I was told not to tell anyone we were on a missions trip. mclovin

The missions organization our youth group was serving with suggested that we not anger the Canadian border patrol. Apparently saying we were going to “work” with the homeless would trigger questions about permits and more. We were to say we were just sightseeing.

“Why are you coming into Canada?” asked the twenty-something guard from his little booth. The tone in his voice suggested he thought of himself with an air of superiority. He was wearing mirrored sunglasses and had feathered hair, like he’d seen Top Gun one too many times.

“We’re spending some time in Toronto,” I replied.

“What will you be DOING in Toronto?” he asked, literally looking away from me as he said it.

The conflict inside of me began to well up. It didn’t feel right to say we’d be sightseeing—that would be a deliberate lie. I stuttered out a few words that were probably more evasive than clear.

“We’re going to… help…. the homeless.”

border“Don’t you think Canada can handle its own homeless?” he pushed back, as if I offended him. “Pull over there,” he said, motioning me toward the administrative offices. “Everyone in your vehicle will need to show identification.”

I knew we were going to be grilled. It only got worse when a teen named Jake told me, “Pastor Tony, I don’t have identification.”

Never mind that I’d told all the kids more than a dozen times to have a photo I.D.—something I even asked before we left. “Jake,” I replied, “you have no idea how that is exactly not what I needed to hear right now.”

Our group walked into a small room where a woman behind thick glass eyeballed me. “Tell me why you want to enter Canada,” she demanded.

“We’re trying to…” I began, searching for a thought.

“Trying to what?” she pressed, suddenly reminding me of the woman from “The Weakest Link.”

“I’m taking these kids to… Toronto,” I offered, knowing that wasn’t enough.

“You’re not answering my question,” she rightly pointed out.

This back-and-forth went on a few more times. Finally, I broke down.

“Fine,” I said, “I’m a pastor. This is a youth group. We’re hoping to come into Canada to share Jesus with people. The organization I’m serving with said not to tell you because we’d be discriminated against or you’d demand a work permit, but these are teenagers and we just want to serve. Can we please come in?”

She smiled. “If you would have just said that in the first place, we wouldn’t have had a problem.”

I smiled… until she deflated the moment by saying, “Just let me see everyone’s I.D.”

There was a chair in the corner, so I sat down. Surprisingly, 10 minutes later she waved us all through. I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially since I’d realized the freedom in being truthful. We headed out toward our worksite.

Along the way, however, Jake leaned over and said, “I used Josh’s I.D.”

Josh was on the trip, too… and was Jake’s identical twin. Apparently we weren’t as honest about what happened as I thought.

If you were me in that moment, what should happen next?

  • We turn the van around and be forthright?
  • We keep driving and never look back?

Chime in. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*



I love Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I usually find myself on each one of them at some point nearly every day. There’s something great about reading about our friend’s lives 1000′s of miles away or chucking at someone’s pithy observation about life. But what if our Tweets were real?

  • My senior pastor is a jerk sometimes. I want to punch him in the face
  • I’ve been married 10 years, and still don’t have sex figured out
  • I’m pretty sure my whole youth group is filled with “that one kid”
  • The last time I read the Bible was in late 2012
  • I want to quit I want to quit I want to quit
  • Things aren’t good deep inside me, but the outside is as shiny as ever
  • If I could figure out where to dispose the body, I’d take out that parent

Don’t Tweet these! We need to continue to post those stunning sunsets, epic CS Lewis quotes and pictures of our no foam latte. I would die if my real life made it was genuinely Tweeted for the world to see, or pictures of my inner world made it online. But you need to be sharing it somewhere.

You need to have someone who knows the real you, not the brand, image or “always on” youth worker. You need to be able to confess, share, process and pray through the stuff you would never Tweet.

Simple question to kick off the week: is someone reading your real Tweets?


This month I got to contribute another Slant33 article on the topic of leaving a youth ministry. There are a couple of great responses to the question, wise words from Tash McGill and Ian McDonald. Here’s a clip of what I shared there as well:

Leave at the right time. It isn’t always possible, but leaving at a natural break is best. The end of summer is ideal but not always possible. But even more than leaving at the right time in the calendar, pray through leaving at the right time in the church culture as well. Stay too long after you know you’re done, and it’ll be painfully obvious. Leave too soon, and you’ll blindside people.

Make the transition short. I understand the need for a transition time to help prepare students or ensure a peaceful exchange of leadership, but there’s nothing worse than a lame duck who is out but still in. Pray through the timing of your announcement and the timing of your last day. Typically I wouldn’t put these more than a month or two apart at the most.