A couple weeks ago, I headed out with 100 and some middle school kids and church leaders to Nebraska for a week long summer camp. Towards the end of the camp, our pastor Zack gathered everybody together for some closing thoughts. One of the things he said struck me, he told all the campers to thank their leaders because they could have taken their vacation time off work to go to Barbados. But instead we went to Nebraska with them.
And for a brief moment, I imagined what a real vacation must be like. While Barbados is not necessarily at the top of my travel list, I love to travel. And for all the vacation time, money, blood, sweet and tears I’ve put into student ministry, I could have easily travelled somewhere nicer than Nebraska.
And for a moment, I wondered why I hadn’t. It was a very short moment, and I think I realize why.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in Ephesians 3, where Paul is pouring out his heart and why he’s sacrificed it all to bring the gospel to non-Jews like those in Ephesus. It’s one of the best passages in all of scripture, and it culminates in possibly one of the greatest sentences ever written:
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. –Ephesians 3:19a
Paul loved people so much that all he wanted for them was to experience the radical, life-changing love of Jesus Christ though no one can fully understand it.
I think it would not be too much of a stretch to say that Paul’s love is, at least, a subset of Christ’s love. Radical. Unexplainable. Irrational. Undeserved. Paul loved these people like Jesus loved these people. Maybe not as fully, maybe not as well, but he certainly had as much of that kind of love as a person can have.
And it’s the same when I look at all the awesome leaders our student ministry has been blessed with. People who radically, selflessly, and irrationally love groups of middle and high school kids with more ferocious passion then you’d imagine possible.
And I can’t speak for everyone, but as I look at my life and my crew of 6th–almost 7th–grade guys, I think the answer comes down to love.
I love their stories. All of them have incredible backgrounds — stories to tell — some great, many terrible. I know many of my boys that have been told their whole lives — maybe not verbally, but worse through inaction, abandonment and neglect — that they are not loved. By anyone. That they don’t matter. That they amount to nothing. I love it when I see leaders, and especially other students, begin to love on these guys. And I love the day by day reaction when they slowly begin to realize that they do matter, that they are important … and most of all, that they are truly loved for who they are.
I love their status. The guys I connect with most, often have the least popularity, the least influence, and the least friendships. If you could tally up how many times so many of my guys came to me and told me they have no friends, well I don’t think you would want to know as I don’t think you could handle it. (I can’t) It reminds me of another letter Paul wrote, reminding a church of their common beginning: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (1 Corinthians 1:26) We all start more or less from here. And I love moving so much of my crew from residing here, residing where life feels so void and empty … to moving on to a better place.
I love their potential. After that awesome fireside talk at camp, I left with one of my boys to head back to our cabin and we had one of the best discussions we’d ever had. (and that week was already full of them by that point) He eventually asked me what I thought of camp, and I told him what I loved most was connecting with guys like him. Guys that have absolutely no idea what God has placed inside of them. I told him he doesn’t even have the remotest idea what he’s capable of doing, but I at least have an inkling. And because of that, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Because I know in my crew, there will be guys who follow my example and become student ministry leaders, and have exactly the same kinds of conversations with their crew. In my crew, there will be guys that lead friends, groups, schools, work places, communities and maybe even states and countries. In my crew, there will be guys that lead families, that will one day have their own 6th grade sons and daughters. In my crew, the things we talk about will echo across many decades, to thousands of people I will never meet and who will never know who I am, straight into eternity. Of this I have no doubt. I love their potential.
I just love them. All of them. In a way that can only be described as the outpouring of Christ’s amazing love on me and my life. I feel so loved, loved so greatly in a way I just can’t comprehend. Too much love to horde for myself. And for many reasons, these are the guys that bear the brunt of all that extra love I could never hold on to.
So I’m going to do something crazy. It’s irrational and doesn’t make any sense at all. It comes from one of my favorite games of all time, Blackjack. In blackjack, if you get an “almost” favorable hand that you think would be perfect with one more card, you can double down. You get one more card, and put in double your wager, on the hope that your hand turns up perfect.
I’m doubling down. The only difference is that my hand was never “almost” favorable — it was perfect all the way through! I want double the influence next year, I want my crew to double in size, I want the number of guys we’re bringing into the fold and showing Christ’s awesome, irrational and unexplainable love to — well more than double — but I’ll take double!
I also know that doubling down means we’re doubling down on the bad stuff as well — double the pain, double the drama, double the sacrifice, double the times I wonder why am I doing this at all let alone doubling down on it? Doubling down on the senses of doubt, despair, and hopelessness. Doubling down on the number of lambs that run astray.
Bring it on. All of it. Every bit of it. I’m doubling down on the whole thing and praying Christ’s irrational, crazy, abundant love doubles down with us.