At least that was David’s attitude as a teenager. Then he went on a Group Mission Trip and everything changed. Now, as a youth pastor, David takes his own students to serve on a Group Mission Trip every summer because he experienced the life change that happens first-hand.DaveThanepohn_youthgroup - Copy

“I was a typical teen, and I was looking forward to basketball and getting into high school. I didn’t want anything to do with God anymore, but I knew that there was a God. Then in the fall of my freshmen year, there was a new youth pastor at my church and he was taking teens to this thing called Group Workcamps. He called me up and told me that he signed me up and that I was going, then hung up the phone. I went and visited him because I was mad and couldn’t believe he would do that…I decided that I would go and help people. It seemed like the right thing to do, BUT I was not going to go to youth group or Sunday school.

So, summer came and it was time to go to Workcamp. I loved the work, and I loved helping people…God was slowly working in me all week that there was more to the work we were doing. Thursday night hit, and we were told the gospel story. It was the first time I had ever heard it in that way. I had no clue that God wanted to know me personally. He wanted to have a personal relationship with me. He sent His Son for me!! Then I heard the nails being driven in His hands, and I felt for the first time what Jesus actually did for me.

DaveThanepohn - CopyIt changed my life. I went home and became a follower of Christ…I still had my ups and downs of life, but I went from wanting to do nothing with God, Jesus, and all that came with it to being a person that is sold out for Christ. I went on to serve as a worship leader at Group Workcamps for 4 years.

My life changed from being a teen wanting to do nothing with God to an adult doing nothing but serving God…Now I am a youth pastor bringing kids just like me to Group Mission Trips.” – David Thanepohn, Yorksville, IL

When your teenagers see how God can work through them, their lives will be changed forever, much like David and his students. Picture your students bringing joy to others in need through community service and home repair mission trips. Will you join us for life change? Call an advisor today, at 1.888.644.1588 ext 2 or visit for more information.

Let’s create moments of #LIFECHANGE this summer!



A guest post by Aaron Kirkpatrick at offers this compelling thought against involving youth in “service projects”:

ssp_photoA project is a job.
A project is an assignment.
A project is something that must get done, regardless of whether you actually want to do it. Cleaning the bathroom is a project. That fifteen page paper your seniors have been putting off doing is a project. My honey-do list is full of projects.
But we’re calling our students to serve people, and people are not projects.
When we refer to these times of service as “service projects” we immediately cheapen what our teens are doing, we limit the ministry our teens will do, and we hinder our students’ ability to be transformed through the experience of serving. At best, our words frame their service in terms of what they do instead of who they touch, and at worst they cause our teens to view people in an impersonal way that removes the love and compassion that is at the heart of Christian ministry.

What do you think?

Is there a line we should be aware of in making sure students are more than task-focused in serving?

Or… does any good deed have value?


shoutI recently spent some time with the band Everyday Sunday after they led a worship concert at our weekend services. They had a few words of encouragement to share with you, so (if you’ll pardon the simple camera phone capture of their words) here’s a shout-out for you from the guys in the band:

Thanks for serving!

Remember, it’s all about relationships.

– Tony / @tonymyles

Appearances aren’t everything.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely the “go-to” person for youth ministry in your church. Maybe I’m wrong, but play along with me for a moment.

Now let’s take a quick rabbit trail.

I was looking for an image recently using the keyword “expert.”

Google is normally my friend for this, but in this particular instance I came up short.


Google Images essentially told me that in all of the Internet’s pages, there was no picture that matched this word.

First off, that’s never, ever happened to me before.

Secondly, I found it completely satirical that this was the word Google said couldn’t be matched to anything that represented it.

I thought it might’ve been a fluke, so I typed in searches using other words. They all showed up, but again and again for more than 20 minutes, I couldn’t get an image for the word “expert.”

That all changed when I tried it again an hour later. But for a brief moment in time, there was no “expert” to be found.

Now… how does that relate to you?

expert2Should you have the appearance of being the expert on youth ministry (or whatever your area of responsibility) is in your church?

Or, should you help someone else become the expert on youth ministry (or whatever your area of responsibility is) in your church?

For that matter, should anyone be an expert… or should we all be learners?

Well, what do you know?

Any thoughts?


CubanGirlYou’ve probably heard in recent news that restrictions are loosening on American travel to Cuba. It’s an important historical step in our decades long relationship with our neighbor to the south. What you may not know is that religious organizations have been free to travel there for years under a general license. If you’ve always been intrigued and curious about the island nation of Cuba, there’s never been a better time to visit. Here are 10 great reasons to take your group to serve in Cuba:

1. They’re our close neighbors.

The island nation of Cuba is only 90 miles south of the southern tip of Florida. It’s just a simple 45 minute flight from Miami and you touch down in the beautiful, historical city of Havana.

