The group of American teenagers piled into the back of a dump truck and bounced across the small South American town. Dressed in matching T-shirts, long skirts, and khaki’s, the students attracted a lot of attention as they held on to the sides. The students had spent their first four days of their short-term mission trip in this new culture leading vacation Bible school, constructing a roof for a small orphanage, and doing various sports ministries. Their leader hadn’t told them much about this visit, just that someone would be sharing with them. As they walked in the gate and into the compound, they were greeted warmly and ushered into a large marbled parlor that also served as a church on Sunday mornings.Their host had been a missionary for 30 years — to the United States. And for the following hour she shared her heart for reaching America with the Gospel. She challenged the students in two ways: 1) See the needs of the people in your own community and be missions-minded to them and 2) Learn from Christians in other cultures. I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of those American teenagers as they sat there wide-eyed, considering, for the first time, that missionaries come to … America? And that late afternoon meeting ended up being one of the highlights of the trip for them.

I often wonder what we’d think if a short-term mission trip came to the community around our churches. What would we have to explain about the peculiarities of American culture to them? In my region, how would I explain Amish to them? Or interpret the meaning behind ‘touchdown Jesus’ on the Notre Dame campus? Seriously, what needs would they work to meet and what would they do in ministry? How would we respond to having a short-term mission team from overseas come to our area? Would we help with similar graciousness as those that host our groups in other countries? Where would they see the gap between church culture and the local culture? And, perhaps more importantly, what could we learn from them?

For the last two years, I have worked on two book projects that have opened my eyes to the future of youth ministry at our doorstep and around the world. Globalization gains momentum each year and presses in on nearly every local youth culture around the world. A youth worker from Houston just caught me off to the side at a conference where I was speaking, overwhelmed with the new realities he faced. He asked about how to handle legal issues related to immigration, working with the dynamics of Southeast Asian family culture, and how to understand Buddhist theology. As much as some want to ignore cultural issues, they give dramatic to how we do youth ministry and how teens think about theology and the world.

I think a short-term mission trip is not only a fantastic opportunity for your students to serve, learn, and grow, but it is also an opportunity for you (and I) to learn and grow as well. The next time you are on a short-term mission trip, I recommend finding some local Christian youth workers, who will probably be volunteers, and take them out for a meal or coffee. Spend the time getting to know more about their stories and ministries. Ask them to share what lessons they’ve learned and what challenges they face. Ask them where globalization influences the youth in their community and seek to understand how the church has responded to the new cultural influences.

Most of our printed materials come from a very distinct culture within America, but most youth ministry in the world takes place in other cultures. I’m of the opinion that, as youth ministry continues to grow in excellence all over the world, we in America can learn from those who lead in other countries and cultures. And a short-term mission trip is a great first step to do that. I know I learned from the various authors of Global Youth Ministry how to recognize the gaps between church culture and youth culture. I’ve been challenged by youth leaders in Eastern Europe to see the potential for youth ministry to be a shaping influence in my local community.

We’re always looking for fresh insights about youth ministry. I think many of them in the coming years will be coming from people leading youth ministry in other cultures. If leaders are learners, short-term mission trips are fantastic learning opportunities that God might use to expand your vision and invigorate your ministry leadership.

Terry Linhart now teaches youth ministry at Bethel College in Indiana and blogs at TerryLinhart.com. His forthcoming book, What Can We Do? (co-authored with David Livermore), provides creative solutions for youth groups to get involved and impact the lives of people and around the world.

Thanks to Josh for letting me guest blog on MTDB. I had to have him stare at a picture of Obi-Wan Kenobi saying, “These are not the droids you are looking for” to convince him. And it worked.

This can be a difficult time of year in youth ministry, especially for us northerners. Discouragement runs rampant like gossip among cheerleaders. And we question whether we’re in the right place. Pizza delivery jobs look attractive – and definitely less stressful. The reality is that youth ministry has a devious way of pressing us to the point where we feel frayed and spent — and we just want someone to clean up the mess in aisle ‘us’.

I want to say one thing: Stay Encouraged. What you do in youth ministry is important. I get to see the results of your work – and it matters. So, hang in there.

In my work with leaders, I’ve noticed five practices that help cure the ministry blahs. They aren’t anything you probably haven’t considered before, but that doesn’t mean they’re ineffective. So, here’s my prescription to cure the ministry blahs. And, hey, I am a doctor.

1. Take your temperature: Watch your reactions – especially when things don’t go your way. Do you get angry? Fearful/insecure? Depressed? Lonely? These emotions are the canaries in the cave to let you know something’s wrong ahead. Anger is most common and, unfortunately, most of us are unaware of how we respond to others. Pay attention to how you react and learn why you feel that way. Those feelings could be telling you something.

2. Develop a non-digital hobby — this one may seem weird, but it’s one of my new recommendations to leaders. And it helps. Most healthy leaders I see have a hobby where they work with their hands or get outdoors. It can be fishing, sailing, gardening, biking, golf, tennis, woodworking, bird watching, weight lifting – or even dodgeball. I’ve seen dramatic changes among hard-driving pastors — changes that their staff and family appreciate. And, no, scrap-booking doesn’t count.

3. Get away on a non-digital retreat – as I blogged a few weeks ago, the social media world draws us in and demands more and more. It’s never done. Take a two-day retreat from all of your screens and from consumerism’s “discontentedness”. Create some margins in your life — get acquainted with a good book, your spouse, and the outdoors.

4. Renew your first love — Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day (and I hope you’ve done well to celebrate). I’ve discovered that I need to renew my love for Jesus — to remind myself of what he’s done in my life and of his call on my life. When I’m in the blah’s, I’ve often forgotten the “to serve” element of youth ministry (Mark 10:35-45) and made it about me. So, I’ll do whatever it takes to renew my relationship with Christ and quit being so self-focused.

5. Take intentional ministry steps. Pick five students you don’t know well to invest in for the remainder of the school year. It’s easy to figure out how to coast until the end of the school year and just manage. However, developing an intentional and relationally intensive ministry to five new teens will remind us of why we entered youth ministry in the first place — to personally make a difference in the life of youth. Some of my greatest youth ministry ‘successes’ with students came during these February/March efforts.

If you tried any of these (and they helped), I’d love to hear about it. You can let me know at terrylinhart.com. And stay encouraged. What you do in youth ministry matters!

Terry Linhart is co-editor of the forthcoming book, GLOBAL YOUTH MINISTRY, and author of the popular TALKSHEETS: LIFE OF CHRIST series.