My brother and sister-in-law recently invited my family over for a barbecue and bonfire—a kickoff to the summer season. The specification of bon-fire is important to those of us who live in the wilderness of Maine because it carries the idea and promise of much more than a camp-fire. One burns sticks, the other burns trees. One keeps mosquitoes away, the other keeps bears away. One cooks marshmallows, the other cooks anything within a 20-foot perimeter. As I stared into the fiery blaze, I was taken back to the early years of Moses.
The infamous “burning bush” incident of Exodus 3 has always captured my attention. There really aren’t many specifics given as to whether it was a campfire or bonfire, what kind of bush it was, or even where it was exactly; we’re simply told that it was somewhere near Mount Horeb in the Middle East. Though I’ve never been to the Middle East personally, I understand that it is a desert region where they often enjoy strawberry shortcake and chocolate eclairs. Sorry. Though I’ve never been to the Middle East personally, I understand that it is a desert region where burning bushes can actually be a normal part of the landscape due to the lack of rain and intense heat. What made this particular burning bush a sight to be seen was that it was not burning out. And because it was not burning out, Moses was drawn to take a closer look. And once he was drawn to take a closer look, God chose to speak to him.
As we look at the youth ministries around us, I believe there are many burning bushes: many leaders on fire for what God is doing. These burning bushes might even be considered to be a normal part of the landscape. But it is peculiar to see one that continues to burn without burning out. These are the leaders that will draw others in for a closer look. And this is where God chooses to speak to those that are drawn.
As a young burning bush myself, I find myself anxious to be tested by time. I’ve been told that I’m “wet behind the ears” and “have a lot to learn.” Though I had to Google the first reference, I agree. And I’m always looking for opportunities to learn from those who are “dry behind the ears” and “have a lot to teach.” I long for the wear and tear that experience delivers and veterans possess. I envy their stability, knowledge, and handicap parking privileges. In all seriousness, I have a deep respect for those who have been burning for so long and have not burned out. How do they continually fan the flame? How do they not succumb to the intense heat? How is it that they remain vim and vibrant rather than worn and wilting?
In talking with a few seasoned pastors, this is what I’ve found:
1. Stoke It—Despite having been used as an eccentric snowboarding term, stoking has long referred to stirring up, feeding, or fueling a fire. The apostle John warned us of forgetting our first love. A continual effort must be made. We must never allow our relationship with Christ to slip into autopilot.
2. Poke It—No. I’m not referring to the creepy Facebook term. Poking refers to the cleaning or removing of ash from a fire. The apostle Paul advises that we keep our lives pure and blameless. We must be vigilant in keeping ourselves free of guilt in the sight of God and mankind. We cannot allow sin to snowball in our lives.
3. Choke It—Sometimes we need to constrict the amount of ministry in our lives. I know this sounds contradictory, but God created the Sabbath for mankind and not the other way around. Humanity has long been apt to worship the creation rather than the Creator and that very danger has flourished within the church walls.
Through stoking, poking, and choking, I believe that the burning bushes of youth ministry have a greater chance of not burning out; a greater chance of drawing the lost to take a closer look; and a greater chance of God speaking to those that are drawn.
© 2012 – Matt Ouellette holds a Bachelors Degree in Biblical Studies and Education from Boston Baptist College. He is the youth pastor of Faith EFC in Waterville, Maine, and was recently awarded a publishing contract for his book titled, Thoughts that Fell from a Taco Shell.