2. You can be the change you want to see in the world.

Relations between Cuba and the U.S. have been terribly strained over the last 50 years.  You can begin to change things, one relationship at a time.

3. The people are warm and welcoming.

The Cuban people are some of the friendliest in the world. Serving in Jesus’ name makes that connection even stronger, as you interact with folks who have a vibrant hope in Jesus, in spite of difficult circumstances.

CubanMusic4. The culture is unlike anything you’ve probably experienced before.

It goes without saying that Cuba is different. One of our ministry partners is a neurosurgeon by trade. He is as highly trained and educated to the same level as someone from the States. His salary was the equivalent of $23 per month. He couldn’t afford the gas to get to and from his job as a surgeon, so he quit to pursue as many side jobs as he can to provide for his family. These are the types of folks you’ll meet as you interact with this unique culture.

5. The Church is growing, despite obstacles. 

Cubans are not permitted to build a church building, but they can have house churches. As the church grows, and pastors are raised up, the number of house churches increases on the island. You’ll meet people who have such a genuine hope in Jesus, and you’ll see how the church has grown despite efforts to the contrary.

6. It’s a beautiful, amazing place.

Cuban culture continues to shine through. Beautiful music, beaches, food and people make it easy to see why Cuba has been an extremely popular travel destination for people from outside the United States. You can’t help but be immersed in the beauty and wonder of Cuba while you’re there.

7. Because you can. 

 Lifetree Adventures has been bringing groups to Cuba over the last 5 years, and now with restrictions lifted, it’s easier than ever. You will start to see agencies popping up all over the place, trying to take advantage of these changes. Lifetree Adventures has taken the time to develop a strong network in Cuba, so that you and your group can travel there to serve as economically as possible. We’ve taken all the stress out of visas, immigration, charter flights, and the other peculiar details of traveling to Cuba. We’d love to have you along as we seek to support and bless the local churches in Cuba. 

8. You have a lot to give.Yardwork

Your perspective, your heart, your faith. These are all things that you can bring to the people of Cuba. They need help with ministry projects, such as working with kids with disabilities in a local community. You might paint a house church, help with a construction project, or play with kids with special needs. There’s work to do, but there is also relational time and encouragement to be had.

9. You have a lot to receive.

You’ll be amazed at the passion and fervor that the people of Cuba have for God. They have nothing in terms of material possessions, but they serve Him with all they have. Your faith will be WomenandNecklaces
energized, and you’ll come away with a new perspective on your life.

10. You can support and encourage the local ministries.

We are closely connected with many different local church pastors and ministries. They are bolstered and encouraged by our presence, our heart to give, and our resources. Our relationship there gives them a much needed lift to help them continue the hard work of doing ministry as Cubans.

As it becomes easier to travel to Cuba, many Americans will go to “take” and consume. You have an opportunity to give and make a difference. Come by yourself, bring your family, or bring a group. Lifetree Adventures and our expert team of locals in Cuba will make your trip to Cuba smooth, fun, and most-of-all, meaningful. We’d love to have you along on a mission adventure of a lifetime!  For more information go to

Headshot Jobe 5031

Looking forward to serving with you in 2015,

- Jobe Lewis

Director of Lifetree Adventures

Think Ahead

 —  December 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

Some well-intentioned things can backfire if you don’t think ahead.


With Christmas coming up, it’s possible that you may be winding down your ministry plans. What I’m about to propose to you may seem absurd, but I’ll offer it anyway.

Be intentionally busy, just a few minutes longer.

Think ahead and have a plan before Christmas for your spring and summer ministry.

It’s common for people to check out a church during the holiday season. You may be meeting parents and teenagers who need something tangible to look at and explore to give them a better sense of your youth ministry. Here are three quick tips:

  • Have a 2-month calendar on paper: Be ready to hand this out to anyone you talk with. Better yet, create a team of students whose ministry it is to do this during weekend services.
  • Make sure there is one big event coming up in January: Highlight it on the calendar, whether you end up doing an all-nighter at your building or a local serving opportunity.
  • Ask a question on the backside of your calendar related to some larger serving experiences you’re considering: Link it to your webpage via a web address and a QR code, and on that page ask them what type of serving experience they would be most excited about taking part in. Here are some of my favorites:
    • DSCN3560Group Workcamps: A 6-day, high-energy mission trip of up to 400 participants. Join other youth groups to repair sagging porches, rebuild unsafe steps and wheelchair ramps, and paint homes. No special skills needed…just a willing heart!
    • Week of Hope: A 5-day trip of up to 100 participants. Campers are challenged to live as Jesus did while serving the needs of people through local ministries and non-profit organizations. You’ll serve meals to the homeless, work with disabled children, share stories with an elderly person, and more.
    • Lifetree Adventures: An international mission trip that makes it easy to serve abroad. Send your youth on a trip to Haiti, Peru or Puerto Rico and get back teenagers who are more confident, more compassionate, and more appreciative of the advantages they enjoy.

