For the past 16 years I have had the phrase “youth ministry” in my title and/or job description. Before that, I was an active youth in my own youth group. One of the most significant developments I have seen over the years is a change in emphasis from retreat to mission; from a navel-gazing focus to an outward one; from making oneself feel good to sharing what we have with others.
When I was a youth, my biggest spiritual experiences were at summer camp where the focus was on my spiritual development. In my early years of youth ministry, it was the annual winter retreat where many of the youth had profound spiritual experiences. For the youth group I have the privilege of journeying with today it is their summer mission trip that is the source of their deepest times of spiritual discovery and renewal.
I wonder though if we are not doing our youth groups a disservice with an overemphasis on the mission trip. I am not down on mission trips, I see what that time of service has done for many of the youth who have attended, but I am beginning to wonder if we (youth leaders, parents, pastors, and youth) have put too much emphasis on the trip, and too little on the mission. .
Lately I have been thinking about this in terms of a Brian Regan bit about log trucks (listen to it below). Stay with me. I know this is a reach. Regan says in his bit that sometimes when he is out on the highway he sees two trucks loaded up with logs pass each other going in opposite directions. Then he says, “if they need logs over there, and they need them over there, you’d think a phone call would save a lot of trouble.”
The same must happen every summer on interstates all over the country. One church van filled with youth, crosses another van filled with a youth group going in opposite directions. Both are headed on mission trips. It seems a phone call would have saved a lot of trouble.
Many youth group trips are judged by location, or at least how far away it is. Some youth groups go out of the country, a real badge of honor. We leaders must ask ourselves if the money spent on gas, the van rental, the flight, etc., could not have been better spent actually improving the life of someone in need.
Further, I am concerned that in the process we have devalued hometown, simple, everyday missions. We have made outreach all about the once-per-year trip to a distant location to help people with whom we will have no real contact after. It seems that ongoing missions in our hometowns, while less glamorous, would be more effective.
I’m considering a hometown mission trip for my church’s youth group in the Fall, or maybe next Summer. We could take a week and serve organizations and people in our community (If you have done something like this, comment below. I’d love to hear your ideas). Maybe it would be more effecting for those being served, and for the youth doing the serving, to reach out to those in our own communities with the love of Jesus Christ.
And there would be one less “log truck” on the road.