It was a perfect summer day on Mackinac Island. Mid seventies. Sunny and not a cloud in the sky. The soundtrack: a beautiful symphony of the low hum of ships passing by, laughter of children, shouts from street vendors, the gentle brays of the horses, once in a while punctuated by the booming shots from the historic canon on top of the fortress.
It was as if God Himself had set the stage for the Evangelistic outreach that would take place that very day. The 85 college students and 20 or so of us staff and families marched up the hill with a quiet, joyful, confidence. Don’t get me wrong, there was some fear, nervousness, anxiousness and anticipation… but we were about share the greatest news in the world with hundreds of perfect strangers. How could we not be at least a little antsy?
I knew there was something special in the air when I saw dozens of hungry college students pass by booths of free Mackinac fudge samplers unfazed… even I did not stop to taste (only by the power of the Spirit) — little did I know what would happen in just a matter of hours….
…Oh how I wish you could have brought you with me to the InterVarsity Leadershp Institute! But I hope these brief snapshots will more than suffice… plus I hope that as some time has past these wonderful, full experiences can be placed in a little better context!
What the heck is InterVarsity Leadership Institute?
I am so glad you asked!
Formerly known as School of Leadership Training (SLT), InterVarsity Leadership Institute (IVLI) is a one-month leadership program designed to train college students for lifetimes of leadership and service in the name of Jesus at Cedar Campus, IV’s student training center in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
We had 85 students from around country and from as far as Serbia, India and even Wisconsin. With 17 other staff we led students through perhaps some of the most intense and quality training I’ve ever experienced, ranging from issues of Biblical theology to sexuality to public speaking to team development to vision casting. We also invited world-renown expositors from around the world to open the scriptures to us, believing that one of the keys to leadership is loving and being transformed by God’s word.
Enough with the nitty gritty details, just tell me what happened at IVLI?!?!
Here are the top reflections from my month at IVLI.
1. Ministry actually can be a healthy balance of giving and receiving!
I’ve never had such a healthy experience of ministry where I was simultaneously being poured into by God and others as well as working so hard serving and leading others. It was frankly exhilarating.
I worked really hard this month — I led worship almost every day, I led a small group which met every evening, and did upfront teaching numerous times– yet, I can’t tell you how many times I was just basking in awe of how God would speak to me, through the word, through nature, speakers, other staff, students…it was such that even though I was working my BOOTY off, I didn’t feel burnt out at all, definitely physically and emotionally tired.
Contrast this to the past few years, I think there are seasons where I’m receiving from God like crazy and other seasons I’m pouring out… or it alternates day to day, week to week. I’m either stuffing my face at a spiritual OCB ( completely ignorant of others… and usually doesn’t end well digestively) or working back to back doubles in the kitchen preparing spiritual meal after meal with the wealth of ingredients I think I have… but soon run out.
I think this was the first time I’ve experienced a prolonged season of SIMULTANEOUS filling and giving.
The reasons for this were three fold (more on these later):
- Giving God consistent time and space to pour into me.
- Regular and intentional community that broached spiritual topics and its intersections into “real life.”
- A worshipping community that delved deep into spiritual issues communally, but also encouraged us to probe deeper individually.
2. Raising the bar on potential for relationships in ministry
For the entire month, I spent every evening with same group of 6 students, my family group, “The Butterflies.” It was an exercise in commitment and community, a gift from God in a world of thousands of facebook friends, new faces, new students, new networks being formed, maintained and nurtured.
Through my family group I learned the value of quality time, regularity and the balance of fun and seriousness… and how they DON’T have to be mutually exclusive.
As a group we delved into some tough topics, shared some painful memories and also had absurdly silly fun. While granted, this group was forged in the unique environment of Cedar Campus in a month’s time. I think there were some aspects of the group that I think made our experience so powerful.
- Common purpose — we all wanted to grow in our leadership in serving the campus. That was an immediate bond that crossed, age, school, culture and personality.
- Consistent, regular rhythm — every night at 10pm in Bayview cabin was family time. No exceptions. We had a rhythm that allowed us to build relational momentum.
