Mission Trip Top 10

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After going on nearly 20 short term trips as a participant or the lead I have picked up several tips and tricks along the way. I have put them in order based on when you would do it in the planning process, not in order of importance. Here are my top ten:

10. Know your purpose

This may seem obvious, but not all trips will fulfill the same purpose. If your main goal/purpose for your trip is to serve and accomplish a task (like a building project) then make sure everyone knows that. If your primary goal/purpose is fellowship and team building people who just want to get the job done will get really frustrated. It does vary between organizations, so know what you are looking for before you get started.

9. Research the organization or decide to do it all yourself

I have done it myself and gone with organizations. As you probably already know, there are plusses and minuses to both. Doing it all yourself is a lot more work but it will likely be cheaper. I prefer going with an organization. They have local contacts and knowledge of what’s needed that I can never get, and it allows me to go and serve with our group and let them manage our schedule. Most of the ones I have used have been great experiences.

8. Get your dates out in January

Once you have nailed down enough details to get a date, publish it as soon as possible. My goal is to have the dates out by new years. Some years this is easy to do, others have been a struggle. Families need to know your dates early so they can plan their own vacations or family commitments. Parents have told me they have literally had fights over going on the mission trip instead of the family reunion, help families out by publishing your dates early.

7. Require a non-refundable deposit to sign up

Everyone has good intentions, and a ton of students will show interest in your trip when you first announce it. If you make them write a check it forces them to think through everything before they sign up, not after. The words “non-refundable” are very powerful, use it to your advantage. Make it enough money that it will force a discussion within their family. Some parents will throw out $5 without thinking, but $50 definitely makes them ask questions. Apply this deposit to the total cost of the trip so the only way it will be wasted is if they drop out.

6. Do individual fundraising

I do not like “group fundraising”. I charge every student the actual cost of their trip, and it is their responsibility to raise the money. We do fundraising events as a group, but divide it among those that actually do the work and put it into their individual accounts. If the group has a large goal, 20% of the team will raise most of the money. That fact really bugs me. By making the fundraising optional and tracking individual accounts only the ones that work benefit from it. Ones that don’t want to participate don’t have to, and they pay for their trip however they decide to.

5. The worship/devotions are just as important as the projects

One advantage of going with an organization is they typically do the evening devotion. If they don’t provide one or you are doing it yourself make sure you put some time into planning these. Everyone will experience many things on your trip, and the evening devotions pull it all together and connect their service to their Spirituality. It all works together, so don’t focus too much on the projects and neglect the devotion times.

4. Plan every second possible

Literally schedule as much as possible. You don’t have to be busy the entire time, in fact rest time is a must, but schedule it in on purpose. Type up meal times, devotion times, project time, down time, travel time, lights out times, and anything else you can think of. Print it, pass it out, remind people of the schedule constantly and then actually stick to it as much as you can. If you don’t have a schedule you will be fighting the slow pokes the entire time and likely will not do devotions after the first few days…(re-read #5 if you need to).

3. Do pre-trip meetings

I have had many people comment to me how great our groups are to host, and pre-trip meetings have a lot to do with it. By doing some team building activities, talking through the details, and Spiritually preparing for the trip will jump start the effectiveness of the week. If you take advantage of this pre-trip time, your team will “come together” several days earlier once you are actually on the trip, which makes their effectiveness go up exponentially.

2. Confirm all reservations and details right before you leave

If you have done your work well this step seems a bit redundant, but there is nothing worse than standing in an airport with 35 people and no confirmation numbers. Go over directions with all your drivers so many times they roll their eyes when you mention “drivers meeting.” Make sure the rental company inputted the right code for 12 passenger van, you don’t want to end up with three compact cars. All of these have either happened to me (when I didn’t do this) or were avoided because of this step.

1. Pray through the entire process

This should be number ten and number one. Pray about your purpose and need for a trip before you start this process. Pray through the entire thing, and pray as much as possible during the trip. If God is not a major part of your trip, then you are just a recreational tour guide. The whole point is for God to work through your group wherever you go and whatever you do and to change the heart of every team member. God can’t do any of this if you don’t invite him along.

