I’m sure you’re aware boys and girls are different. Mission trips impact both genders, but in different ways. Next week I’ll talk about girls. This week it’s boys.
In my youth ministry experience, I seemed to have more girls involved than boys. That wasn’t always the case, but more often than not there were more girls who came to our youth ministry activities than boys. Including the mission trips. In fact, of the thousands of youth who participate in Group Workcamps Foundation each summer, there are more girls than boys.
I’m glad so many girls participate in youth ministry, but I wonder if there’s something about how we do ministry that isn’t as valuable to boys.
I love ministry with both girls and boys, and I try to serve them equally. And while I won’t spend a lot of time highlighting those differences here, I’d like to offer some of the differences and show how mission trips impact our young people.
The best book on boys I’ve ever read is Real Boys by William Pollock (Henry Hold and Company, 1998). Dr. Pollock is a researcher and therapist who specializes in boys. His book has had such an impact that he’s written a couple more since then.
(By the way, the best book on girls I’ve ever read is Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Penguin Group USA, 1994. She also has written additional books on girls since her book came out.)
Dr. Pollock writes about the social pressures on boys: the pressure to “be a man” but additional pressure to be a man in a different way than the models and examples of manhood they grew up with. Without a lot of help of what this new manhood is supposed to look like, boys get frustrated. It might be hard to recognize this in our boys, however, because boys have learned to hide their feelings well. They’re not likely to share how they feel or even be able to express those feelings in words. They live in a culture that pressures them to be strong and have it all together. There is one emotion that boys are given freedom to express in our society, however, and that’s anger.
So boys aren’t likely to seek us youth ministers out. They’re not likely to share their feelings or talk to us…especially sitting in a chair in the youth room across from us.
But…boys are more likely to talk about things when they’re active.
In my ministry I noticed I was able to engage boys a lot more on our annual ski trips than sitting around in Sunday School class—even though I used active learning in my classes. And it wasn’t just on the slopes that I engaged them, but traveling in the van as well. I introduced them to an old youth group game called “Hey, Cow” that had us rolling down the windows yelling at livestock on the way. (I love that game.)
So if we’re to have contact with boys so they’re able to open up and discuss the very personal matters of their growth in faith, we have to get them active. And mission trips do just that.
There’s something about a boy being far from home, high up on a ladder, scraping paint off the house of an elderly widow he’s never met before, sweating, getting dirty, working hard…and liking it. Loving it even!
Their experience is even better if they get a chance to interact with the people they’re serving. I never thought I’d hear some of the expressions of love come out of the mouth of one boy many years ago. He complained about a lot of things…a whole lot of things. He listened to hard rock music and liked to swear in the most vulgar ways just to shock people. He seemed angry almost all the time, and the only time he laughed seemed to be when he was making fun of someone else.
And then he met an elderly woman on a Workcamp in Appalachia. Deep in the hills of Tennessee, this angry young man got to serve an old woman who couldn’t take care of her house. So he worked hard all week applying aluminum roof coating on her metal roof and weatherizing and painting her house. “I love my lady,” he said…in softer tones than I’d ever heard him speak before. He actually gave some of his money to help his crew buy a gift for her. And in the process, he opened up to all this God stuff we’d been trying to tell him about.
As you work and sweat alongside the boys on a mission trip, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, engage them. You’ll notice, as I do every year, boys being more willing to open up during devotions and the sharing times. More willing to show their feelings. More willing to cry. And more willing to grow closer to God who loves them more than they could possibly imagine.
The best memory I have of a mission trip happened in rural Arkansas almost seven years ago. Where I’m writing I have a picture of a bunch of us—mostly boys but a few girls, too—who went outside one night to play kickball in the rain. We’re soaking wet and muddy and gross. We came inside and took a picture with everyone yelling and screaming—a couple guys took their shirts off. Whenever I see that picture I smile, especially to look at the faces of some of those boys who had a powerful experience a couple nights later.
I had boys who were deeply moved by the program that night. There were tears…even among us men. Young people opened themselves to God and encountered how much God loves them.
Back then the guys and girls did evening devotions separately in the sleeping rooms, and I noticed how much the guys wanted to talk about what happened in the program that night. So I offered to meet with them after lights out to talk more.
I’m getting a little choked up here recounting how we sat outside the school in the humid Arkansas night, looking up at the stars and talking about God. About 9 guys and me. We talked for a good hour, and I happily listened and answered their questions. I prayed with them. I told them how much I loved them.
And later on when I got back to my sleeping bag, I pumped my fist in the darkness and silently shouted, “Yes!”
You’re doing your boys a big favor when you put them to work serving people. It might very well be the best thing we can do to help boys know God.
Doc Newcomb is a pastor, youth pastor, and Program Manager for Group Workcamps Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides a variety of short-term mission opportunities for church youth groups. www.groupworkcamps.com. Contact Doc at firstname.lastname@example.org.