First Third Conversations

Space for the Spirit

By Dr. Nancy Going, Director of the CYF Distributed Learning Program at Luther Seminary

I had this amazing ministry experience that I still miss.  For ten years straight, I was able to serve at two or three Group Workcamps every summer. Now I miss it.  And here's why: despite sleeping on a cot in a school classroom with a bunch of people I hadn't met before the week began, it never got old.  Let me repeat that:  It never got old.  That has little to do with me or my adaptability.  There's something essential about the fact that it never got old that I've never articulated before.  Of course, each Workcamp week was different with a fresh blend of staff and kids and adults and community residents. But the most profound reason it never got old, was because it was this uniquely created space for the work of the Holy Spirit.  We got it ready, and then we waited.  And we watched.  And we taught the kids and adults to wait and watch.  

This is one critical aspect of the mission experience that we haven't talked about in this current First Third conversation about the mission trip yet.  I'm wondering if it is such a profound part of the value of the serving experience that it should be front and center in the reasons why the mission trip has become a cornerstone of current youth ministry practice.

Service learning experiences at their core provide a profoundly rich space for the Holy Spirit to move.  

That's not something to be taken lightly. 

Nor is it something to be manipulated. 

It is something that has to stewarded carefully.   

But it is also not something we should or can ignore. 

We need to name the arena for Spirit's activity as the CENTRAL reason why mission experiences matter so much. 

Interestingly enough, Dr. Paul Hill talked about this same phenomenon just last fall at our First Third dialogue about the power of camp.

Paul was talking about how the Spirit moves at Camp, and creates the experience of awe in the beholders.  At camp, the ways in which we are allowed to experience the power God, (the means that the Spirit uses) are Creation and Christian community.  In service, the experience of awe can and does happen just as powerfully.  It just happens in the midst of the messiness of the world instead of away from the world. In service learning, the Spirit works through people whose lives are so different from mine (but not really), and a local community that has been willing to create space for the Spirit to work among and through them. The work matters too, but not as much as this Spirit space.   

What the Spirit does in both cases is brings people together. What both camp and mission trips do is to allow both kids and adults to experience powerfully uncomfortable immersion in Christian community. And that community in both experiences shapes and changes them in a myriad of ways.

Providing space for the Spirit to move in people's lives is an (perhaps THE) essential gift and task of what it means to be in ministry leadership. And like any other task related to the Spirit, it can be misused. 

But that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be pursued.   

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  2 Corinthians 13:14.  

Join the conversation on!

Nancy Going is a life-long youth minister, who loves Jesus, other people learning to love Jesus, her husband Art Going, and the two new families that are her kids and grandkids. 

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