As I write these ten, I just keep thinking of more that I should have put on here… What would you add to the list?

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It’s Saturday

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Here we are, Saturday of holy week.  Have you ever wondered why Saturday is a part of holy week?  I really haven’t ever thought about it until today; but I think God must have had a reason for waiting 3 days.

Obviously we know the significance of Friday.  Christ died on Friday, everything came to a head, it all hit the fan.  Jesus said he was going away and it happened.  Everyone that wanted Jesus out of their life and off the religious scene finally got their way.  God turned his back to sin and Jesus finished it.

And we have Sunday, the resurrection.  Time to celebrate that God solved the equation, God is still a righteous judge, the wages of sin is still death, and yet I can be forgiven by grace.  The cross is empty, Jesus is alive, and suddenly everything makes sense.  Sunday is the year of jubilee, life is good, and I know the truth and it has set me free.

But what about Saturday?  Think about the disciples on Saturday.  Just a few days ago they were still kicking it with Jesus and all was fine.  Now Jesus is dead and they are left to pick up the pieces.  Imagine mentally going over everything Jesus said and did, wondering what exactly everything meant, and wondering what might happen next.  Everything changed in the matter of a few hours and here they are, alone.  Imagine Peter on Saturday, that had to have been the longest 3 days of his life.  I can imagine the one word that would define Saturday is silent.  Silent Saturday.

As I think about this, I realize there have been several times in my life and in my faith that it has been Saturday.  I have hit rock bottom and I know what I hope for, but all I find is silence.

Perhaps you look around and it is Saturday in your life.  Maybe it is Saturday in your ministry.  We all have Saturdays.  But you know what?  Sunday will come.  God will show up.  It might be only a day away, or perhaps it might be longer, but no matter what know that Sunday is coming!

You are Making a Difference!

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After working in youth ministry for more than 15 years I know that discouragement can be a normal emotion.  I know what it feels like to wonder if you are making a difference.  I want to take a minute to silence that voice in your head and replace it with a loud and clear KEEP GOING, YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

One of the biggest reasons these feelings are so common is because teenagers (and our society) are not typically good at saying thank you.  Maureen and I recently had a few different experiences that were exactly the opposite; I hope they are as encouraging to you as they have been to us.

My wife Maureen spent an evening hanging out with some of the girls from her small group, and later that night she stumbled on to this post:

sadee instagram

Then on a recent trip to Texas for some meetings I had lunch with a former student who graduated from our youth ministry almost 10 years ago.  She is recently married, is doing well in the business world, and her faith is growing and as strong as ever.  She shared how her time at Cloverdale and the influence of the pastors and leaders in her life has really made her into the woman of God she is today.

brittini If you are just starting out in ministry, know that experiences like these are around the corner, keep going.  Be faithful to the call God has given you, and I hope you will see similar fruit as God changes lives through your efforts.

Northwest Ministry Conference, March 19-21 in Seattle, WA

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I am honored and humbled to be included in this list! I am also excited to share some things I learned while leading a team of volunteers for all these years.  If you are going to this conference I hope to see you and connect in some way while we are there.  If you aren’t already going, I think you should consider it.  Jump over to their website and check out all the details and get registered.

Simple yet Effective

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Distracted.

This word is quickly becoming the definition of our culture.  There is so much to consume, so much to read, watch, and play.  Every moment can easily be filled with a swipe of the screen.  Yet, with all the access we could ever want, is it helping us to accomplish what God has entrusted to us to accomplish?

Time management and busyness have always been major issues in ministry.  The real question should be if we are spending our time on things that really matter.  What sucks time out of your day that with one small adjustment could return huge time dividends?

Courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

For me it is email.  Every time I grab my phone I check it…all four email addresses.  And almost every time there are new messages; mainly because of all the lists my addresses have ended up on.  Realizing how much time I waste deleting emails, I have started unsubscribing from many of them.  Although the time I get back is minimal at first, the biggest return is my distraction level.

What simple yet effective change can you make in your daily routine?  Is it using the unsubscribe link, or limiting social media time, or just closing the door to your office?  A seemingly small change can return big results. I dare you to make a change!

