Hey Simply Insiders! 

Lifetree Adventures is a really cool international facet of Group Workcamps Foundation. They offer one-of-a-kind global mission experiences designed to grow your faith. Plus, they have some great international mission experiences specifically for youth in 2015 that you should look into as you plan next summer’s calendar! Recently, Lifetree Adventures took a team of travelers to Cuba. Below is a blog post from Chris Hastings, a volunteer youth worker who served on this amazing trip! Read about the incredible time he had below and be sure to check out Lifetree Adventures!


Chris Hastings

“This does not stink!”

I kept repeating those words throughout the mission trip to Cuba, offered through Lifetree Adventures, that I recently returned from.

I said it at least once a day. I even said it in the pineapple field, during the middle of the day, with the sweltering Caribbean sun beating down on where my teammates and I were pulling weeds. By hand. I do think, however, most of my teammates would have disagreed with me at that exact moment.

I will say this; it was different from any other trip I have taken. I have never had to be so careful before about what I said and to whom. And I have been a part of twenty short term mission trips, some even to Muslim countries. It is not that I feared getting in trouble or being put in jail. We were not doing anything wrong. I just didn’t want the local people to face any sort of hardship or problem because I said the wrong thing to the wrong person.Chris and Rod

We were there to work with local house churches supporting their daily ministry programs. We had the opportunity to meet and participate in several house church services, which were all amazing. The singing, the dancing, the music, and just the raw passion for God that went into the services were something to stand in awe of. Even more so since none of the house churches had any air conditioning! After we met the people who went to that house church, and started to make friends, we found out that their faith was just incredibly rich and deep. I, for one, started to wonder why I was not as passionate at church as they were. At least we have air conditioning in church!

 Cuba is a truly amazing country. It seems as though there have not been any major changes in Cuba since the revolution. You still see the old cars driving down the road. The team talked about how things could be better if they had more infrastructure or technology. We have all the “stuff” in the United States that would make things so much easier and quite possibly enhance the Cuban’s lives for the better. But we also talked about how the faith of these people seemed so rich and deep and their relationship with God seemed to be so strong. I would say that most of the team was a little jealous of the fact that we did not have a relationship with God like that. This led us to conversations about different styles of poverty. Maybe poverty is not just monetary or financial. Maybe it is also a spiritual issue.

We were there to serve the Cubans. We were there to provide them hope and to show them that even though our countries have some severe political differences, that Cubans and Americans can get along. Yet, so many of the people on the team walked away feeling like we were served more than we served others. We talked of how much we want to come back. Even a “Cuban Mission Trip Reunion” next summer.  I think part of the desire to go back is to visit with the new friends we made; both Cuban and American, who we now view as family. We also want to get another taste of Cuban life and to provide hope for others. But also get a little hope for ourselves.

This trip did not stink.

- Chris Hastings, 2014 Cuba Lifetree Adventure Traveler and Volunteer Youth Worker




To learn more about Lifetree Adventures and 2015 opportunities, visit their website or give Robin, your Lifetree Adventure guide, a call at 800-747-2157.

…and I don’t mean parents. I’m talking grandparents, the old ladies in the women’s group, the crotchety dudes who grumble when students wear hats in the Sanctuary. The answer to the title question? Of course they do!

Can you believe that I STILL run into YP’s who say their counselors really shouldn’t be older than college-age? I consult with search committees who still describe their perfect youth pastor as a guitar-playing, b-ball throwing, surfboard-skimming, young married dude whose wife will also serve FT in the YM (for free, of course).

So as we’re all recruiting volunteers for the new school/youth ministry year, do yourself (and your students) a big favor: start with older people in your church. The secret? Ask them the right questions. Put them in the places they feel comfortable, where they can use their giftedness. Oftentimes, we frighten off potential older volunteers (who have time available and are WAY more dependable than many other vols) by our approach: too fast, too quickly asked, too confusing, too big, etc.

Older people can do more than just bring cookies. Here’s a list of volunteer roles older folks can fulfill in your YM:

1) Closet Coordinator: Every youth room has a supply closet that needs a mom’s touch.

2) Weekly Supply Organizer: Get your SS teachers s what they need by having a team get the SS rooms ready.

3) Garage Sale Gurus: Have a list of upcoming supplies/props the YM will need and put these folks on the hunt.

