I've been involved with Young Life for just over 20 years. For almost 10 of those, I was on Young Life staff (affectionately known in YL vernacular as being "on Staff" ie..."I'm on Staff in _____"). It is the GREATEST ministry I have ever been involved in with regard to reaching kids...YL is genius in the way it reaches out to kids who are disinterested in Jesus or the church. I was one of those kids as a 17 year old senior in high school.
I got involved as a leader for many of the same reasons other leaders do; our hearts were captured for the mission. We shed tears in cabin times, laughed uncontrollably around dining hall tables and club rooms, put on countless unsuccessful car-washes, listened and heard the still small voice during all camp quite times. We loved the mission...and still do. In fact, I am still a volunteer middle school (Wyldlife) leader today...like I said before, it is the best ministry I know in reaching disinterested kids.
But there is also a side to Young Life that is talked about far too little...it's the burnout, exhaustion and frustration that comes from joining the crazy of contact work, club, campaigners and camp. We come off the "Best Week of Our Life" only to sprint back to camp follow up, student leadership, fall club kick offs...wondering in January if we can really gear up again.
I write this post in an attempt to give a voice to all of those folks who absolutely love the ministry of YL (please hear me...I love the mission of YL. Have I said that enough?) But are one of the hundreds of souls who have been lay to waste, wondering what happened and what's next. Here are a few reasons why there is life after Young Life.
1. There is no such thing as a vocational call in the bible. Many of my friends have and are bound by the guilt of hearing one of their superiors say something to the effect of, "You were called to this ministry." Which is Christianese for saying..."You can't leave or God will be displeased and you will let people down who love you."...this just simply isn't a biblical notion, it's an American Gospel ethos of hard work, commitment and faithfulness that took the idea of one's calling in the Kingdom of God and replaced that with the idea that God has just the right vocation for everyone and until you find where that is, you are running from God. In other words, when you look at the idea of "being called" in the bible...there is no where that the context means your job, how you pay your bills, or where you volunteer with your time. If you are tired, exhausted, frustrated with YL...one of two things should happen in your life. A.) Either change the way you are doing ministry...stop being gone 4-5 nights a week from your family or B.) Perhaps it's time to take a break from the mission you love...YOU ARE NOT THE SAVIOR. If YL is truly God's mission, then God will reach those kids with or with out you. Stop believing you are bound by some mystical "call" and that others won't reach out to those kids...it will kill you (literally) and your family.
2. The Burden is gone...When I announced I was going off of YL staff, the burden was immediately gone. If you have ever been involved in YL as a volunteer or staff...you know that burden well. More kids, more leaders, more money, more banquets, more fundraisers, more committee, more contact work, more spots for summer camp, more buses, more kids struggling with sin, more...more...more...more. Being involved with YL is a lifestyle...and it requires more of you, all the time. It's one of the reason's YL is so successful, but it's the main reason so many people burn out. When my friends would ask me about how I felt about going off of YL staff, I would ask them, "You know that burden you are carrying right now?" to which they would smile and laugh agreeably...my response would simply be, "Yeah, that burden is gone." Please hear me, my burden for those who are not yet a part of the kingdom of God is still among the top reasons I am pastor and volunteer YL leader today...but it's a different burden. A burden no longer measured by my cashflow, R&E, GPS, donor care, camp spots comparatively to last year's numbers, etc... (YL terms...sorry). If you have ever heard phrases like, "Nobody is doing what we are doing?", "Nobody is thinking about the city like you are." "You are the most important person in this community." and you believe that, then you simply are not aware of the missional movement around the world today. Here is a great resource for more info on that; http://www.gocn.org/ The aforementioned phrases are used in the same vein as God's "vocational call" in your life which are at best, simply not true, and at worst, arrogant words to guilt you into action....be free my friend, be free.
Lastly...let me offer one thought on why you might be burdened more so today in the mission. As we continue to Reach A World of Kids (RWOK) we are using ministry models like Brian Summeral's Strategy 41 (see info here...http://bsummerall.com/site/Welcome.html). I have met Brian, gone through two of his training's...he is an awesome guy, and has a tremendous heart for kids and the Lord. I know this critique may sound harsh...but Brian's model of ministry (IMHO) is not sustainable long term...has anyone ever asked why Brian is no longer leading this type of ministry? (I just heard you through my monitor..."Well, he's going around now and teaching it so we can reach more kids.") To which I would argue, I don't think that's the only reason he's no longer doing it. I'm just not convinced a team can stay healthy in life and implement that type of model long term...yes, they will reach more kids; yes, more kids will come to camp; yes more kids will come to club...but to what expense? As you just finished this years 14 day camp follow up, helped your student leaders pick out this years school t-shirt, stuffed the school newspaper with YL fliers, began planning for this years Mr. Christmas tree (well you should have began planning already!), started promoting camp for next summer, and more...are you really looking forward to this pace of life for the years to come so we can say to our donors, "We reached 2 million kids!"...and yet, you barely have a family to go home to anymore.
I am all for reaching more kids, seeing live's transformed by the Gospel, and hearing story after story of struggling kids finding their way because of the investment of their loving leader...but I worry, with great sadness that for each kid we reach, there is a volunteer or staff person out there licking their ministry wounds, wondering how in the world they got there and how in the world to do anything about it.
If this is you...please, ask for help. Change the way you are doing ministry. Or perhaps for some of you, it may mean taking a break from the mission you love so you can serve in it through out your life and not just the 5-7 year sprint you are in right now.
Thank you for caring enough about kids to want to reach them in the great mission that is Young Life, but please always remember, you are not the savior...