Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Since I was out of the country last week and missed my posting deadline, I thought I'd go ahead and write a note today...but one that is not "technically" a FAMILY PLUS Update.

Last week Robert Post (our Interim Middle School Minister) agreed to allow the high schoolers to crash his middle school trip to Holiday World. I was SO thankful that our students would be able to go AND for Robert's graciousness to handle the logistics to make it happen. They had a GREAT time - THANKS Robert!!

But the trip (as always happens when we do something out-of-the-norm) raised a few questions about why our high school ministry doesn't do more trips like that. You know - more "fun" stuff. Whether you're a seasoned veteran in our ministry or you've just recently inched your big toe into the waters of New Generations - I hope you find this post helpful.

Having worked in student ministry in some fashion for a long time (almost 20 years now), I have "done" ministry many different ways. And I have certainly had action packed, calendar-filled years that left no down time for family and stressed even the most creative budget planner. But what I have realized amid all the "fun" that we can be about is that the fun is - typically - very short lived.

About five years ago I felt led to change the focus of our ministry from what had grown to look like inward focused activities to something higher - outward focused missions. I began to focus on what our impact could be outside the walls of the church and what we (as students and student leaders) could be about in the greater life of God's Kingdom (not just in our youth group). This led us (our team at the time) to ask serious questions about the purpose behind each and every event we planned.

You see, to mobilize a group of students and leaders is not cheap. For example, a regular trip that we take to New Orleans costs us about $13,500 in transportation costs alone. Add food and other logistics to that, multiply by three trips a year and you'll get really close to about $50,000. Well, those numbers actually hold pretty steady for other trips as well. So when we were taking retreats or going to camp - the costs were relative to the amount of time we were away, but still had a significant impact on our budget.

I became very convicted that if we were spending significant dollars to go somewhere away from our church, then we should not be going to do something for ourselves. I found that although rafting and going to Six Flags were great trips and I had fun hanging out with students, the lasting impact those trips had on students connecting with our ministry or giving us opportunity to share the gospel with them was barely measurable at all. It was poor stewardship of our resources.

I also found that ministry opportunities had much greater impact on the lives of students - especially high school students. For example, one year we took a split camp/mission trip experience. We did the missions part first and the camp part second. The result? Camp was a HUGE let down because students had such a rich experience serving others. The camp experience felt too inwardly focused - and that made students feel guilty for not spending the camp time continuing the mission work.

Another problem that can be overlooked by the casual observer is the impact that these trips have on family budgets. So, let's say we are going to do these types of "fun" trips as long as they are self funded. In other words - no money from our ministry budget can be used to sustain that type of trip. Well, that would be fine at first glance. But what happens when a family budget is stretched to the point that a student can only participate in one trip a year. Now I have put a student in the position of making a choice between something "fun" that (in my mind) will have a short-term impact on his or her life and something "outward" that (in my mind) will be much more fun and reach something deeper in the student's core. I believe it's better to just remove the ambiguity and spend my time facilitating and equipping the church to be the church.

I believe that in the more formative years (children and middle school) the impact of camp and the discipleship provided in an isolated setting is incredibly valuable. But I think providing isolated settings for discipleship connected with an effort to do something for someone else has a longer lasting, more focused impact on older students.

I know that our high school ministry is probably less entertaining than many others. I know that participating in it requires proactive rather than reactive choices from its students and parents. But that seems to go hand-in-hand with the DNA of our church body. I do not believe that any of our age level areas should be looked at as separate entities of the church body - rather, we are the body. And as the body we have to be concerned about the worldview we have when looking at ministry opportunities. To that end, our focus in high school work is serving others for the fame and renown of Jesus Christ. In doing so, we also provide rich opportunities for spiritual growth, challenge, and transformation.

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