We recently held an area wide youth worship service on the football field of our local high school. Two other youth pastors and I had planned, prepared, and pulled in every favor we could think of to make this night come together in spite of our budgets nearing $0 (mine already a little south of that mark). It was amazing how it all came together! We had sound! We had the band! We had the speaker! We even had free pizza and drinks donated! We were all set.
The day arrived with anticipation. We had almost 300 RSVPs from area churches and schools, so we figured about 250 tops would show up. The night kicked off at 7:00 with eight contestants cramming ice cream in their faces as fast as they could to win a CD, and that was followed up by Scripture reading, prayer, and a student testimony. We still had praise time to come and then our speaker would speak. At least, if he was there he would be speaking. He was supposed to go on at 8:00, but at 7:25 I was listening to him apologize over the phone because he wasn’t going to be able to make it.
If you haven’t been there, stay in youth ministry long enough and it will happen. You’ll find out that you have to preach or speak or lead something, and you’ll have 30 minutes to prepare off the top of your head. No books. No internet. No youthministry.com freebies. I hung up the phone with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I was the organizer of the night, and now I was speaker who would be talking to over 200 students, five times more than I had ever spoken to at once before, with a message that would entertain, encourage, and challenge them to take their campuses for Christ!
What I did and learned that night, I would like to pass on to you. For most of you, hopefully, this will be review and it’s what you already do. For some of us, we need to be reminded of these simple principles.
PRAY. PRAY! PRAY! Why is it that when we are going through the daily routine of ministry, we often don’t give prayer its proper place? yet, when we face a humassive hurdle, it’s the first place we go? In that moment, as I stood under the bleachers with 200 students spinning and singing above me, I wanted to throw up my cheese pizza. Every inadequacy I could think of I thought of. The only thing I knew to do was pray. I prayed like crazy. I prayed for wisdom. I prayed for guidance. I prayed for one of those sudden Texas snowstorms. I really prayed that the Holy Spirit would pray for me because I didn’t know what to pray! What I did know is that I had to give it to God because I was flat out scared. When you face a situation like this, you have to go straight to the power source. In your thirty minute prep time you don’t have time to be brilliant. You only have time to be quiet, still, and small. Go begging to God, and lay a foundation of prayer.
GO WITH WHAT YOU KNOW. As I paced the walkway from the bleachers to the weight room to the track to the parking lot to the…I thought of a million different topics to speak on. Unity. Perseverance. Self-esteem. Talking livestock. But which one should I go with?! I liked talking livestock, but the guys in Ag might not have bought it. Ultimately, the decision has to be that you go with what you know. You can’t give an impromptu talk on something you know very little about. Your only option is to go with something you’re familiar enough with that you can talk on it for 20 minutes and at the same time keep your audience from sleepwalking to the parking lot. Pull out an old faithful, make it relevant, and go for it.
TRUST THE SPIRIT. When you’ve prayed and settled on a topic, trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As I paced, I settled on a topic that had been prompted earlier by one of my student Scripture readers, and even piggybacked on her Scripture. From there, the Spirit led me to passages that tied in to my sudden theme, gave me ideas for examples and illustrations, and gave me comfort to see that He was there with me. Scared to death, I walked onto the track of that football field, set my Bible on the podium, chocked back the UFC Butterflies in my stomach, and looked up. There were 200 students and youth leaders from bigger churches who expected to see a former Golden Glove boxer bring the Word. Instead, they saw Golden Nobody, who they knew and had seen many times before, and truthfully weren’t terribly excited to see again. When I told them the speaker couldn’t make it, there was an audible groan, which didn’t lend much encouragement. So, with an already disappointed audience, and a prayer, I opened my mouth. For thirty minutes, Mark 13:11 came alive as the Holy Spirit took my meager outline and filled in the gaps with a powerful message straight from God’s word.
As I drove home that night, I was in shell shock. What had happened? How did I do that? Was it all a bad dream turned good? I’m not sure, although if it was a dream, it’s been a really long one. What I do know is that God showed up. He had a plan for that evening, and it turned into what he wanted. I don’t know if a single student heard a word I said, or if a single life was changed. But, what I do know is that God’s promise to never leave us or forsake us became more than a verse in the Bible to me and my cohorts in ministry that night. Under those lights, we felt the Spirit all around us as we worshipped with song and message. I felt him take us and use us to do something we could never have done on our own. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
Isn’t that how we should approach every Wednesday night youth meeting or Sunday morning Bible study? Shouldn’t dependence upon the Spirit be a staple of our messages and ministry? Absolutely! So, even though this example comes from a moment of pure distress, I hope it encourages you to avoid the mediocre and acceptable, and to step into the realm of the supernatural. We serve a God who wants to work through us with every breath we take. All it takes is prayer, going with what we can know, and trusting the Holy Spirit’s move.