Plunging Toilets, Handling Drama, and Staying Up Late
Sweat dripped down my back, and I swatted mosquitoes away from my legs as I brushed dirt from my hair. We were in the middle of an intense, week-long mission trip in the steamy tropical jungle with dozens of students, and I was exhausted.

Fine, fine–I knew you wouldn’t believe the jungle line. We were actually in Florida, in the middle of June. It merely felt like the jungle.

This particular mission trip was one of the most grueling, difficult trips I’d ever experienced. We were camping in the middle of a national park, but between the bugs, the faint-inducing heat, and the primitive conditions, it was a challenging time for our large team of middle school students and leaders. It took sheer willpower to force ourselves to serve the community around us, instead of passing out on the beach every day.

Something eye-opening was revealed to me on that trip, however. In the course of about a day, we had a student slice his foot on coral and earn a trip to the emergency room, an accident with one of the vans, a serious squabble break out with a group of teenage girls, an unplanned crisis when raccoons stole some of our dinner, and a camp-wide emergency when all of the toilets at our campsite clogged.

It was like magic, watching our leaders confidently step in and handle all the chaos with ease. In mere minutes, our injured student was taken to the hospital by two precise, detail-oriented leaders.

Our van was patched up with cardboard and duct tape while two more leaders went on a quick trip to grab plungers and solve our bathroom emergency.

One of our leaders stepped in and dealt with the female drama, while another leader concentrated on bringing up the energy of the entire group.

Two more leaders helped work out a new dinner menu for the evening–sans the groceries stolen by our furry friends–and the rest of the leaders played games and chatted easily with the students.

Frankly, they didn’t even need me. And when I know that my leaders are confidently operating in their God-given strengths, using the training we’ve given them, and impacting students positively in their faith, there’s no music sweeter to my ears than that.

Although I’m a writer, I sometimes have a difficult time properly sharing things that are nearest and dearest to my heart. So when I confess that I’m absolutely floored by my fellow leaders in middle school ministry, and then honestly admit that I don’t know how to properly share the impact they’ve had on our student ministry, you have to believe me.

Heck, I’m a youth leader. You believe me anyway, right?

That true story of our mission trip in Florida only shows a small sliver of the impact that my leaders have had on my ministry here at our church. They’re invaluable. I have been so encouraged and motivated by them over the last few years that I can say honestly I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them, nor would our ministry look the way it does today.

I’m no expert, trust me. But I’ve been incredibly blessed by leaders of all ages, from our adults helping out with events, to our parents who have served as small group leaders and coaches, to our high school and college students who have helped with countless service projects and middle school nights. Even our middle school leaders, who I delight in seeing engage with the younger students in Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, are a joyous gift to our entire church with their tireless service.

Over the years, I’ve watched as leaders have hosted bonfires at their homes, planned father-and-son camping trips, made gourmet dinners for their small groups, taken kids to concerts and plays, hosted Superbowl parties, taken groups to carol at nursing homes, baked cookies together, had slumber parties, and countless other bonding experiences.

I’ve seen leaders rally around a student or family going through a tough time, diligently map out carpools in order to not leave a single student out of the fun, and ding-dong-ditch families in the middle of winter to leave a cheerful Christmas gift on their doorstep.

I’ve watched leaders comfort a hurting student, cheer on a small group member from the sidelines of the gym, and surprise a student with a cake on her birthday.

I’ve been blessed by leaders who can step in and run a youth event at a moment’s notice, who’ve rallied around entire schools when unexpected deaths occur, who are willing to stick around and drive a carful of kids to an event, and who even bought an old van to haul around students–because they are such an integral part of our middle school ministry (thanks, Dawn and Wayne!)

The most amazing thing about all of these things I’ve witnessed? I wasn’t instrumental in planning most of these outings, or instructing these leaders on what to do in every situation–they were operating as men and women of God, fulfilling their roles as middle school leaders at our church.

My leaders encourage me, challenge me and bring so many different talents to our ministry that we are able to handle nearly every personality and problem we could possibly encounter. Our leaders are able to fill in the “gaps” that aren’t my own strengths, and bring an even and well-rounded energy and enthusiasm to our students and families. Their talents and gifts serve to illustrate how creative God is in gifting us all so differently–as well as showing our entire church how we can band together and operate as distinct personalities, but as one united family.

In college, I learned the theory behind team ministry in the church. We talked about how Moses “recruited” fellow leaders at the advice of his father-in-law, who told him “The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Exodus 18:18), and how Jesus Himself shared the ministry with His disciples. We studied the concept of spiritual gifts and the importance of investing in other leaders.

It wasn’t until I was working at a church, however, seeing the undeniable impact that our leaders have had on countless students all over our community, that I realized how vital the role of fellow leaders in ministry truly is. Sure, ministry isn’t easy for any of us. And yes, trying to work with, disciple and recruit leaders can be quite the challenge. It can be difficult to entrust others to do the things you love to do, as well. But the benefits of this shared leadership–and the impact it has on so many more people–make it worth it, despite the drawbacks.

I’ve been privileged to see Romans 15:5-6 lived out by my leaders: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The faithful men and women who serve as leaders at our church are some of the biggest blessings I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I cannot share my heartfelt appreciation enough. Together, we share the mission to “go and make disciples of all nations”–and it’s a beautiful thing to watch unfold before my very eyes.

No matter where our leaders are–driving a van full of middle schoolers, leading a camping trip, staying up late at a retreat, leading a Bible study or small group, or serving alongside students at a banquet–they are showing the love of our Father to our kids in a real way.

Even in the middle of a sweaty, humid, miserable mission trip in the jungle.

Er, Florida.