Family is more important than we think…

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Reflecting on the Thanksgiving weekend we all just experienced, I was reminded of this post from last spring and thought it would be fitting as we navigate yet another holiday season.

Today I taught Launch Pad, a Christian religious release class in public school.  Today’s class was about how God is a God of joy and delight.  Being happy and having fun truly can be an act of worship!

The last part of the class we all sat in a circle, ate ice cream, and went around the circle sharing a bit about our lives.  We all answered two questions:

1. What is one thing you are looking forward to doing this summer, and how will that bring joy into your life?

2. Describe one person that you have observed in your life that truly lives out the joy of the Lord.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because I was a bit surprised by the majority of the answers.  There were a few of they typical/predictable answers.  But the majority of the students mentioned an activity like a trip or camping or vacation.  Why did it bring them joy? “Because I will get to be with my family.”  Literally almost every student mentioned that.

And then the second question; literally half of the students said a grandparent.  A few others answered one or both of their parents.  Not a single one identified their youth pastor or youth leader, and these are all students that are at least loosely connected to a church youth group.

If you are a parent or a grandparent: your influence is HUGE in a teenager’s world

I realize teenagers don’t always say thank you and sometimes it doesn’t seem like they care if you are involved in their life.  But they are listening and they are watching, and they care for you A LOT.

If you are a youth worker: you need to be encouraging and helping families

If you truly care about teenagers’ faith growing (and I know you do), your efforts need to include parents and multiple generations.  I have heard it said for my entire youth ministry tenure–the #1 influence in a teenager’s life is their family.  That was once again proved accurate today.

What are you doing to support and/or encourage parents in your church?

How are the multiple generations within your church interacting with each other?

Obvious Yet Often Overlooked

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There is something about teenagers that every youth worker needs to realize.  This is going to happen to 100% of the students in every ministry.  It is never a major surprise when it happens but often times it is tragic.

 They get to old to attend youth programs.

The typical youth ministry does a pretty bad job of preparing teenagers for this, which is one of the major contributing factors to one of the most embarrassing statistics attached to youth ministry; the percentage of graduates that remain in the church.  (I believe there are several contributing factors to this, not just this one)

What has been the typical response when this inevitable event occurs?  If your church counts weekend attendance using more than 3 zeros you transition them on to the 18-24 year old program.  If not, we either send them off to “big church” not expecting to ever see them again or we make them a volunteer leader in the youth ministry.  Any of these, especially in smaller churches, have minimal rates of success (typically) and sometimes produce more problems.

I have been working with teenagers for 15 years, and my personal track record does not beat the average of how many of those former youth group members are actively living for and serving God.  Here are a few hard questions we need to ask ourselves:

 Does relationship end at the same time as their program attendance?

The core message of the Bible is relationship; with God, with other Christians, and with the world.  Even guys I have personally discipled for years I hardly ever (or never) talk to after graduation.  Yes, there is a list of excuses, not to mention the list of new students that come in as the old ones graduate, but I am embarrassed to admit how bad I am at keeping in touch.

Ultimately it is not MY relationship with them that matters most, but their relationship with God.  If all we have done in our four to six years with them is attaching their faith to our programs we are setting them up for failure.  They need to know how to grow in their faith on their own, not just at church.

What is my real goal for them?

Is the goal of youth ministry behavior modification?  For a lot of parents, church boards, and even youth workers it is.  I realize how bad that sounds, but if we feel successful based on how many students are in the church’s graduating class, and how many of those are still virgins and/or don’t have a criminal record then it probably is.

Our goal for them needs to be spiritual transformation.  Programs can certainly aid in that goal, but they are just a means to this goal, not the goal itself.  A lot of what I see in the youth ministry world is program ideas.  I need some more spiritual transformation ideas.  I know how to entertain students, I am still trying to figure out more ways I can aid God in transforming them from His creation to His child.  How can I help them move God from just savior to actually being their Lord?  From trying so hard to blend into the world to sharing God’s heart and wanting to change the world?

Every student that I meet is going to get too old to attend our youth ministry.  I don’t want to be a part of setting them up for failure any longer.  Are you with me?  What are some of your “spiritual transformation” ideas?