I’m not a fearful person.
In general I’m fairly confident, but over my years in ministry I’ve experienced a few scary moments.
I once witnessed our 15-passenger van (filled to capacity with students and towing a travel trailer) crash into a guardrail on an elevated stretch of I-90 coming home from winter camp.
Our students had a fantastic and frightening view the snowy valley beneath Snoqualmie Pass.
Once during an all-nighter event we accidently left one of our students. We had to race back where he stood waiting for us. The evidence of tears in his eyes was heartbreaking.
I’ve been on ministry trips to New York City and Los Angeles’ roughest and toughest projects, yet felt strangely safe.
I’ve been led through the Nigerian Airport with an armed guard and I’m still not sure if he was there to protect me or take me into custody.
Nothing I’ve experienced in ministry compares to how scared I was following a Wednesday night youth service a few summers ago.
We were preparing for our annual summer camp and had one final Wednesday to get some last minute sign ups.
I prepared a message dripping with persuasion (guilt) and passion (bullying).
In a frenzy I poured my heart out to our students.
Red-faced and sweating I pleaded with students to check their priorities and make camp a non-negotiable with coaches, employers and their parents.
I may have sprinkled in some misinterpreted scripture too, though I’m sure it was bent to fit my point: Go to camp or go to hell.
The altar call was a war of attrition. It was me versus the stubborn, rebellious riff-raff teens who didn’t have their crap together (or so I assumed).
When it was all over I had pressured and guilt-ed a few more camp attendees and I was relatively satisfied.
Just as I was about to leave two of my leaders walked over and wanted to talk.
They were both great leaders. The kind you dream of having. You know, successful career-minded people who are committed to serving and love being around students.
They informed me that they had both called their respective employers and told them, “Deal with it. We’re missing work to go to camp.”
One of them smiled as he described his conversation with his boss, “Yeah, I said, ‘If you have to fire me I understand.’”
I smiled even though internally I was panicking.
What have I done? What kind of manipulating jerk had I become? Were these people going to lose their jobs because I needed a few more people at camp to help my ego?
It was a terrible feeling.
I’ve never been more scared in my whole life.
People trusted me and I had abused that trust with manipulation.
Camp was good. Neither leader lost their job. So I guess it worked out okay.
This whole thing forced me to reconsider how I deal with people.
Do I want people to sign up for camps, retreats and conferences we host?
Yes, but I never want to make manipulation, guilt and bullying the reason.
Jesus taught with love, compassion and pure motives.
I want my leadership and teaching to be as close to that as possible.