By Seth Barnes, Founder of Adventures in Missions
Lori, a high school junior, had an apathy problem. Her short-term missions trip to Mexico had given her a fresh perspective on life. She determined to do more to reach out to those in need upon her return. However, within months, she had fallen back into her old, comfortable lifestyle.
Lori found the answer to her problem when she became aware of Fran and her situation. Fran had a drug problem. One day Lori’s youth pastor asked her to go with him to call on Fran. Afterwards, Lori reported, “When I look at Fran, though, I realize, ‘Boy, this could have been me.’ What I do can make a difference in the lives of people like her.”
Make It a Lifestyle
Young people who have traveled far to help address the world’s need deserve the opportunity to do the same in their own backyard. How many of these opportunities have you given your students lately?
To have a lasting impact on the lives of your young people, landmark service experiences must eventually become a lifestyle. So, youth leader, take the excitement generated by a summer missions project and channel it into an ongoing commitment to service and evangelism at home.
Lori’s experience underscores a basic flaw in the way many youth leaders plan their group’s short-term missions experience. They give it all the trappings of a youth group event. Most young people gobble up events (packaged with fanfare and glitz that appeal to a short attention span), but shun commitments.
Do you ever wonder how young people can just sit there like giant sponges and soak up all your good teaching without it ever seeming to affect them? This is because, to be effective, a sponge needs to be squeezed. Kids must make their faith practical by putting it into action.
Murray Gossett, a pastor from Dallas, defines this challenge as “getting them out of the bubble.” He sees the need to break out of the warm cocoon that many youth groups in suburban churches have become.
Gossett broke the “bubble” for his group members by scheduling a monthly service project. He’d offer to buy lunch for any of his group who showed up. On a typical Saturday they’d head for downtown Dallas and set up a stewpot to feed the indigent of the inner city. Sometimes they’d mow lawns for free or paint an entire house.
The effect on group members was often profound as it trickled down to decisions about their lifestyle. After one of Sarah Cochran’s mission experiences, she decided that she’d rather see the thousands of dollars that was to be spent on her debutante parties donated to missions instead.
Bringing up Barbarians
Chuck Colson maintains that we have entered “the new dark ages,” a period in history not unlike what Rome sank into as it was beset by barbarians. The parallel he makes is that present-day barbarians are already within our walls. Our young people have been co-opted by a culture that embraces individualism and materialism.
So I pose the question, how do you provide your students with experience as Christian counter-culturalists? What kind of a radical alternative can you offer them? Will it make a difference in their lives ten years from now?
Bill George, a veteran of 15 years of youth ministry, has got a few answers.
He had started out doing attraction-oriented events, but soon saw that such activity would not produce long-term results. Furthermore, Bill became convicted by the words of Isaiah 58: “I want you to share your food with the hungry and bring right into your homes those who are helpless, poor and destitute.”
Soon afterwards, Bill decided that there needed to be a few things in his ministry that were foundational, no matter how many participated. One of these was students’ regular, ongoing ministry. Even though only about 10% of his group would turn out, once a month they spent a Saturday in cross-cultural missions, doing everything from VBS to special outreaches at Thanksgiving and Christmas. They also spent one Sunday evening each month in street evangelism.
Although his group size now exceeds 200, Bill downplays the numbers: “The hallmark of my ministry over the years has been the development of Christian leaders.”
Seth is the executive director of Adventures In Missions — an organization that sends people on short-term mission trips around the world. He lives in Gainesville, GA with his wife Karen. You can visit his blog “Radical Living in a Comfortable World” at sethbarnes.com.