4) Prayer Partners: Have each student in your YM prayed for daily by an older person.

5) Divine Design: Your youth room is a MESS! Have someone come in once a month and straighten it up!

6) Data Divas: Many older folks are computer savvy. Have them keep your student data/attendance up-to-date.

7) Craft Coordinators: There is a segment of your students who are the creative, artsy, crafty type and someone to teach crochet (or whatever) would be cool.

8) Paperwork Police: Yeah, why not lesson the chaos for the adult chaperones at events or when leaving on a trip by bringing in a few folks to collect the paperwork? Can’t hire an admin? Schedule older vols for a few hours each day.

9) Who-knows-who: Older folks know a lot of people and they know others in your church that can help with what you need. Put them on your recruiting team.

10) ADULT COUNSELORS!: Of course older people can be a part of your team in face-to-faith ministry with students. The best way I can share this precept is from a friend of mine, Amanda Berger, who is the president of a ministry to girls called Soul Sisterhood. She runs “girls only” camp weeks and for the last 2 years, she brought a Camp Grandma on staff and has had HUGE positive results. You’ll hear from her on a few days and then a few days after that? You’ll hear from the Camp Grandma herself. Stay tuned.






One part of my job I love most is being the coordinator for summer missions groups who come to serve our ministry. It’s awesome to help a group of students see what “inner city” ministry and service looks like in Florida. Inevitably as the week starts to wind down, the emotions start to flare. Tears start to flow from even the “toughest” of the group. There is simply something about getting away to only focus on Jesus and His heart that becomes an incubator for growth.

Yet, there is an unfortunate piece to “going home.” All of the emotions have not been fully processed. Students don’t know how to talk to their parents about “feelings” when they don’t even really “get” what is going on in their heart. Many groups don’t meet in a way that is about “going deeper” in the summer.

How can we help students with their emotions after the trip?

Make Sure To Debrief Well:

Debrief both at the end of the trip and again a week later. What is God stirring up in their soul? Is He drawing them closer? Has He helped them see something they have never seen before? Come up with ways to really help them process. Provide journals to write or draw in. Set them up in very small groups if at all possible of one to three to discuss what they are thinking and feeling. Get them talking. During the trip, I lead students through different questions they answer on index cards. I collect them daily. Then two weeks post trip, I mail them to the youth pastor to give out, to help continue the process.

ONE Action Step:

Often times conviction slams a student in the face on a trip. They want to come home to “DO” and “BE” more. The problem is they try to take on everything they want to change at once and then crash. Help them with ONE thing that helps them move forward. What is ONE change they can make? If they never read their Bible, can they start with one verse, one chapter, one “something” to help them keep reading? Help them with the “ONE” and put it into action IMMEDIATELY.

Emotions Are Good:

I believe God gave us the ability to cry and feel because it is a way we are created in His image. Sometimes students just need to know that having strong feelings is “normal.” One friend was telling me recently about his own child who attended a pretty incredible trip. The first day back they expected their teen to be silent. Well instead they were talkative wanting to share every detail. It was a day later, in the middle of lunch when the tears came and the sobs hit. Let students know each of them will process differently. They may laugh and cry at the same time. Yes- even the boys. Totally natural. Prepare students for this, let them know it’s coming and give them aids to think it through while at home. Do they need to write, draw, sing, make math equations, or play basketball? Whatever they do, they need to process. Make SURE to send materials home to help parents know how to help as well. (Leadertreks has some great resources for this.)

Most importantly, remind students the trip isn’t the “end” it’s the “spark” to more. Our theme this past week was “Momentum.” We discussed building momentum each day in serving the Lord and living with Him and then how the trip as a whole built momentum to a further journey with Christ. What is He doing in their lives now? How is He talking to your students? Use the trip to continue to build momentum in your student’s relationship with the Lord.

What have you learned makes a serving experience or camp a great one?

