Mission Trip Musts [2]

 —  May 17, 2012 — Leave a comment

Yesterday we looked at the first thing I believe we “must” include in our mission trips for college students.  Today we will discuss the second thing:

2. Create Teachable Moments (and brutal ones)

If you take a trip to a second-world country like Romania or a third-world country like India or Cambodia, expect the college-age people that go to be rocked. Expect their hearts to be engaged and their minds to do some intellectual gymnastics. Be prepared to deal with the anger they may feel toward Americans and the American lifestyle when they come back. They usually look at the amount of money, how it’s used and the over abundance of material possessions to be repulsive after these experiences. And, in many ways, rightly so. But how they handle that can be another story. As leaders we have a chance to sieze as well as create teachable moments to help people process the trip in an effective way.

I remember a trip we took to India. We served in a few ways there, but the trip was more of an exposure trip. We went to two or three different ministries a day, listening to the stories of missionaries and their ministries. We spent 12 days in the slums of India, where the poorest of the poor live. We were in some tribal areas outside of Mumbai (what we refer to as Bombay) as well as some slum areas in the city. In fact, Mumbai is said to have the largest slum area in all of Asia having over 1 million people in this one slum. It’s unbelievable to spend time there. Heartbreaking, for sure.

Well, part of the exposure trip is to expose people not just to missionary possibilities, but also to the culture. So I did something a bit risky at the end of a trip to India. I didn’t tell anyone, but the very last day we packed up in our rural location and headed into the city for our last night. Nobody knew where we were going. We took the train into the city (which is a total experience in itself!) and then a cab from the train station to the Gateway of India. This is a national landmark that you may have seen in pictures. We gathered there, sat down by the water, and debriefed some of the trip. Being right next to the slum area we talked about our time there, the things we saw, the things that stood out and those that broke our hearts. When we were done I told everyone to put their backpacks on and we were going to go to where we were staying for the night.

They didn’t realize it, but we were already there. Directly across the street was the Taj Mahal Hotel. This hotel is five star, plus. It’s the nicest I’ve ever stayed, anywhere. If you go to the pool, you have a personal servant. If you want anything, they get it for you.

People were shocked.

No, actually they were angry.

“How could we go through all this, learn what we did the past two weeks and then stay here tonight!?” they asked. “How much are we paying for this!?” one person asked as he pulled me aside.

The intellectual gymnastics began.

I told everyone to go to their rooms, take a shower and meet back in the lobby in an hour. After that hour we walked down the street to a restaurant to get dinner. It was there that we began to discuss this issue. There were some real times of tension, but in the end it was a great teachable moment. The bottom line was that right outside of the walls of the hotel was the largest slum in all of Asia. But India has both extremes and I wanted them to see that. In addition, I didn’t just want them to understand it in theory, I wanted them to feel the dichotomy between the two worlds. And they definitely felt it. It was a challenge to them to begin thinking about what they value as they go back home. We talked about the abundance of comfort we live in everyday and how when we go back we have a choice: we can remember the stark contrast we live in compared to the rest of the world, or go through life focused on our own comfort and forgetting how others live.

[sample taken from College Ministry From Scratch]

“You do WHAT over the summer?” Regardless of where I’m at, whether it’s at the post office, grocery store, or walking down the street, it seems that I am always confronted with the question of what my plans are for the summer. I think the question, “What are your plans for this summer?” is often times used with college students to break the ice or make conversation out of nowhere. People expect the usual, “Oh, I’m working at a grocery store.  Or – especially in Iowa, “I’ll be detasseling corn.” Usually at this point, the conversation is over, however, when people ask me- and I would assume any other summer college mission staff- this common question – the conversation is hardly over.

Sometimes I think people regret asking me what I do over the summer months. “So Gabe, what are you doing this summer?” I’ll casually respond, “Oh, you know, just traveling all over the country helping to put on mission trips that bring thousands of teenagers and adults together to grow in their relationship with Christ, and at the same time rebuild communities in need.” There is generally a long pause here.

You see, people have a hard time wrapping their head around why thousands of teenagers and adults all over the U.S. would choose to pay hundreds of dollars to serve others, and why hundreds of college students would devote their entire summers to traveling around to help make these trips possible. For me, these camps have been a huge blessing. After serving on six mission trips all over the country with my youth group, becoming a part of summer mission staff seemed like the next step. I completely believe in their mission and have grown closer to God and have truly been changed for the better through my participation. The truth is, when I applied to become summer staff, my idea of what it would be like didn’t even scratch the surface of how blessed I would be after a summer of service.