Got any other favorite tips or trips to add to the list?


It’s just two words long.

“Spreading ideas.”

ted-logoThat’s the new mission statement for TED, a unique organization known for its thought-instilling conferences and powerful, mini-presentations on Technology, Entertainment and Design. The company’s former mission statement was “Ideas worth spreading.”

Still, TED does have a more comprehensive understanding of what that means.

“TED conferences bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).

Do you know what your mission statement is?

Do others around you?

Can you say it out loud? Can they?

Thom Schultz has chronicled on his blog more than once about the importance of a mission statement in relationship to a church’s sense of purpose. The documentary When God Left The Building has a telling moment about how a struggling church might need to pay attention to its own verbiage (or lack thereof):

mission-statementI’ve worked hard over the years at clarifying and designing vision/mission statements within churches and ministries I’ve been in. My initial drive was to say everything in a sentence that seemed to go on forever. I later took some advice from Peter Drucker who pointed out that if it can’t fit onto a t-shirt, it’s too long. The wave of today is “the shorter the better,” as long as it doesn’t overgeneralize nor pigeonhole the initiative.

Here are some notable companies and their spin on a mission statement:

  • Smithsonian: The increase and diffusion of knowledge. (6 words)
  • USO lifts the spirits of America’s troops and their families. (9 words)
  • Livestrong: To inspire and empower people affected by cancer. (8)
  • Invisible Children: To bring a permanent end to LRA atrocities. (8)
  • The Humane Society: Celebrating Animals, Confronting Cruelty. (4)
  • Wounded Warrior Project: To honor and empower wounded warriors. (6)
  • Oxfam: To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice. (10)
  • Best Friends Animal Society: A better world through kindness to animals. (7)
  • CARE: To serve individuals and families in the poorest communities in the world. (12)
  • The Nature Conservancy: To conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. (11)
  • JDRF: To find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research. (14)
  • Environmental Defense Fund: To preserve the natural systems on which all life depends. (10)
  • Public Broadcasting System (PBS): To create content that educates, informs and inspires. (8)
  • National Wildlife Federation: Inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future. (9)

What does this mean for you?

go-4_wide_t-1024x576In my opinion, all churches share the same biblical mission… so your mission statement should reflect the biblical values in Scripture. I classify a vision statement as how it uniquely plays out in your context… “This is how us living out the mission will look for us.”

Maybe none of this matters, or maybe it does. My suggestion is take your church’s primary statement and add the word “students” to it. For example, “We will reach the lost and broken in our area for Jesus” could become “We will reach the lost and broken students in our area for Jesus.”

That said, what are you trying to communicate? Do you believe it should be shorter than 20 words? 15? 10?

If you can’t, might a tagline sum it up?

The end goal of crafting a better mission statement isn’t to be clever… but to clarify what it means to follow Jesus so that others might join you in serving Him.


What is your church’s mission or vision statement? How do you or others feel about it?

Fill It Up?

 —  November 13, 2014 — 2 Comments

10475979-largeA minister waited in line to have his car filled with gas just before a long holiday weekend. The attendant worked quickly, but there were many cars ahead of him. Finally, the attendant motioned him toward a vacant pump.

“Pastor,” said the young man, “I’m so sorry about the delay. It seems as if everyone waits until the last minute to get ready for a long trip.”

The minister chuckled, “I know what you mean. It’s the same in my business.”

I’m not sure who the original author of this piece is. I came across it in a compilation of funny illustrations that someone in my church passed along to me, but this one stood out to me in particular.

On one hand, it’s easy to see why you might want to share this as a teaching illustration. It certainly does paint a picture of how many people view God and faith. He certainly does seem to get the last burst of many people’s time.

prayingOn the other hand, might there be an inverse message for you and I? Specifically, people like us who are so busy doing the work of God that we aren’t letting Him adequately work in us?

  • “I probably should start my day out in prayer, but let me just check (the news/email/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/texts) first.”
  • “I’m really feeling spiritually dry, so maybe after I work on this lesson for everyone else I’ll spend some quality time with God.”
  • “Sure, Bob. I’ll pray for you.”

    (days go by, you see that person again)

    (to God, as the person is walking up)

    “Dear God, I pray for Bob. Amen.”

    (to Bob)

    “Hey Bob! I’ve been praying for you!”

Can you relate?

Any wisdom on how instead of running on fumes as we serve we might all more regularly say to God, “Fill it up?”