This is the first piece in our ongoing series, “Confessions of a Struggling Youth Minister.” While student ministry is often extremely edifying and even a barrel of laughs, it can also be isolating, discouraging, and totally exhausting. Our hope in this series is to offer comfort to those of us deep in the trenches of ministry, through personal stories of God’s goodness and grace in the midst of struggle.
Today was not the ideal start to our much anticipated three-day camping trip. It began with a nearly-overrun toilet, an intern forgetting something back at the church, followed by us returning to the church for that thing that she forgot. I could tell, it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Spring Break. Soon after we got on the road – the second time – we made an unplanned stop to meet our trip organizer, who was clearly not ready for what seemed like his biggest group ever (which was only 20 of us). He asked for our help to load my car, which had a broken trunk. After lowering my seats and crawling through the trunk to pop the emergency release, we loaded up, and finally hit the road – late. For such a self-righteous and organized person as me, this was turning out to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Spring Break.
I think I’ll move to Australia.
Before we left the parking lot of the storage facility, there was another problem. Our trail guide forgot cash! He said he would pick some up from his office and then catch up with us on the highway.
He never caught up to us on the highway.
We arrived at the State Park two and a half hours later with no guide, eight straight-to-voice-mail calls, and my wife’s super encouraging text:
“Just make sure he’s not .”
It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Spring Break.
I think I’ll move to sales.
We waited two more hours. We checked all of the trailheads. We finished off the beef jerky and M&Ms (our actual lunch was with the guide). Finally, we decided to take a short hike and agreed that we’d travel the four and half hours back home if he wasn’t waiting for us by the time we returned.
On the way out, we started to worry. Why haven’t we heard from him?
We called Highway Patrol to see if someone had seen his car, or perhaps his name had shown up in an accident report. Nothing. Parents did their own investigating from home. We called members of his board. Nothing. So you see that I’m not lying when I say that, by all accounts, it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
It wasn’t until early the next morning that I found out what had happened. I answered the phone to the voice of our missing guide: “Hey Seth, while I was going 75 on the highway my dog jumped into the front seat, jammed the gearbox, and destroyed the transmission. When I got out of the car to see if I could fix it, my phone fell on the ground and I kicked it into a puddle. It took Highway Patrol six hours to find me.”
Yeah…it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Spring Break. My Spring Break was probably worse than yours.
The good news is that this trip is exactly what Romans 8:28 is talking about when Paul reassures us that all things work together for our good and God’s glory. How? I have no idea yet. But the morning after all that went down, there was nothing I would rather hear from the Lord than, “Your epic fail of a Spring Break was my idea, and I have purposes and plans that have not failed.”
It was refreshing to see patience and good humor in my students – characteristics I arrogantly assume are in short supply among teenagers. And as beautiful as it is to witness new clique-breaking friendships forming because of crisis, it’s even better that God is the God of failed Spring Break trips, of nine hours in the car, and water-damaged phones. God gives us these no good, very bad trips not just for our sanctification as leaders (with or without all those cuss words muttered under the breath) – but for our students’ lives in Christ as well. For Christ came down into this very mess to redeem it.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30 ESV)
Join us for Rooted 2015, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore how the good news of God coming to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ offers student ministers and teenagers, hope, healing and connectedness.