copy of contemplative youth ministry: practicing the presence of Jesus by mark yaconelli from the pile under my nightstand. (little-known fact: i received this as a thank-you gift from student life after writing for their newsletter 2 years ago.) i’m reading this one more slowly and realizing that i need to cultivate healthier ways of being with God, being with myself, and being with students. despite my 2 decades of experience, to the kids at jacob’s well i’m barely more than a stranger. i foresee much prayer, listening, and learning from and with these amazing young people.

here i stand. i can do no other, so help me God. amen.

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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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