Breaking Free of Being a Spectator-Leader


Breaking Free

By Brien Bell

The last few weeks at my church’s middle school youth program, I’ve found myself in an odd position.

It’s nearing the end of the school year. Our weekly meetings will be ending for the summer the middle of next month. Our eighth graders are getting ready to move on, and a new group of kids will join us for our end-of-term and summer events.

In all this, I’ve felt like a bit of an outsider looking in, and I can’t put a precise finger on why.

I’ve fallen into a kind of volunteer voyeurism, where I’m more interested in watching what’s going on around me than actually being a part of it. The games aren’t a fun outlet. The songs aren’t a means to refocus. The messages aren’t clicking like they had earlier in the year. I’m no longer a leader – I’m an observer. And the youth I mentor didn’t come to spend time with that version of me. And that’s when I start feeling like I’m just taking up space.

It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way as a youth mentor. Usually it happens during stressful periods – whether factors at home or within the group itself – and gradually fades as things calm down. Sometimes, however, the feeling festers, and I’m left in a malaise wondering whether my efforts would be better spent pursuing God’s will in other endeavors.

Then I’m reminded of a teenager’s capacity for love, especially for people they don’t know or even have anything in common with. Or I’ll be in awe of the wisdom of a 7th grader whose thoughts on something ring so true. And I’ll see the patience and grace of my fellow leaders, and remind myself that I work with some truly fantastic people who love what they do, even in the tribulations of life.

And I’m encouraged by Hebrews 12, a challenge to those feeling worn-down, exhausted, stressed, and ready to give up. I’m reminded that I’m “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” – even when it’s long, and winding, and filled with bumps. When we truly set our eyes upon Christ, then doubt and fear and are swept away in the truth of the matter: God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do. He’s already run that race for us, and He’s extended an invitation to run alongside Him.

We can either watch the race pass us by, or we can stop being a spectator, blow past life’s barricades, and run toward our students. They might be on the sidelines, like I’ve felt lately, but maybe they’ll see you running and decide they’d rather run, too.