In our youth ministry, after 29 years employed, I now get to use the phrase: “I’m just a volunteer.” Over the years, as a teacher/instructor, I playfully reprimanded many volunteers by telling them not to use the word “just” in their description of being a volunteer.

But, now I understand… I’m “just” a volunteer!

I don’t lead the ministry anymore, I don’t take the negative shots nor am I the target of occasional thanks and affirmation. I’m just a volunteer with a small group of (now) 10th grade guys who I’ve really fallen for. I like these guys a lot! They make me laugh, smile, and make me want to disciple them.

But, I’m still just a volunteer.

Last week was our first time back together as a small group (in Southern California, we begin school later than most of the country). When I was reconnecting with these guys, I realized that I had been a lousy small group leader this past summer.

Our amazing (and always affirming) high school pastor (Josh Griffin) would defend me and say, “We give our small group leaders the summer off to recuperate. There were no official expectations on you to do anything with your group.” Thanks Josh, you’re gracious… I appreciate it, but I know better.

I failed them.

Here’s five things I didn’t do with my small group this summer:

1. I didn’t stay in contact. I had a busy summer! I was in Korea, Africa, I ran a Student Leadership Conference, merged my life to Youth Specialties, tried to hang with my family, and help a buddy start a church. I did shoot a video with one boy from my small group and texted another a few times, but I didn’t stay in contact.

2. I didn’t regularly pray for them. Occasionally, I’m sure I did. I honestly don’t remember… which probably proves I didn’t. That sucks. I know better.

3. I didn’t gather the guys together for any special event. I had 2 months to do something and I didn’t do anything. I think I sent a text about a UFC fight night at my house, but I guess they were busy too.

4. I didn’t dream about who they were becoming. I did this for hundreds at our student leadership conference. I love doing this! I’ll often think about a teenager and play “what if” (what if he was fully committed to following Jesus). But not this summer… at least not with these boys.

5. I didn’t hold the guys accountable. A few of the guys have confided in me about their struggle with pornography, and I get an email thru when they fail and visit an inappropriate site. I followed up a couple of times, but I could have been better.

Honestly, I experienced so much joy seeing them again last week that the deep joy triggered some deep shame. I can excuse my actions (better yet, misactions) all day long, but the bottom line is that I wasn’t a very good shepherd/mentor/pastor/friend. I’m embarrassed.

I can use the excuse that I’m “just” a volunteer, but I know better. I’m not just a volunteer, I’m a minister to people who is called to care for young people… and I failed these guys. And that sucks.

That’s it! While I do believe that “something is better than nothing”… my summer ministry to them was pretty much nothing. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that I can look ahead and know that I can be a better minister this year.

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