I don't remember exactly how it all started, but there was definitely trouble brewing. I was leading a 3-week youth Bible camp, the first week of which included taking this group of 20+ teens on a 5-night backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The first few days were filled with fun and meaningful moments, but by Day 4 the natives were obviously restless. Our staff felt like the students were exaggerating their complaints about the trail. Our students felt like the staff really didn't know where we were going or what we were doing. And then to cap it all off, when we got to the lakeside we had all been hyping up as the best camping spot on the trail, it was infested with aggressive mosquitos. Unfulfilled expectations, loud complaints, sharp blame, divisive and dismissive attitudes. And all this before we were to head down the mountain and engage two more weeks of spiritual growth activities. It was time for a leadership huddle.
As the students continued setting up camp, our leadership team assessed the situation and concluded that we couldn't come off the mountain with this kind of relational dynamic. The spiritual growth goals we anticipated in the coming weeks would have no chance to take genuine root in the students' hearts as long as distrust and displeasure lodged there.
Broken horizontal relationships too often get in the way of experiencing God.
What could be done to reverse all this? After much prayer together, we decided that the kids needed to know that we were all on the same team. The us vs. them mentality had to go. They needed to know that we acknowledged and owned our shortcomings, things that didn't go as planned. And we needed to assure our students that we didn't bring them out here to suffer but to grow, that we were giving our full effort to ensure they're best experience...even if some of those efforts failed. With all that nailed down, we then asked the more difficult question: HOW exactly were going to communicate all this in a meaningful way they could receive?
THERE'S AN ORDINANCE FOR THAT
In John 13, Jesus gave us a powerful example of how to restore relational brokenness in the body of Christ. In the midst of a roomful of soon-to-be evangelists and representatives of the gospel, pride, hurt feelings, and distrust threatened to hijack the mission of Christ's church. With few words, Jesus demonstrated breathtaking humility as he stooped to wash each of the disciples' feet, including Judas's! John prefaces this narrative in these words:
...having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. John 13:1, NKJV
Through that silent sermon, the disciples were humbled. Ever after, they would find a blessing in following the example of Jesus' humility (cf. Jn . 13:15, 17). It's that state of humility, of pride laid to the dust, of differences and hurts washed away in view of Jesus' condescension and amazing grace that disciples of every age are put in an optimal position to receive the gospel and fulfill its great commission.
INTO THE WATER
With John 13 weighing upon our hearts, we broke from that leadership huddle with a clear sense of direction. As the sun began to set behind the mountain horizon, we called the students together and led them out to a portion of the lakeshore from which two fallen trees made a couple of natural piers stretching a good 40 feet out into the relatively shallow lake. After leading the students out onto these logs and instructing them to take a careful seat, we could sense that suspicion and uncertainty was rising again. With few words of introduction, our staff, one-by-one stepped into the chilly water and humbly asked the students nearest them if we could wash their feet.
It was a powerful moment. The debriefing on the shore didn't require much explanation or convincing. Tears were shed. Apologies were extended and accepted. Attention was diverted away from the difficulties and re-focused on the destination of spiritual growth...and we were going to get there together.
How is your experience with God and effectiveness for His kingdom being hampered by pride, hurt feelings, or distrust? Or how might the spiritual experience of others around you be negatively impacted by those things? Whether or not we see ourselves as being part of the problem, we can all be part of the solution. We've all got our share of relational brokenness and dysfunction, but by the power of the cross and God's amazing grace, we don't have to let that define us and our patterns of interpersonal relationships. May we choose to lay self aside and allow the power of the gospel to work in us a new pattern of relational wholeness, a new kind of humanity. And may the purpose of the cross be fulfilled in us.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility....His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross. Ephesians 2:14-16, NIV