Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Feelings, Fireballs, and Fruitfulness

If there's one thing I've learned in my year in youth ministry, it's that Starbucks is the unofficial watering hole of church employees and ministers.

I can confidently say that in my thirteen months in youth ministry, I have met at least twenty other pastors and youth ministers inside that Starbucks alone. 

It's a popular place. 

And the reason is obvious. 

(Coffee + Free Wifi) / ([Furniture with plugs] - [sweaty Jr. High boy smell]) + Adult interaction = Pastors on Parade

And that's about the expanse of my mathematical skills.

Anyways! I'm not sure where I was going with that.

So for the past couple weeks, I've been planning, organizing, and shanghai-ing people in to giving up a weekend for camp. 
My seven years of serving at the camp did nothing to prepare me for the administrative fiasco of piecing together this event. 

I wish administration was one of my spiritual gifts. I'm so jealous Of Leiisa and Amanda!

Needless to say, there's still so much to learn about youth ministry.
I would venture as far to say that there is no point at which one would learn everything about youth ministry.
Well... except God.

but omniscience is cheating.

But I digress.

Inside the struggle to get my Uth to camp, I know the importance and impact that camp can have on the spiritual growth of an individual.

It was at camp that I learned my spiritual gifts.

It was at that camp that I received my call to full time ministry.

It was at that camp that God transformed me in the man I am today.

And I want to give my students a chance to experience God in the same way. If I can give my students a chance to experience God in different, powerful ways, then I'm all over that.

But then of course there is the danger of the mountain top experience...


Working in camp ministry, the idea of "the mountain top experience" endangered everything that we worked so hard for at camp. It held students in skepticism and pastors in limbo.

It incited fear in the hearts of youth leaders and guest speakers alike.

Let me explain.

The "mountain top experience", or camp fire,  as I like to call it, is the phenomena commonly associated with an emotionally provoking spiritual camp experience.

It is generally accepted knowledge that students, when returning from camp, are so on fire for God because of their emotional weekend. As a result of returning back to society, it can be predicted that many of those tear-soaked decisions made at camp will dry up and wither away becoming fond camp memories of immaturity and naivety.

But why?

Why would we allow these decisions to become invalid once the emotional high has faded back to reality? In what way were any of the decisions made not genuine?

A student may go to camp struggling with a drug addiction. While at camp, in a sob riddled voice, confesses his poisonous habit to a youth leader and vows to kick the habit. But upon returning home, the stresses of life and pressures of his broken home are too much, and the need for narcotics is all to familiar to him. He returns to his old familiar cell of addiction and that memory of his camp decision is all but a cute encouragement.


If your response is "because his decision was made solely off emotion", then I'll fight you!

I'll suffer a fat lip before I deny the fact that the Holy Spirit was moving in that kid's life. What other environment could bring him to a point of recognizing his own sin and confession to that youth leader?

What other power besides the Holy Spirit could overcome his addiction to a point of verbalized desire to quit his addiction?

Who could have put the right speaker at the right camp saying the right words to the right student at the right time?

It was God

God moved in that student's heart and brought him to point of realization of his sin. It is by realizing the depravity of our sin that we can be moved by God's holiness and love.

I agree, the return to the drudge of life can level out those powerful emotions and take you back to where you were before, contradicting the decisions made on salvation night at camp.

In 1 Kings 18, the prophet Elijah experiences the ultimate mountain top experience.

It's Elijah versus the prophets of Baal.

Elijah has spent his entire career as a prophet of the most high God renouncing and disproving the false god, Baal, but now the current government follows this false god.

Elijah, enemy of the state, takes a step of faith and challenges the prophets of Baal to a public spectacle.

The prophets of Baal build an enormous altar and lay their bull on the altar and begin crying out to their "god", but after hours and hours of yelling and blood-letting, they collapse from exhaustion: 

no miracle.

Elijah builds an altar from twelve stones, lays his bull on top, and then soaks his altar with well over eighty gallons of water.

He prays a short prayer asking God to make His presence known. As soon as His prayer is done, it says 
"Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water"

The prophets of Baal were seized and God was made known. 

But when he came down from the mountain, things were not perfect.
Things were not easy.
Things were unbearable.

I'm sure Elijah thought that after that massive public spectacle, the nation of Israel would follow God once more, but that didn't happen at all.

The queen of the land lays a bounty out for the life of Elijah.
Elijah goes in to hiding. 
He is alone and hungry.

But God worked on that mountain top. 

I can only imagine the emotional high that Elijah had on top of that mountain, the power and encouragement he felt seeing God work so powerfully.

and the utter disappointment of Elijah when the power and passion of that mountain was turned in to starving to death under a tree in the desert.

But God worked obviously and powerfully in a way that changed Elijah's life.

If we can agree that God moved in that student's life, what can be done for him?

As youth leaders, can we consider every emotional response to a message as a life changing transformation?

Of course not.

But can we in full confidence disregard the Holy Spirit working in the heart of a student in an emotional way?

I vote no.

I'm not the type of guy to make any decision based off of emotions. I find the whole concept of feeling to be...                          

But I have seen life changing decisions made with teary eyes and broken hearts. I've seen razors thrown away and drugs trashed by students with runny noses and quivering lips. I've seen broken relationships with absent fathers mended over the phone with cracking voices and shaking hands.

God moves through our emotional vulnerability and changes hearts and sets the stage for beautiful and powerful ministry to follow.

As camp workers, we have the opportunity to see God working in students in a weekend.

As youth leaders, we have the opportunity to respond to our students' decisions and minister and serve them when the feelings fade away. We have the opportunity the water the seed that was planted by that "super cool speaker" and grow that emotional decision in to a fruitful change of heart that brings glory to our most high creator.

Be encouraged.

God desires intimacy with His people.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory
--1 Peter 5:1-4

Nate T B