Next week I get to do something very special to me - I get to go out to summer camp and spend a few days working with young ministry leaders sharing some of what I have learned so far about the importance of long term ministry and how to survive it. There's a number of topics I am mulling over and working through in my head right now:
Living in a Christian Bubble - Shockproof & all loving
Long Term Ministry - Why even think this way?
What to do in the down times - They WILL come
Reading Your Bible - The Whole Deal
Every Missionary is a Long Term Missionary - No, seriously....
These topics will become quite a bit more refined in the next few days and there will be additions and subtractions, but I feel compelled to write about the last one tonight as many I know are preparing to or have already left for summer camp or other summer ministries.
If you are one of the above, you ARE a long term missionary. Your official term may be short, but the relationships you build will last much longer and therefore the responsibility will remain. One of the craziest things I experience more often than I can even count is people coming up to me and calling me by name because they remember me from camp years and years ago. The nature of the ministry I worked in previously was that many of these people as young campers were like myself - coming from non church attending homes and basically being introduced to the Christian faith through our ministry. There are some who grasped on to Jesus like I did after a number of years, and there are of course many who did not. When I see them in person, or when I post on facebook knowing they are following me, or most importantly when I live out my life (as often as I do of course fail), I still feel a tremendous responsibility to both.
To those who became Christ followers: Paul teaches us clearly in 1 Corinthians 8:13 to put others above ourselves, and this sticks with me when thinking about those who I have had a hand in mentoring into the Christian faith. They will most likely always look to me as an example, just as I still look to those who mentored me. As much as I believe God's promise that He will never allow His children to fall away, I know full well that things I do have the potential to hinder ones walk with Christ even years down the road by nature of the fact that they look up to me. My responsibility didn't end when I left summer camp - it only grew.
To those who did not become Christ followers: It's easy to live the "good christian life" in the camp setting. Guess what though? Your testimony of faith will be greatly compromised if the life you live in the christian bubble does not line up with the life you live outside of it, and I promise you that they will be watching. They will be watching to see if you really believe what you teach, and the adage holds true that actions most often speak louder than words. Are you willing to give them the time of day when they see you a few years down the road? Are you willing to be there for them even if its been so long that your own memory of them is fading? Are you living out the faith that you taught, or have you now put it to the side to pursue worldly pleasure?
You may be thinking that this is a more appropriate teaching for those who have been in ministry and need to now be reminded of the responsibility they took on. However, I truly think that this realization needs to start at the beginning and not later on. This is a great time in life to examine your own faith walk, to discern the places where you struggle (and we ALL struggle in one place or another), and to go into this summer intent on growing and taking full advantage of the Christian community around you to help you do so. You have not "arrived" in your faith journey, and won't until you stand before Christ in eternity. With that in mind, walk humbly into this summer of ministry ready to be challenged in your faith walk and ready to grow under the wise counsel of others. Be fearful, and I mean this in a positive way, of the responsibility that God has entrusted to you, and look to Him for the ability to be faithful. Finally, rejoice that by the grace of God you are able to serve Him and that you will in fact build amazing relationships that will last longer than you can even wrap your head around right now.
To all summer ministry workers I close with this. God Bless you as you serve. You really are my heros.