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Hitting the Spiritual Wall in Youth Ministry

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Hitting the wall: In endurance sports such as cycling and runninghitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy. Milder instances can be remedied by brief rest and the ingestion of food or drinks containing carbohydrates. The condition can usually be avoided by ensuring that glycogen levels are high when the exercise begins, maintaining glucose levels during exercise by eating or drinking carbohydrate-rich substances, or by reducing exercise intensity.

This year I am training for a marathon, and I am not going to lie, it has turned out to be way harder than I thought it would be. Endurance is a tricky thing. For the most part, it is mind over matter. But there is a point in endurance sports where it is actually matter that matters.

When your body had depleted all its carbohydrates and even the sugars that have been stored up are gone, there is a sudden loss of energy and fatigue sets in. It is impossible, or at least impossible for me, to mentally push through. Bonking has little to with training well and all to do with eating well and being smart about putting calories in while I run. There is some chemistry to this, but the truth is I am learning more by trial and error. When I prepare, maintain and replenish, I can run forever. When I skip just one of those steps, I am in danger of hitting the wall, of bonking, of failing short of my goal.

I think I may be spiritually bonking:

It is the end of the school year and a long and difficult school year at that. For all sorts of reasons, this has been an endurance slow jog of a year at the end of eight full years of endurance ministry here at my church. This morning as I was preparing for some things at church, I had this sinking feeling, like I do on a long run when I am about to be depleted.

The bummer is that on endurance challenges, there are no quick easy fixes. Without proper care before, during and after, the danger of bonking becomes more and more likely. And as I reflect on this year, I have used my mental strength and will power to try and gut out this school year. But I am afraid I may not make it!

Somewhere along the way in the endurance grind of this year, I stopped caring for my soul before, during and after youth group. I knew I was tired, but I thought the finish line was closer that it appeared. But the truth is, I have four more weeks of ministry and I am crashed out on the side of the road. There is no way to gut this out, no way to fake it until I make it. I have bonked and without a plan, I won’t finish!

Time to pull over and get some forced rest in order to finish:

Pulling over to stop and rest in an endurance race feels like a failure. But the bigger failure would be to not finish at all. So, I may not be able to finish well at this point, because the goals I set out to accomplish at the start of the year are no longer possible to attain. Even though I may not finish as strong as I want, I owe it to my students, my staff and our church to finish, and the only way I can finish it to pull over and spend some time recovering.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped caring for my soul. The small and steady diet of spiritual care that has allowed me to endure for so many years has broken down. And no, a simple snack or pick me up won’t do the deal. What needs to happen is a full-on rest and recovery before I can get back in the race. And spiritually that is what needs to happen.

This week and next week will be devoted to pulling out of the race, doing the basic work to check off the tasks that actually have to get done, and the rest of my time will be spent in prayer, study, exercise and other activities that feed my soul.

Pulling over for even a week will allow me to not just barely cross the finish line, but to finish strong, just not as strong as I had dreamed.

Surviving the endurance race of completing a student ministry calendar year takes intentional spiritual dieting before during, and after our student ministry nights. Without intentional care, we are all in danger of bonking, breaking down and finishing poorly.

May we all care for our souls so we can care for the souls entrusted to our care. Click To Tweet

And if you are going down, pull over and recover instead of trying to gut it out, because Bonking Sucks!


benkearnsAfter almost two decades of student ministry, Benjamin Kerns’ heart still beats and breaks for students. Loving students and helping them love Jesus have been the foundational principles around which he has organized his life and ministry. While his job description has transformed over the years, he is still most passionate about investing in the student ministry at MARIN COVENANT CHURCH. Follow him on twitter at @AVERAGEYM.

This post was previously published by AVERAGEYOUTHMINISTRY.COM.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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