For me, I hardly think of being on summer staff as being a job. I feel strongly that I have been given this opportunity by God to be able to serve other people. My specific role is Program Manager. At each camp I set up, maintain, and run all of the projection, lighting, and sound equipment. I work with the speaker to put on quality worship and devotion programs. In addition, I get to travel to each project during the week and take photos of all of the mission trip participants to include in evening slideshows. This position allows me to not only work with technology, but also interact with people. In just one summer I have met hundreds to people who have each touched my life. I get to serve alongside three other summer staff for an entire summer who act as my family. We share our joys and concerns, challenge each other in our faith, and hold each other accountable. I meet dozens of volunteer staff at each of my camps who all share a fervent passion for mission and a heart for service. I interact with dozens of residents from all walks of life, some of whom believe in God, some of whom don’t. Some of my most memorable moments from being involved in mission trips comes from when residents come to know Christ through the work that all involved in these mission trips do for them. Lastly, I get to interact with hundreds if not thousands of junior and senior high school students and their adult leaders who have a heart for service and a longing to know Jesus Christ more deeply.

You see, being involved with mission trips doesn’t just end with the trip. The experiences and people you encounter stay with you for the rest of your life. You grow deeper into a relationship with Jesus regardless of the way in which you serve and he blesses that and gives you even more hunger for service. These trips change you and I definitely would not be who I am today without them. The best part is when you return after a summer of service, people start asking you, “how was your summer?” You get to share with them all of the people you met, and all of the life-changing experiences you encountered which in turn lights a spark in other people to serve. What did you do last summer?

Gabe Schott is 20, hails from Iowa, loves mission trips and is serving again this summer with Group Mission Trips

This one is tough: How do you tell students you’re leaving the church? There’s no easy way to break the news, but here are a few ideas to consider when you’re in this situation.

Tell your inner circle first.
Gather up your key volunteers and break the news to them first; no doubt some of them will be disappointed, discouraged, or even frustrated/angry, but they deserve to hear it from you first. They trust you, so they trust God’s Spirit in you, but leaving is difficult on everyone—and it will be especially challenging for them. Take in the moment, share in the tears, and give them the privilege of hearing it from you and first.

Tell the rest quickly.
Don’t make those faithful few carry it for too long—plus, once it is out there word travels extremely fast. Have a resignation letter/statement already prepared and work with your leadership to figure out the appropriate channels for distribution.

Prepare for a few common questions.
It wouldn’t hurt for you to think ahead of a few questions you might experience in a follow-up meeting or conversation. A few things that we’ve been asked:

  • Why are you leaving?
  • Do you love them more than us?
  • So what’s the real story behind you leaving?
  • I feel betrayed by your decision. Can you help me understand how God led you to leave us?
  • What’s going to happen to the youth group without you?

Understand the real pain your students are experiencing.
You may be excited about you departure, but before you deliver the news, understand the genuine pain this causes many of your students. You are leaving. You are leaving us. You are leaving me. You’ve had months to process it, but they’re hearing it for the first time. Let them process the news, too, and be prepared for tears, anger, and confusion. This is a great chance to show grace under fire.

Give words as your parting gifts.
Instead of giving into the temptation of taking shots when you leave, work hard to give words of affirmation and belief to the students, volunteers, and church as a whole. If the church chooses to honor you for your time serving the church, turn it back on them and praise them for doing the work of the ministry that will long outlast your tenure.

Help them follow Jesus, not the youth pastor.
Sometimes students get this confused, so point them to Jesus every day while you serve and continue to point them there as you leave. When we follow a human, only one thing is for sure: We are going to be disappointed.

Any other words of advice/experience to share with those that are about to tell their students the news?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

I’ve done youth group on different nights of the week throughout my years in youth ministry – thought it would be interesting to get a quick pulse on when you do “youth group” in your context. Vote in today’s poll!


