At the beginning of the summer, I spelled it out really clearly — it was about to get crazy for me and my Youth Ministers tribe. I don’t know about the rest of my crazy cohort, but the summer did not disappoint. Along the way this summer, I spent a couple of posts lamenting frustrating travel woes, but before the routine of the school year begins I need to clear up one thing about this past season of ministry:
It was incredible.
It was exhausting. And frustrating. And trying. And I’m glad it’s over. From start to finish — and I’m counting the roughly 70 days of between June 1 and August 6 when I (finally) went on vacation — my entire family of four was home at the same time for exactly 15 days. There was another dozen where we were together but not at home, such as our 2 day, 1 night quick get-a-way to Sea World, but the fact that we still remember what each other looks like is fairly impressive. So yeah, it was a sprint of sorts, like one of those warrior dashes that only lunatics attempt. You know the ones, with electric wire obstacles dangling eight inches above the muddy water you have to crawl through. We might be a crazy family, the Benton’s. It has certainly been a nutty summer.
But let me repeat — it was also incredible.
There was the night at Jr. High Camp where I watched a college kid preach a sermon to 150 Jr. Highers and then watched the 150 Jr. Highers double down on their faith commitment. They were convicted and sincere even if they were twelve. It was a great moment. Hope sprung forth.
There was the time in South Dakota I watched as dozens of young girls clung to my teammates with unrelenting affection. On the reservation they don’t always get a ton of attention from their families, but they got plenty that week. Our workers were loving and helpful and it was moving to witness. Love spilled over.
There was the night at a youth conference when I watched as our youth workers read Scriptures to kids they’ve poured into for months (some for years) and the students responded with hugs and tears and appreciation. Teenagers spontaneously prayed with each other and encouraged one another in their faith. Community formed before my eyes.
At the same conference I asked students to describe our ministry in one word. “Real,” “honest,” “family,” and “life changing.” I ignored that the last one was two words because it was such a humbling moment. For three years we’ve labored in a ministry that is as difficult as it is powerful. That week, we saw some visible return on our investment. Appreciation was shared.
After that conference, I got to baptize Dylan. Dylan showed up at our church shortly after I did in 2011. He’s a favorite in our group, everybody’s little brother. He’s lived more life in 16 years than most do in 60, but rather than shake an angry fist at God he strives to follow after Him. On July 20, I got to be a part of Dylan’s baptism — a definite highlight. New life springing up all over the place.
Dylan’s not the only one. Several students have made the same decision, and I’m pumped about it. I’m even more pumped that they’re asking small group leaders to do the honors instead of me. Speaking of our volunteer leaders, there may not be a more exciting highlight of the summer. We have a small army of people who work for free. I get paid to log airline miles and stay up late with high schoolers. These other people take vacation off work and pay their own way to these experiences where they get to impact kids. How cool is that? Commitment to the Gospel was obvious.
The other day at church I was chatting with a small group leader and a kid named Bobby walked past us. When I tell you the boy’s name is Bobby, I am telling you the sum total of my knowledge about Bobby. “Hi, Kenneth,” Bobby chirped to the adult leader I was talking to. Bobby then breezed right past me. I cheered inside. I don’t care if Bobby knows me, and in a ministry the size of ours that’s going to happen more and more often.
But Bobby is known by Kenneth, and Bobby knows Kenneth is going to show up and speak into his life, week in and week out.
Speaking of a growing ministry, another awesome part of the summer was welcoming four unique staff members to our student ministry team. Two of them are serving with us only for the summer. In fact, they are already gone now — back to Bible college for more training. But two other continue to serve in our ministry as residents. They all did and are doing an outstanding job. We’re better for having them. Thanks goes out to Tiphani, Megan, Katie, and Cameron! We’re also in the process of seeking out and hiring a second full time staff member to help lead our ministry.
It’s all an attempt to keep up with what God is doing in our midst. I’m sure it’s much the same at your church. It’s impossible to communicate every light bulb going off in every kid’s head. Not every “Aha” moment is knowable. We may not know for ten years the impact of this summer on students’ lives. And that’s okay. We don’t do it for recognition or atta boys (or girls).
We do it because it’s what we’re called to do. We do it because it matters. We do it because not everyone can do it, but we can. It’s a little crazy. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It’s challenging. And there’s one obstacle for every reward. There are times of doubt and exhaustion and feelings of incompetence and inferiority. But we do it — we do insane summers of youth ministry — because we love Jesus and we love students.
Fellow student pastors: I hope you survived to tell about your summer. I hope kids lives were impacted by the love of Jesus through your love for them. I hope the miles didn’t get you down and the late nights didn’t wear you out beyond repair. I hope you have a few great stories to tell and I hope you tell them.
And I hope that soon, if not already, you are able to enjoy a nice relaxing vacation. God knows — He really does know — you’ve earned it.