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I once helped lead an event with hundreds of teens passionate to grow, learn, serve and share. We sent various groups to detention centers, to scrub public busses and to clean gas station bathrooms throughout the week. That last one was truly an “interesting” experience. You are probably asking yourself why anyone would sign up for such an activity, but hold that question. The answer to that is the point of this whole post.
One day my team was assigned the not-so-painful task of handing out water at the beach. Imagine the scene: One beach on Lake Michigan in Chicago, Ninety degrees and ten thousand people. We were going to give out water bottles and just talk to people. We were thinking service and relationships because we had this crazy idea that ministry was just that simple. Ministry is offering your life into people’s needs. And these weekend beach people needed something. We thought they needed Jesus. They thought they needed to not pay 4.50 for a drink. Both groups were right. As I pulled up on the bus I told the teens they were never going to forget this day. I was also right but for the all wrong reasons.
I am not amazing at math but consider this equation: 10,000 thirsty people + sweltering heat x by people seeing a free five bucks. The planning team had planned poorly. They had sent 72 bottles of water. The correct answer to the equation is to RUN. I literally had to physically rescue someone from the mob. One guy grabbed as much as he could carry and then tried to stick bottles into his not so modest swimsuit. We just watched in awkward awe.
As you may have already concluded, it became clear we did not bring enough water. We had the major problem that as our water evaporated so did our conversation starter. The water was gone in under two minutes and we had zero meaningful conversations.
Now here is your chance: What would you do? These opportunities define us, they tell us what we are made of, and they show us that we should have brought more water.
The next moment was the moment that I decided I would write this book. It was a God moment when adults step back in a different type of awe. It was a space God invaded and partnered with teenagers. These teens showed “the leaders” what it means to lead and how ministry can infuse every action of our lives. They decided to collect garbage from those on the beach. Their friends were cleaning public restrooms and they were not able to give up.
So my team went blanket to blanket and simply asked to collect their trash. Many sunbathers were incredulous and even tried to make a “donation,” which we politely refused (have to admit, the $50 was a toughie). As the minutes of garbage collecting wore on the teens simply got invited to sit and talk about the fascinating person called Jesus and how this weird God would ask them to serve strangers. It was a powerful day full of service with great stories of Christ’s name being elevated. I now believe that teens can lead, make a difference and transform lives all while sitting on beach towels. I believe you are one of those teens or leaders.
Several groups came with us and they too were mobbed for free water. Standing on a beach, with hours before our departure, they had come prepared. Swimsuits and Frisbees materialized. Calling it a day, they went and played. Three minutes of “ministry” and 3 hours tanning and swimming, all while many other groups scrubbed toilets in public bathrooms.
This turn of events was distressing to me. Why would a teen travel half-way across the country so they could be equipped to lead and share and then give up after minutes? Even more insane, in my mind, was the fact that they came ready. It seemed this was their intention from the beginning. What was the difference between the two sets? Between the servants and the sunbathers?
I think for one group the ministry goal somehow was confused. It became “handing out water.” Once that goal was accomplished, or no longer possible for safety reasons, ministry ceased. Another perspective, from another set of students, allowed them to see opportunities all around to minister to people that Jesus loved. They looked at other people like Jesus did and ended up just plain looking like Jesus.
I am going to suggest that you are the servant kind and not the sunbather. I suspect you don’t think of yourself as a leader. But here are three things I believe about you:
1) That you can see people as Jesus saw people;
2) That you can give your life to something bigger and more meaningful than you can imagine;
3) and in doing so you will look like Jesus.
Oh, and doing these things will make you a leader too, but that is just bonus.
How perfect are our disciples?
Let me ask you a question: What was Jesus after in his disciples? What types of people got to hang around with him? Who followed Jesus? Duffy Robbins compiled this list from the New Testament. Read these and ask yourself which is most important to be a true follower of Jesus (just for fun rate them one to ten, one being low and ten being high):
________ Careful student of the Scriptures
________ Zealous and active in their stand for God
________ Appetite for worship and prayer
________ Consistent in worship attendance
________ Practices scripture memorization
________ Not afraid of public prayer
________ Active in affairs of the local church
________ Fasts regularly
________ Has a desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness
________ Has a firm grasp on basic, foundational theological truths
(Robbins The Ministry of Nurture 1990, 54)
Imagine if you were to rate yourself one to ten on these qualities. It is lists like these that make us feel inadequate and severely doubt our ability or potential as a leader. We are not “tens” by this standard and often the world doesn’t think we are a “ten” either. The problem with the list is that Duffy Robbins had compiled a list characteristic of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were leaders alright but not the kind for which Jesus had kind words. They were the type of leaders that led by demanding performance, high standards, and perfect implementation of their beliefs in life. Now there is nothing wrong with their list, it’s just not what Jesus was looking for when he chose his disciples. They were careful students of God’s Word but they failed to recognize God’s word in the flesh. They were the “Jesus freaks” of their day except their zealous work was actually in opposition to God’s work. They had all the outside stuff right and yet they still refused to follow Jesus (oh, and they killed him too). That means you can score all tens on these things and still miss Jesus.
So what is it that Jesus was after?