Mission Trip Musts

 —  May 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

Doing mission trips with college age people is an incredible experience, for sure.  Over the next few posts I simply want to lay out a few things I believe we should include in our trips.  Here is the first aspect:

1. Have an aspect of exposure. 

Many people, especially in America, have huge misperceptions of what it means to be a missionary. Our students were able to see people with a four-year degree volunteering in the nursery, holding, changing, and feeding babies. They were able to see a guy from Sweden who was there to help with computers. They saw some Germans who were there to teach orphans the construction trade, or people from Switzerland who taught the kids to be mechanics. They were exposed to just about every vocation in one way or another and saw how any trade can be used in the “mission field.” Suddenly these students saw how their “field” of interest could potentially be used for the benefit of someone else rather than just for themselves. Not to say that they would need to move to Romania to use their vocation for God, but it helped them think through their vocation very differently. This was one of the biggest long-term impacts of our trips. Far too many people feel like they have to abandon a particular field of ministry to “do something for God.” That couldn’t be more false.

I even did some trips where we limited the serving aspect of the trip and focused almost solely on this exposure aspect. I’ve led these types of trips in Cambodia, India, and Vietnam. These trips were designed to simply expose college-age people to as many different types of missionary work as possible. They would see anything from a music teacher volunteering in a Cambodian orphanage to a guy who started a church and seminary in India. They would see a mechanic training orphans in that trade, a second grade teacher on a mission base, or a stay at home mom. The goal was to get those who went on the trip to think through their vocational perspectives and life direction differently. And by exposing them to all kinds of people, trades, and stories perspective is easily changed. Even if they don’t move overseas, this is a life lesson we can teach: you don’t have to abandon a profession or field to live your life for God.

 [sample taken from College Ministry From Scratch]

My friend Jason pointed me to a website I can’t get enough of right now. When I’m looking for inspiration for a set design or stage theme – this is where I look. Some are incredible, some will inspire you to create something fantastic for your youth ministry, some are good lessons on what not to do.


I know for sure that the buzz is not bunch of wasps or bees… But sometimes that all I’m sure of.

The activity level around our office has just been cranked up a notch (or 20).  Stuff is happening in earnest.

Final details or being, well… finalized.

Youth Groups are starting to send their forms into our office.

Lodging stuff is coming together.  Food, who’s preparing the food, who’s buying the food, where’s the food going to be stored?

Projects are in their final stages of preparation.  The organizations we partner with are making sure everything is ready for when we show – ready to serve.

The last touches on the spiritual growth programing and worship are being made.  Presentations being put together.  Tech equipment being tested.  All the outlines of the worship programs are gong to print.

There’s a lot going on.  Maybe we’re just cranked up to 11 (that’s for you Spinal Tap fans).  But it feels like we’re giving it all she’s got (Star Trek reference).  :)

And we know for you out there in youth ministry world, it’s just as crazy.

You’re busy wrapping up a another school year of ministry.

There’s graduation Sunday to plan for.

All your summer plans are now just weeks away (no longer months) and everything needs to be ready for summer camp, summer retreat, your mission trip, etc…

It’s busy and details for flying around your office also, just like ours.

Sometimes it feels like we’re all Iron Man (in the first movie).  Those first flight scenes where he’s bouncing off of everything and crashing more than flying or landing.  That’s how it can feel.  Controlled chaos… just barely.

And yet…

Isn’t that ministry.  All the hard stuff is done so no one else has to know.  All the crazy detail tracking and mountains of paper and sleepless nights – that’s because we just want to see our youth encounter Jesus and their lives to be changed because of that encounter.

The former leader of Group Mission Trips, my boss for 8 years, had a great, goofy analogy for all this.  He said we’re like ducks.  Ducks look like the smoothest, coolest animal in the world paddling around a calm lake.  But in reality, it’s a complete craziness of motion under the water.  Feels really true sometimes in ministry.

So to all you ducks out there – Paddle on!  God bless all of us as we scramble to get all the “stuff” done.

A rut I was in early in ministry was to seek out the books that were trendy instead of choosing the books I should actually have been reading at the time.

Now I think all reading is good development – you could even read the Hunger Games and it could help your ministry and stretch your mind. But I think we have to be careful not to chase after the trendy books (Christian and secular alike) when the best stuff we should be reading sits idle on the shelf or gathers digital dust at the bottom of our Kindle.

I appreciate the larger conversation that takes place in Christianity when someone stirs the pot with a book that all of us our reading – but my encouragement to you today is to make sure you crack open that book that will really help you.

So what should you be reading? My first thought was to push you toward a few books that I would consider must-reads, even classics in youth ministry. But instead of doing that … I think you already know your next book.

So put down that latest-and-greatest book from whoever the hot author is right now and pick up the title you should be reading. An incredible you is waiting at the end of the book!