Doug Franklin over at Leadertreks has some great thoughts on how most of this is up to the posture of adult leaders. Here are ten of his observations:

  • Mission_TeamGoing is not enough: “…we don’t just want them to go, we want them to grow.”
  • Be a trip mentor: “A trip is a great place to develop a long-term, life-changing relationship with a student.”
  • Have a purpose for the trip: “What do you want your students to look like when they return?”
  • Inspire spiritual growth: “Students will feel a need for God while on the trip, and this is a great opportunity for you to introduce them to spiritual disciplines”
  • Find teachable moments: “…mix a student’s experience with the truth of God’s Word.”
  • Challenge students: “… [it[ starts with challenging the top performing students."
  • Get sleep: “Trips become increasingly ineffective as team members become tired.”
  • Add value to your adult volunteers: “… the number one problem I see over and over again is adult volunteers who have no idea what they are doing on the trip. They come because youth trips need adults, but beyond that they are not sure why they are there.”
  • Remember Boundaries = Love: “Don’t give students what they want; give them what they need.”
  • Stay connected to God: “You can’t impart what you do not have.”

(Read the rest of Doug’s solid article here.)

I think Doug is spot on. Just last month we had a major difference in a serving camp experience because of the investment we made into our adults, which in turn helped them better invest into students.

Which of his points most stands out to you?

Is there anything you would add or subtract?

The other day I had an interesting interaction with my garbage man.  In the process of a move, we had a large amount of trash that needed to be picked up. It began when the next-door neighbor complained that he had missed one of her trash cans. He apologized, asked her where it was, and with a smile took it and put it away. When he got to my house, admittedly I felt guilty about the amount of junk there. Yet, again he just garbagemansmiled and quipped, “So you’re moving huh?” He willingly took everything I had smiled and thanked me. Actually, his entire crew had the same attitude!

On a “good day” garbage man is a “thankless” job. I wouldn’t want to smell or deal with other people’s trash for less than five minutes, much less as a living.This man and his entire staff had a view on service that humbled me.

It got me thinking about service & teaching it to our students:

It’s About Lifestyle

I believe we need to teach our students to de-compartmentalize giving of themselves. It needs to become ingrained into the essence of our being. Showing our students the power of  simple day to day service is a powerful tool.

Learn to Notice:

When I think of the word “servant” there are a handful of people who come to mind. You don’t even have to ask these people to “help” because they are already in action. For the rest of us it is not as natural to observe and move. We need to “practice” the art of serving. This means we take a conscious look around for ways to serve. Teach our students to do the same, moment by moment.

It’ Not Always Noticed:

Serving is not about a pat on the back or a high five. Sometimes we serve and we never get thanked. It is about being about Christ, and giving ourselves away the way he did.

Avoid False Humility: 

If I am honest sometimes I DO want to be noticed. I know that isn’t what the Lord says. It should be enough to know that he asked me to offer myself.  There are days when I grapple with that.  Let your kids know when you do as well. Let them know that serving is about choice and action. We are able because we have the power of God pushing us on. Still our free will is in motion when it comes to being selfless in any way.

Teachable Moments: 

Allow your students to see you serve,  and invite them to work alongside you.  My own children have the wonderful privilege of watching a father who has an amazing servant’s heart. Invite your students to be a part of your servant lifestyle.  This is the way they learn to adopt it for themselves.

It could be said that serving is 98% Choice and 2% Action.” We see the need, we step into the need. Trips and events are great catalysts for students to see the larger picture.  However, they should be the exclamation point on  an ongoing conversation of learning.

worldaroundmeThe world doesn’t revolve around what you’re doing.

You wouldn’t consciously disagree with that, and yet it still seems hard to believe, doesn’t it?

  • It’s why you get frustrated with “clueless” parents.
  • It’s why you wish your church leadership would just “get on board.”
  • It’s why you yell when students are lacking in their “commitment.”

(Notice the words and phrases with the quotes around them. Maybe you don’t use these, but you likely have your own collection of “accusational grammar.”)

When you’ve spent chunks of your life on something you believe in, you hope it becomes viral. If everything fizzles and what you’ve been up to doesn’t become a part of the local social dialogue, it can be dishearteneing. You’ll take it personally, when in reality it just may be that the season was wrong or people were distracted by something else that they felt was more important (and it may have been).

