A Fish Out of Water

“They want us to do what?” I was stunned.

Kay consulted her notes again.

“They don’t have any counselors for this camp, and the director wants each of us to lead a small group for the next two weeks. “

“We…each get a group?” I could almost feel the blood draining from my face. This was NOT what I had signed up for. Well, I suppose that wasn’t entirely true. When I agreed to join my college’s traveling drama team for the summer, I knew that aside from providing various camps with biblical theatrical entertainment, we would also be asked to help out with some of the small groups. Although I considered my spiritual gifts of leadership and teaching negligible, I felt that I could handle the role of counselor, as long as I didn’t have to be in charge.

The first several camps went well. There was always someone to lead the small group and to teach. Then the groups would break down into smaller groups to discuss what was taught. Each week, I had the good fortune to be paired up with a fellow college student who proved to be better qualified at handling middle school-aged children than I was. The summer was rolling along great, until THIS happened.

As my fellow teammates cheered at the news of heading up their own groups, I was ready to vomit.

“Um…is there something else I can do?” I asked hopefully. I was willing to do anything at that point rather than lead a group. The very thought of it sent shards of fear through me.

Kay shook her head.

“They need all of us. Besides, we’ve already been assigned groups.” She reached down into a cardboard box that was at her feet and pulled out a handful of study guides. “Each of the kids will be getting this,” Kay continued as she passed the booklets around. “They will be following along as you teach each lesson.”

There had been a number of times in my life when I had known true fear. However, in the week that led up to the camp, I experienced such a debilitating attack of anxiety that I could barely function. I couldn’t understand why God had put me in this position. Up to that time, I thought that every person was given a specific set of spiritual gifts and that we were only placed in ministry opportunities that required the use of said gifts. Now here I was being called on to use the least of my talents. Talk about a fish out of water.

I managed to read through the prepared material and made a few notes, but I was not a happy camper…so to speak. After a long van ride (that could have been longer as far as I was concerned), we arrived at the camp and were shown our living quarters, as well as the rooms where we would be holding our teaching sessions. But first, there was orientation. As the students began arriving on that first evening, they were shuttled into the multi-purpose room to sit in front of a stage and watch the pre-camp entertainment. What was that entertainment, you might ask? Why, none other than yours truly and his two guitar-playing friends, singing whatever contemporary Christian music we had available. A little Jars of Clay here, some DC Talk there. I even attempted to rap. It was a testament to the depth of my leadership anxiety that I paid no attention to the fact that I couldn’t sing well, and was proving that in front of a large room full of restless tweens. I’m sure many of them were excited at the prospect of have a goof like me as a team leader.

To shorten up this already lengthy story, the first full day of camp started out a little rocky. My teaching was tentative and shaky. I remember apologizing a lot to my group in the beginning. Yet as time went on, I began to grow more comfortable in my role as group leader. I began to form a bond with the kids. I also received unexpected help and encouragement from some of the parents who had agreed to remain at camp and be in my group. By the end of the week, I was unrecognizable. As the second week of camp started with a batch of new students, I approached my duties with confidence and excitement. I wasn’t perfect in my role by any means, but something fundamental had happened in those weeks that changed my life forever. In the 20+ years since, I have had many opportunities to lead and teach on various topics in camps, churches, schools, and at work; and while these gifts are a continual work in progress, I am no longer ruled by the fear that had so paralyzed me before. This is not to say that I don’t still fear things, but I have learned how to face those fears. This ability to cope would play a large role in the coming years, when I had to finally face down my greatest fear. However, that is a story for another time.

 I have also since learned not to put limits on God. We may have our strengths and talents, but that won’t stop God from placing you outside of your comfort zone for His work.

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