By Adam Mashni
Cartel note: Adam Mashni was one of five youth workers who gave a 5 – 7 minute ‘soapbox’ talk in the Saturday morning main session of the Middle School Ministry Campference a couple weeks ago. We loved what these people talked about, and thought they would make great blog posts for others to access their thoughts.
On May 8, 2014 I was told I most likely had Testicular Cancer. I went in for a referral appointment to essentially push aside any extreme worries. Within 10 seconds the urologist said, “this doesn’t feel good.” That night I went in for emergency surgery to remove my left testicle. My life, everything about it, was put on pause (and I also started leaning a little…too soon?). A few days later I would find out it is indeed cancer and it had spread to my abdominal lymph nodes and my lungs. I was to be married on August 8, 2014…so the 3 months leading up to my wedding was full of Chemo treatments and doctor appointments.
As a human, we know that storms are a part of life. As a Christian, we can be confident that we’ll face trials. Jesus alludes to some tough times when you follow him. James, the half-brother of Jesus, takes time out of his letter to instruct us to be joyful when those trials come.
But as a leader of people – adult volunteers and students – there are deeper dynamics that come into play. How do you present the reality of a personal storm to the people you lead? As a dynamic, charismatic, outgoing leader – how do you show weakness in an appropriate way? For a goofy Middle School Pastor, how do show that you’re human as well?
The answer, as I have come to know it, is something we as youth workers already know. See, our students are longing for something real. They are longing for a connection with you or another adult leader that goes beyond “what’s your least favorite class? And why?” They may not be able to articulate that just yet, but when they see it, they run to it.
So here’s what I’ve found to be extremely helpful in leading through personal trials.
Be real, honest and helpful
Sharing the reality of what has happened to you (in an appropriate way and manner) will allow students to feel connected in a way they never have before. They know at that point that you bleed…that you cry…that life happens to you too.
To let the students know that I had cancer, I had our Student staff tell them (I wasn’t able to be there in person)…but then I shot a video explaining that I was going to undergo chemo, and in order to think about chemo they just had to think about little ninjas going into my body killing the cancer cells (Middle Schoolers love Ninjas. It worked).
Normalize and give purpose to storms
Freaking out helps nobody. Students need to know that storms exist, even for their youth leader! No doubt students will experience storms – what an opportunity for me to example James 1, so that when the 7th grader goes through something in 10th grade, they can remember back to when their youth pastor battled cancer and leaned heavily into God.
I had an opportunity to stand in front of my church and present a talk on my journey. And standing in front of however many thousands of adults, I told them that perhaps God allowed this to come into my life, because he wanted to show a youth group (and the greater church) what it looked like to trust him when life sucks. Who was I to pick and choose how God would use my life?
As leaders, we have an opportunity to show people what it looks like to trust God. There is no better way to do that than in the midst of a personal storm.
When appropriate and as much as you can, hit repeat on the first two points. During chemo I would shoot videos when I was feeling ok…I wasn’t at church, but I heard when those videos were shown it renewed the energy and confidence that I was going to be ok. Because I missed our summer outreach trips, I was able to Skype in whenever the Wi-Fi was good.
A few months after I was back we crafted and designed a series called “Wounded.” The sole purpose was to talk about my journey, and to dig up the often-buried topic of personal storms and struggles.
Storms happen. When we submit our lives and storms to our God and allow Him to use them how He sees fit, it’s then the impact on your life and the ministry you lead is turned to God-sized…and that’s just how God likes it.
2014 definitely was a crazy year for my family, fiancé (now wife), and me. I can now say with confidence that after the Chemotherapy, surgery in November 2014 to remove lymph nodes that were suspicious, I am on the road to remission and “cancer-free” living. The last CT scan I had (September 2015) revealed no cancer activity whatsoever. We are praising God for bringing us through this storm!
Adam Mashni is the Middle School Director at NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, MI. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 13 years. He’s been married to his wife, Meagan, for just over a year.