This summer, Michael Hansen accepted the challenge of stepping into a leadership role at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat. As co-leader for the junior high group, he discovered a fresh perspective through his interaction with a lively group of campers, some affected by various disabilities as well as some typical siblings. Although Michael was used to working one-on-one with individuals affected by disability, he told me he enjoyed the new experience saying, “I learned a lot and gained leadership skills I didn’t have before camp.”
The week brought its mix of challenges and celebrations, but Michael saw God’s faithfulness every step of the way. “Managing a group of people—both campers and STMs [Short Term Missionaries]—is a challenge for sure, but also a real joy and an experience I will never regret or forget.”
We need people like Michael who are willing to extend the hand of friendship to families affected by disability—but, it’s not always easy to step into those positions of leadership.
For some reason, it seems like God specializes in singling out individuals who are not actively seeking positions of leadership. Too often, our excuses sound like the conversation Moses had with God at the burning bush—legitimate concerns about our ability, the audience, and our message. Content with being “followers,” we turn down opportunities for a multitude of reasons. I know I’ve shied away from leadership because I’m afraid of messing up, I don’t know how to do something, or I prefer working one-on-one. But as Michael shared with me his summer experience, he effectively squelched each one of my personal excuses for avoiding leadership.
Excuse 1: I can’t handle so much responsibility.
Feeling overwhelmed with a new responsibility is normal—it just proves that you’re human! When comparing his new duties at Family Retreat with his previous responsibilities as a STM, Michael remarked, “Leading a group of people at Family Retreat is different but it has similarities as well. One of the major differences is coordinating a schedule with the whole group. The group consists of leaders, assistants, STMs, and campers—both typical siblings and individuals with disabilities. During the course of a short week of Family Retreat, it is challenging to learn all of the personalities and interests of each individual. But, at the end of the week, it is very rewarding to see how all of these people, with different personalities, interests, backgrounds, disabilities, and family dynamics work well together as a growing group of friends. It was amazing to see how God had prepared each pairing of volunteer with camper, the families that were able to make it to family retreat, and the assistance of the leadership team in my group.”
Excuse 2: I’m afraid of messing up.
As a “follower,” we can enjoy a greater level of privacy—if we mess up, at least fewer people will know about it! But Michael shared one of the privileges we often overlook in leadership positions. “Another blessing of being a leader is the support of co-leaders, assistants, STMs, camp staff, and the Joni and Friends leadership team. I’m not in this alone. Others have traveled this road before and have wise advice and counsel. Also, some of the leadership have interacted with the campers in my group before and can offer help and advice in advance to prepare me for how to best serve that camper and his/her family. It’s great to see new friendships form between campers with disabilities, siblings, and even the STMs.”
While being a leader means more people are watching, it also means you have a mountain-top perspective, being able to see God’s work in more people’s lives.
Check back on Friday for the next two excuses!
Danielle Ledoux is a former intern with Joni and Friends’ Cause 4 Life program who enjoys writing about God’s work in people’s lives. She is a graduate of Pensacola Christian College and is currently getting her Master of Fine Arts in Dramatics.