I made some inaccurate assumptions about summer service during my first year in youth ministry. I thought it might be helpful to share three of them. I hope you’ll comment and interact with your discoveries and also give tips on how to head into a sensational summer of serving together with our favorite people…teenagers.
Assumption 1: Serving with teenagers during the summer has to happen in the context of a distant mission trip.
I wish I knew that I didn’t have to plan a mission trip that was a 26 hour commute from our parking lot. I wish I knew that longer travel time doesn’t equal a better experience. Know your context. Is your church transportation older than you are? Do you have skilled drivers and back up drivers? What’s the makeup of your group—are they younger or older? Are they ready for a more extensive trip? Should you serve one day? Three days? A week? These are all things that you’ll know better than anyone. Our youth group recently did one day of serving together in a city near ours and it was just as impacting and stimulating as traveling to Puerto Rico.
Assumption 2: In order to be a competent youth minister, I need to organize, plan, and manage the work that will be done.
I wish I knew that spending countless hours planning a week of service is optional. It’s great if you’re able to do this on your own. But it’s not the litmus test of your ministry mojo. Volunteer leaders oftentimes know a lot more than I do about project management. I use them whenever I can! There are also really great summer service options where organizations plan everything that you’ll participate in (including meals, sleeping arrangements, showers, and worship time). Say this to yourself: I will still be awesome if I ask someone else to help me. I will still be awesome if I employ incredible and resourceful organizations to make the most of our mission trip dollars. I prefer to focus the weight of our energy on building relational connection to our summer trips. It’s nice knowing that there’s a ton of support for us to do that.
Assumption 3: Everyone will come home from a summer service experience completely changed and excited about living on mission for Jesus.
A Christ-in-them moment can happen before, during, and after a summer service experience. Some students may need a few extra days to process. I’ve learned that it’s important to have time together post experience and to remind our leaders that it’s our job to provide moments of conversation, journey, and wonder. It’s our role to set an example and to open pathways for each teenager to feel the movement of God’s spirit within them as they look outward. The love that is displayed and extended to others in and through your ministry is transformative. Don’t be discouraged if everyone who participates doesn’t fall in love with Jesus and begins a youth-led ministry right away (even though some do this!) Serving others is a powerful way to connect with God, and God will, in God’s time, find inroads to their hearts. Keep planning. Keep giving them chances to experience the joy of living for others and for a Christ who lives for them.
What are some of your assumptions?