- Balance of fun and seriousness – – I never forced us to go “Deep” or to be “serious” but I pushed and prodded while also giving us times to just have fun with no agenda. I think it was a good balance.
- Food — lots of food. ‘Nuff said.
3. Wrestling with Failure and the False Self — all my issues on display.
My major teaching assignment for the month was the session titled “Facing Failure, Knowing Self” — it was a new section designed to help students wrestle with issues failure in leadership and how that relates to self-awareness.
Now as I mentioned previously, here was yet another example about how God marvelously orchestrated things so that I would not only work really hard and give all that I had, I would receive just as much and more from Him– a double portion of grace, insight and experiences.
Leading the teaching module on failure and the false self was one way I think God was helping me work through some of the professional and personal challenges I’ve had to go through this year. As I put together the curriculum about failure through the main idea:
When you face failure well, you have the opportunity to discover who you truly are and to experience God as He truly is.
As I taught, I was not some master, super-disciple bestowing my wisdom on high. I was literally a living breathing example of how God is slowly but surely helping ME face my failures well. David Hansen in “the Art of Pastoring” says that ministers at their best are meant to be parables of Jesus. I think I was that…. I shared some of my failures, my challenges.
And the amazing thing was that for many of the students that was an incredibly powerful and meaningful session. Throughout the rest of the month, I heard over and over again students talking about “this is my false self here” — I am excited and humbled to know that God used me just a little bit to help students on their journey towards of knowing themselves fully.
4. Being part of a worshipping community
Leading worship for the month was truly a privilege and a learning experience. I learned a lot about what it means to be an authentic worshipping community. The beautiful thing that I saw over the course of the month was that as we learned more about leadership, as were challenged deeper in living out God’s purposes, as we took more risks of faith, as we committed ourselves to the Kingdom — our worship got better. We helped each other be better worshippers.
We weren’t just selfishly basking in God like you go to a tanning booth in your individual stalls (I’ve never been to a tanning booth myself, but I imagine that’s how it sorta is, right?) Yea, I just googled it and our worshipping community was NOT like this:
In fact it was quite the opposite, our worship was motivated not by self gain or good vibes from God, but it was outwardly focused– the most beautiful picture of worship + mission I’ve personally experienced. Let me explain.
For Mackinac island we wanted to find ways to engage the tourists and workers of the island through the arts. My colleague James suggested a Gospel Choir… I was a little skeptical at first (both of our ability to pull it off and how it would be received on the island) but after some convincing I did see how it could be an attractive (and loud) way to draw people to our presentations.
And the more I thought about how the themes and values behind Gospel music impacted my life– stories of overcoming odds, finding God in the midst of suffering, experiencing the rescue and provision of God — I realized what a better way for us to share OUR testimony as believers and offer hope to those in the audience who are seeking for God but are hurting or in tough times.
And so we started a Gospel choir, it wasn’t just about us or our experience with God, we wanted to give our audience a taste of God through this music. Now that meant we had to sound good… because most non-Christians won’t even give a second look to a group that sounds bad, but rather when they are drawn in by the beauty of the music, their hearts can be opened to the message.
And that’s really what happened on the Island.
While we were singing I’d look around and saw hundreds of people gathered listening, clapping, smiling, moving. We heard comments from people asking, “are you guys on tour?” I received tons of compliments and encouragements. One family even saw us on the island, was so impressed found out we were from Cedar Campus and drove up to check Cedar out and want to send their daughter to work on crew next summer!
But all those things were nice, but what was precious was that this was just our worship. We weren’t doing anything other than worshipping and proclaiming who God is and what he has done. The only that was different is that we were inviting those who don’t know him yet to experience what we are experiencing.
That was a beautiful thing.
By the end of the month, after all we had experienced together, I have to say that was some of the best worship I’ve ever been a part. We knew each other, loved each other and were committed to the same mission together. That led to some freedom in worship that I’ve never experienced before. That’s something I long for now in my worshipping communities.
I have a few more reflections that I’ll share in part II, but I think this post has gotten long enough. Thanks for reading… and as a prize for reading, I give you a video of probably one of the most fun experiences of the summer and living proof that IV staff are cool (or at least would might have been considered cool 20 years ago).