It’s nothing short of difficult, which is why you’ll be tempted to do one of three things:

  • Walk off. You’ll eventually grow weary of the fatigue, politics or misunderstandings and find/create/justify a self-righteous reason to give up on the Divinely-righteous thing God called you to do. There will be rare occasions when this is God’s plan, but the majority of the time you will simply be tired and looking for validation to quit. Don’t argue with me on this – be honest, and let’s own this temptation.
  • Play the game. There’s likely a “system” that you can work within to get the margin or resources to do what you really feel called to do. Actors do this all the time, doing big budget movies to earn what’s needed financially/professionally so they can make independent films. Some call them sell-outs for doing it, while others ascribe value to their ingenuity.
  • Push through the disillusionment. Maybe what you’re experiencing is a matter of your own immaturity, which is way easier to see in others versus ourselves (raise your hand if you know a punk who doesn’t know how good he has it). On the other hand, maybe it’s more of an issue with legitimate roadblocks that are in front of you. Either way, you are not done… you are simply paused/stuck/stalled – and you don’t have to stay paused/stuck/stalled. You may never see the “thing” become “right,” but you don’t need to let that stop you from doing the right thing.

stalledcarPicture your ministry like a car that has a dead battery, a flat tire and is out of gas – you wouldn’t give up on the whole vehicle simply because of these hindrances. Even if you had to bust out your jumper cables 12 times in a week, you’d do it until you had the means to get a new battery; even if you had to replace all four of your tires, you’d replace all four of your tires; even if you were leaking gas from under your car, you’d find a mechanic who could work with your budget to fix it.

I dare you to quit saying, “Yeah, but…” – you’re better than that. There is greatness in you and the thing God has asked you to do.

The world doesn’t revolve around what you’re doing. It won’t ever, nor should it.

What you’re doing should help people revolve around God. The reason it’s so hard is the very reason why it’s ministry – there’s a need for someone to minister. If it was easy, God wouldn’t have needed you to do it.

So… how will you take a different path toward achieving what you seem to be struggling with achieving?

I have one final thought for you.

First, we asked the question: Should I stay or should I go?

Next, we pondered a couple check marks that remind us what’s most important.

In a moment, I’m going to post some wisdom from the trenches. As far as my contribution, I’m ending on something so simple that it will offend you with its innocence.

Still, it’s truth.

Consider this picture that shows the innovation of man. It’s a way to take an old trampoline that’s lost its bounce and help it to find renewed usefulness.


Now… if humanity is capable of that kind of innovation…

what do you imagine God can do in your life today regarding the clash you’re feeling?

Ponder that, all as you consider these thoughts from others in ministry:

If at all possible, “going” should be a planned act not a last ditch effort to maintain sanity or “peace.” Why can’t we leave as well (and as purposefully) as if we stayed, or even as well as when we came in? Leaving shouldn’t be the easy way out, but just as tough as staying because there is still some “umph” left in us and our ministry. We should leave well – not just leave and let some other poor youth worker pick up the pieces. How we leave (and how we stay) is a defining moment in our life, in our ministries life and in the life of the church. – Philip Allen

One thought: How do you help your kids in the process? Seems like they are left to survive or blow up as an after thought. They might not need to know details, but what and how do you include them? - Jon Batch

Family dynamics matter. Every time my dad moved churches as a pastor my parents created it as an adventure. For Chicagoland, it was the Hispanic culture, food and getting to go to Chicago. When we moved to MN they gave us Vikings sweatshirts and hyped up on the positives. They also coached us on how to say good bye to a friend. They definitely gave us time to adjust to the idea of moving and the adventure that was coming. – Kerensa Huffman

The clash can sometimes also be in understanding what your calling is and staying close to that… not that there may be times for that to change. An example is in my most last recent transition, when i went in as the Pastor of Student Ministries. In my second year, the Children’s Director resigned and I was now the Pastor of Children & Student Ministries. For a couple years I struggled through this as I was not wired to be a Children’s Pastor. I found myself treading Tuesday night “AWANA” and trying to survive it, but excited for Wednesday night Student Ministry. After a couple years of this, I felt like I was not doing anything well and that I needed to focus on what I believe God has called me to do and focus on Student Ministries. It was a very difficult decision because I did love the church staff, leaders, my Pastor and student ministry but knew that God had called me to serve full time in Student Ministry. There was not the possibility to stay where I was at because somehow I had proved to the leadership that I could pull off Student Ministry and another ministry so even if I was able to hand-off Children’s Ministry to someone there would be the expectation of “Well, what else will Scott do?”

