By Seth Barnes, Founder of Adventures in Missions
Here’s a really good question for youth pastors: “How can you equip your students with practical tools so they can spiritually nourish themselves, grow and reproduce?” After all, those are the basic functions of any living thing. And your kids can’t be dependent on you forever.
With that, how do you expose them to God so their faith can be tested and grow, so they develop a hunger, so Jesus can take over their life? How in the world do you turn a teen away from him/herself?
Not by talking.
Your youth group meetings once or twice a week may be complete with super snacks, wonderful worship music, great games, and the wisest, most persuasive words combined with the slickest, most culturally relevant multimedia. You may even give an application challenge, remind your kids that you’re available to talk, and go home feeling pretty good about yourself.
Jesus taught, true. But he sure didn’t stop there. He and the disciples went and did what they were talking about. They loved, they served, they gave; they lived and grew in faith. Their group healed people and cast out demons. Maybe yours could start with loving your neighbor.
Michael Meyer likes to focus his youth’s go-and-grow efforts on evangelism. Every one of the teenagers who went on the group’s summer missions project committed to be a part of “Peer Ministry 415.” They meet at 4:15 every Sunday to practice evangelism strategies. “Before,” he reports, “nobody was sharing their faith. Now even kids who didn’t go on the missions trip are catching the excitement.”
John Santaferraro ties his entry-level summer missions project in with ongoing ministry. Students spend a month serving and developing real relationships in a poor neighborhood nearby. Then throughout the rest of the year, they are encouraged to visit and maintain those relationships. Students earn’ the right to go away for a short-term project next year. In the meantime, they learn what it means to commit, to love and to serve, so that they’re ready. I’d love to start a backyard missions’ program in my community. But, how?
What does your mission trip preparation look like? Do you use the months of September to January after the missions project? This is where many youth pastors miss the boat. If you’re like most, the summer has been a busy and exhausting time. You don’t really have anything to plug your students into when they return from the field. This is highly unfortunate, a waste of real enthusiasm.
Understandably, September is a poor time to begin dreaming up a program of regular outreach. So begin now. A good assignment for some of those preparing for next summer’s trip is to research nearby service and evangelism opportunities. Or take the list below and brainstorm possibilities. Perhaps a group of your students could assist you in designing a regular program of outreach.
I hear someone asking, “Where are these people? How can I reach them?” These people in your community will often have the greatest needs: The elderly, the retarded, migrants, missionaries, prisoners, children, unwed mothers, AIDS patients, crack and AIDS babies, juvenile delinquents, international students, refugees, runaways, the homeless, etc.
How do we reach them? With a double-edged sword. Service has a limited effect without sharing the “why” through evangelism. Evangelism’s impact is often limited, ttoo, without developing relationships and showing love through service. So mix and match from these lists, or create your own… there are so many ways to reach out to the needy.
Some specific steps to consider are:
- Read Isaiah 58. Soak it up. Understand God’s profound concern for the world’s downtrodden and His great blessing on those who help them. Scripture like this should be the fuel to get you started.
- Talk to another youth leader who has already had some success in translating missions to their backyard.
- Brainstorm opportunities in your area, starting with the above lists.
- Make regular local service and evangelism a requirement for those going on summer missions trips. Start your group out with one or two outreaches a month.
- Assign a committee of young people the job of designing an actual program. They should answer the questions first of Who?, then What? and finally How often? Let your service really meet the needs of your ministry target. Be intentional for your group, too; let it fit your teens. Hundreds of organizations across the U.S. will be anxious to use your group’s volunteers to meet local needs.
- At the conclusion of your trip, plug students right away into your program.
- Give your program a high profile and an identity. Pitch it to your kids, but don’t be disappointed by small turnouts. It’s a great thing to get to focus on and disciple those few that self-elect into this service. Like Bill George, you’ll find that those who do come will be the ones you point to in future years; the ones you’ve developed as Christian leaders; the evidence of the validity of your work.
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.