Imagine a room filled with children. At one end, three are banging on a piano that you’ve told them five times not to touch. A child throws himself into the air and barely misses kicking your head as he attempts- and fails- a back-handspring. The space is filled with a combination of screams, laughter, and sound well above ‘inside voices’.
Then, somehow, your mind goes silent and you hear the clear voice of God break through.
“Aren’t you glad I didn’t call you to children’s ministry?”
This was more-or-less the scene I found myself in as I stood at the start of a four day pre-teen camp. I was supposed to be a counselor. I say ‘supposed to be’, because the beginning scenario was merely a preview of the next week. After managing the raging testosterone and eternal drama of 8-12 year old children, I was the one who needed counseling. I broke up fights on the kickball field, I dialed for tearful phone calls to mommy’s, and provided the time in 30 second increments to everyone who asked. Every. Time. They. Asked.
I endured as children stole my goldfish and my toothbrush.
And my Bible…
And my name tag, sunglasses, shoes, backpack, water bottle, wallet, phone, and hairbrush (which I never got back and am super salty about).
I didn’t lose my temper when a child insulted my hair or poked me for a solid five minutes repeating the word “Jehoshaphat” over and over and over.
I even held it together when a counselor mistook me for a kid and when the coach of another church’s kickball team yelled at me for not playing fair- even though I was the coach and wasn’t actually playing.
Nothing like competitive church sports to remind you of the love of Jesus Christ.
In all honesty, I was having fun with these rowdy, rambunctious, ridiculous children. Yes, my nerves were shot after fighting for lights out and listening to kids complain that we talked about Jesus too much, but I was somewhat enjoying myself. At least I was convinced I would survive till we went home.
But all of that changed on the last night.
The evening began with me feeling very much like a failure. One of our girls came to me during the invitational and asked to talk, but as we sat there she offered me nothing other than silence and the tears that streamed down her face. I couldn’t get her to say anything. I couldn’t help her because I had no idea what was wrong. Eventually, by some miracle, I happened to discover that her grandmother had died, but I still felt completely useless. As someone who has no experience with losing a close relative, I couldn’t do anything except hug her and recite verses I didn’t remember how to actually find in the Bible.
It didn’t get much better after that, as the Troublesome Trio proceeded to follow me around screaming “Mrs. Jehoshaphat” and steal my journal. When I confronted them about it and demanded (for the 100th time) that they leave my stuff alone, they did nothing but laugh and dare me to make them. The last straw snapped and I threatened to do exactly that. Unfortunately my methods hit at the tear ducts of a love-struck, 11-year-old drama queen who burst into tears and made me feel like the worst person in the world. After 30 seconds of sobbing she then decided to accost me with fittingly childish insults, such as “Did you get that stupid shirt out of your moron closet?”
As I walked out of the cabin- to pray for my patience and for their safety- they managed to stab in one final blow:
“You’re not a real adult!”
It was something so meaningless- a thoughtless insult thrown out of the mouth of a child, yet somehow it managed to hit the root of my greatest fear: not being able to rise to the expectations of adulthood.
This was the last straw. Piled on top of the mountain of problems that had been accumulating for the past three days, I was convinced that I should not have signed on for this.
I am not commanding enough.
I am not relatable enough.
I am not qualified.
I am not effective.
I am clearly not teaching these kids anything to do with Jesus.
I should not be a counselor.
I sat on a bench outside the cabin and watched my preconceived notions of grandeur unravel before my eyes. If I couldn’t even minister to children, how on earth was I qualified to teach my peers or adults? How could I dedicate my life to something I was failing at miserably?
Then all of a sudden I heard a sweet little voice ask if she could sit on the bench with me. And that sweet little voice continued to recall all the adventures she had that day; how much she enjoyed being at camp; how glad she was that she came.
Soon that sweet little voice was joined by another who echoed the enthusiasm of getting to be at camp. She profusely thanked me for giving her permission to hang out with kids from another church who had been singing and dancing during our free time. She said she loved music and that was what made her happy; that I had helped her come out of her shell and enjoy the moment all because I simply said yes.
Then those two voices where followed by a note. A pair of the 6th grade girls I had led in small group handed me a brightly decorated envelope containing a letter about how much they enjoyed listening to me talk, hoping I had fun in college, and telling me they were sure I’d be successful in the future.
Then, as if God decided to drive it home, the girl I had attempted to counsel asked me if I could find the verse I recited to her, because she wanted to write it down. I had never been so happy to read Revelation 21:4 in my life.
Suddenly my issues and shortcomings were overshadowed by the gratitude of these kids and their excitement about God. I couldn’t help but agree with them. In minutes he had brought healing to my broken spirit and laid out a very important lesson I needed to learn:
Ministry has absolutely nothing to do with me.
When I signed on to be a counselor for that camp, I gave away the guarantee that I would do anything. I signed up to be used. I signed up to be a vessel. I was meant to simply be there for whatever stirrings God placed on their hearts. The reality is that the effectiveness of our mission that week could never be judged by me. The results I was looking for were going to be felt in the souls of those kids, and only God is privy to that information until they decide to share it. The success of my calling was to be judged by an entirely different standard.
When I broke up fights on the kickball field, dialed for tearful phone calls to mommy’s, and provided the time in 30 second increments to everyone who asked,
was I doing it with the love of God?
When children stole my goldfish, toothbrush, Bible, name tag, sunglasses, shoes, backpack, water bottle, wallet, phone, and hairbrush, did I respond in a way that reflected the fruits of the spirit?
When everything around was going wrong, did I give the kids an example of someone who was anchored in Christ?
God was more than capable and more than willing to take the smallest, strangest of moments to insert his love into the hearts of the kids. I needed to do nothing more than take whatever the week threw at me and reflect it back to the glory of the reason we had all come. I didn’t need to be the greatest evangelist since Billy Graham or the Mother Teresa of comforting crying children. I didn’t even need to meet the expectations of ‘camp counselor’ that I had set for myself.
I just needed to be there, be ready, and be willing. He would do the rest.
There you go. Now you know what I know.
Do with it what you will.