It took a couple years of praying, looking and church interviews until we moved to where I am at currently. For me it came down to understanding my calling and finding a place where I can be laser-focused on how God has wired me. – Scott Tinman

I have a friend in our youth pastor network who floored me the other day. He said the good stuff happens after year 20. “Twenty?” I shuddered. I had only been at my church a year and 2 months and I was already looking at my watch, thinking “How long was long enough?” His comment made me realize that there is immense value in long-term commitment. Even if I don’t stay in the church as long as him, the commitment he had brought much fruit, and so I should consider this when constantly looking at the grass on the other side.

I told him that I am squirrely. That if things weren’t going quite the way I wanted them I would seek change. There must be “better positions, better churches.” But his comment reminded me that most likely it wasn’t the church that I needed to change, but my acceptance of it, for all it is. My perception was the thing preventing me from closer relationships to the folks I was serving and the commitment required to make an impact in our community and congregation.

I stayed. I still look to the other side of the fence. Not because I want to leave, or the grass looks greener, but I realize in my imperfection I may have chosen a place God wanted me for a short time, and I could also overstay. Only time and discernment will tell. - Ali Petrey

nowwhatAny thoughts?

  • If you stay, now is the time to invest and dig in. What do your goals look like? Is it time to make a new friend, venture into a new place in the community, create a five-year plan for youth ministry… one that you might actually see through?
  • If you go, now is the time to leave gracefully. What does it mean to communicate, communicate, communicate? How do you express your love and gratitude to your friends, volunteers and those who have poured into you? How can you speak into those you’ve had opposition with without bad-mouthing them?

What is your personal takeaway from this?

Should you stay, or should you go?

This is the question we pondered together in Part One. Where are you at with it today?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by circumstances. Even as I write this, I am fatigued by some things happening in my own circle – and yet I hear off in another room the song “Mighty to Save” playing. It’s as if there’s a battle happening inside of me for my focus.

Consider what your prayer life reveals about this other clash:

prayhandkneelIf there was a transcript of your prayers for the last month, would it have recorded you begging God to show you how to dwell with Him “no matter what,” or would it be a list of the pressures you face in life and how you want Him to fix them?

We can easily forget about the one thing that matters most.

I was talking with a friend recently who shared a conflict she and her husband faced after they were married years ago. She was caught completely off guard by something she hadn’t seen in him, to which he replied, “Honey, you married all of me. Not just the parts of me you knew about.” The relationship between you and your church is similar, for you will find things out about each other as you get to know one another that will require a similar revelation – they got into a relationship with all of you, and you got into a relationship with all of them.

Using the same metaphor, there will be times when a relationship (including a church relationship) has abuse in it. It’s often difficult to tell if that’s the case in ministry, or if you’re merely going through a challenge. So honestly – what constitutes abuse? Is it when you don’t get what you want? Is it when they promised you a certain type of job and you are now doing a different job? Is it when imperfect people act like imperfect people?

discernmentHow do you endure as an act of worship?

When is it appropriate to consider a transition out? 

Taking a cue from Jesus on what real worship looks like, here are two check marks that provide context:

  • Truth: Is the Bible still at the core of the church? Be careful if you answer no, because when you’re at odds with the leadership above you it will be hard to receive even the pure teaching of God through their lips. It’s quite possible that the Word of God hasn’t gone anywhere. On the other hand, if it does seem to be missing with no hope of return, it’s likely time to either start packing your bags or understand your role as a missionary in that situation.1 Timothy 4:3-5 explains: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.”
  • Spirit: Are people willing to slow down and submit themselves to the Holy Spirit? Maybe they’ve been haphazard at this, but still trying. Look for any sign of this, for God desires to do great things in us before He does great things through us. Try to sit down with people you’re at odds with and pray, “God, we need you to lead us. We right now commit to follow you and not our own feelings. Show us what you want to do in between us, and empower us to do it.” Most people know Jesus said “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” What most people don’t realize is that’s right in the middle of a passage on conflict resolution.

spirttruth2If those two check marks are in place, you will be able to better understand your circumstances in the appropriate Light. You will develop a sense of calling, without which you can’t endure through anything tough. You will find yourself worshiping God more honestly and wholeheartedly.

I asked some friends for their wisdom on this. Click here for Part 3 and their insights (or reread Part 1).

For now, what do you think?

  • When is a situation “abuse” versus realizing that you married “all” of your church?
  • What are biblical and non-biblical reasons you’ve found yourself considering in the midst of the clash?
  • How do you personally serve… when you don’t feel like it, but you know God has asked you to?