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Making the Most of the Passenger Seat

While traveling on a mission trip, students probably aren’t all that eager to call “shotgun.” After all, sitting up front makes you absolutely visible at all times to an adult leader. I can’t imagine a more rigorous test of any teenager’s attention span than being stuck next to a grown-up when everyone else is goofing off in the back of the van. (Then again, it does smell a whole lot nicer up front.)

In high school, I remember getting grief from my friends when I had to sit up front on a particular trip. “You’re gonna get grilled,” they sassed. Strangely enough, the chit-chat during that ride was one of the most freeing conversations I’d had with an adult in my life to that point. A spiritually rooted Christian actually wanted to know who I was, how I was doing, and where I was on my spiritual journey.

Since then, I’ve committed to making the most of “shotgun” on road trips and mission trips. These tips help:

Start with humor. “This is a big deal,” I told one teenager as he buckled up. “My job is to drive, focus on the road, and get us somewhere. Your job is to stay awake at all times, be the best DJ in the world, and give me something to eat of your choosing when I randomly yell, ‘FEED ME, NOW!’ Just know that if you pick something horrible, I’ll spit it out at you.”

“Um, okay,” he laughed. That began a fun conversation about his food preferences on road trips, places he and his family have traveled, his favorite music, and more. Then I explained he was also responsible for deciding when the back of the van’s demand for a bathroom was legitimate. My front-seat companion loved the sense of power.

Volley the conversation. You never know what teenagers might be willing to talk about. Honestly, they probably don’t know either—until you just let them talk. A great way to start is by taking turns asking any question that comes to mind. The only two rules: You can’t repeat a question that’s already been asked, and the next question must use a word from the previous question. For example:

  • “If you could get rid of one food in the world, what would it be?”
  • “What’s something about the world that brings you joy?”
  • “If you suddenly discovered you had a twin sister named Joy, what question would you ask her first?”
  • “How many times do you think God hears the same question each day, and what do you think that question is?”
  • “Do you think God called you to take this mission trip, or was it more of your own decision?”
  • “When was the last time you called a grandparent?”
  • “How do you think you’ll see life differently as a grandparent?”

Make your passenger the Game Master. Some really fun games can bring everyone together on a long drive, but you don’t need to run them. (And if you’re driving, you shouldn’t!) Bring a list of games, and invite the teenager in the front seat to lead while you provide backup.

Take a moment to get serious. Do this only after you’ve built a connection through some laughter and lighter talk. Then let the Holy Spirit lead you to bring up a particular topic. You might candidly ask something like, “How are things at home? I remember you asking for prayer for your parents’ marriage.” You may need to invert the question with an invitation: “So, you’re sitting next to me and can ask my perspective on anything big or small in your life—or the life of someone you care about. Ask me anything.”

During these conversations, be yourself and remember your place. Sometimes teenagers bring up deep secrets that require follow-up with a trained counselor. Other times they may just need to dump out some emotions without you overreacting. Your response symbolizes how teenagers think Jesus might respond, so invite Jesus to respond through you .

Return to something fun. This is usually the point in the drive when I yell out, “FEED ME, NOW!”

On trips, how do you make the most of the passenger seat? Share your ideas!

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    Making the Most of the Passenger Seat

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