SMS: Back from Mission, Camp or Retreat? Now What?

NOTE: This article/blog was originally written by me for (click here to read it there).

I’ve read some amazing stories on blogs and Facebook of the things God has done at camps, retreats and on mission trips this summer! I believe youth ministry is alive and kicking and God is at work, but was it just there (on the trip) that the Lord moved? Of course not, but for some reason growth and change there seems more obvious, practical and tangible. I’d love to see these things here (at home) become just as evident.

Imagine with me some of the first century Tweets we might have read had the technology existed then …

From Luke: As @saulpaul was preaching I saw a snoozing teen @eutychusrocks fall from 2nd floor 2 his death! PTL the dude was healed and now lives! #paulkeptpreaching

A ReTweet: RT @weddingcrasher Just saw the strangest thing, Mary’s son Jesus changes water into the best wine I ever tasted! #whoisthisguy

Of course a status update didn’t happen in real time back then, but rest assured, news did travel quickly. Praise God for people like Luke and John who recorded these amazing acts.

The wonderful reports of what took place on your mission trip have landed on the hearts and ears of parents and friends back home. Students have Tweeted about how great the camp was and they have become fast-Facebook friends with those they met at the retreat.  But is that it?

How are you handling the transition off of the trip and into the next 51 weeks? This is a question I grappled with as a youth pastor. I got tired of students living for the “camp high” or the “mission trip great feeling.” But the bottom line is that those feelings produced are the things that often bring kudos from parents, other pastors and/or the board.

I believe a plan is needed to merge your students onto the freeway of life that has been flowing back home. We can help students navigate from commitment there to commitment here.

Three Tips for Merging Back Home

  1. Give them a Practical Way to Remain In The Word! I believe God’s Word and God’s Spirit were key in the things that took place there. Hopefully your group was consistent in God’s Word on your mission trips; the Bible was teaching and challenging students, life was lived together in fellowship, service and witness; and students were responding to the Spirit in obedience: crucial components for life-change were merging together in amazing ways. And it doesn’t have to stop when your kids come home! Give them a practical way to remain the Word. I’ve seen it work, through our MERGE resources for returning home from the mission, retreat or camp (or other experiences). Of course I’d love to see you use our resource, but at minimum, give them a one or two week outline of passages to study, journaling questions and some practical questions to go through as they merge back home.
  2. Throw a Better Than A Reunion Party! There’s nothing that can kill a youth group faster than a holy huddle. Because your students who were at camp together came home with great inside jokes and other shared memories they usually think that these stories are funny to all, but we all know THEY AREN’T! As the leader, you should throw a “Summer End Celebration” to celebrate all that God did in and through the ministry as a whole, not just one specific event. Give ample opportunity for stories from those who went to sports camp (rather than the youth group camp), or those who shared Jesus at their summer jobs, for instance.  Invite them to share their stories of what God did in and through them, in their varied settings. This can be organized with specific testimonies chosen so that all participants can see and hear the collective work of God through the summer!
  3. Invite them to the next Mission! A body of water like a lake or pond becomes toxic when it becomes stagnant. So it is with a body of believers. The camp, retreat and mission were exciting and active because there was movement! The mission-high ceases to exist if the mission is complete. Help students to know that there is a new mission ahead as they return to their campus, engage in their clubs and reinvest in the community! This is something we at Youthmark coined Mission51–the 51 weeks beyond the mission or camp!

As summer comes to a close, perhaps you already sense that the momentum has been lost, but I urge you to jump back in now, it’s not too late! Your students are cause-oriented, give them a cause greater than reliving memories. Challenge them to get back (and stay) in the Word through something like MERGE, reunite them so they can testify and remember His faithfulness, and above all, invite them to fully invest in their new mission field at home!




Three-For-Thursday: Vacation Pics with Kids

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a 3-for-Thursday, but today, I couldn’t resist the challenge of posting a few of my favorite pics from our vacation. I’ll probably do another post or two about the vacation/speaking/meeting tour, but for now, here are three of my favorite pics from our 23 day trip!

5:15 am day one start in PJ's with much anticipation!

Montana beauty!

In Western CO visiting the Drumm family!

What a great trip!


(T-4-T &) SMS: Get Out of The Rut!

It was my fifth or sixth attempt at the long driveway; blasting through the snow was fun and with each attempt my 4Runner was creating another eight to 10 feet of drivable space.

Closed Course, Do NOT attempt!

I repeated the process: full speed ahead until the car stopped, reverse 100 feet to the flat, shift it back into low-drive, full speed and blast through the virgin powder creating another car length of roadway.

Okay, one more time and I should get through the steepest part and it should get easier.  Full speed ahead until the tires start spinning… reverse… reverse… I said REVERSE!!!! Tires spinning.  Stuck!

Stuck in the snow on my way to the winter-escape cabin.  Rest and bliss on the horizon.  Rest would have to wait.

Being physically stuck, trapped and having my pathway hindered is one of the worst feelings in the world. Somehow it feels like the fourth grade playground bully standing at the bottom step of the slide tormenting the third graders, not letting them climb up the ladder to enjoy the slippery-spiral slope that awaits. “C’mon, let us go!”

Being stuck in a ministry rut often feels the same. Is your ministry stuck? How would you describe your student-ministry rut? Who or what is the bully mocking you?

My 4Runner high centered and got me stuck because I was doing something stupid, repeating a pattern that was only sort-of working. Are you doing the same thing in ministry?

I think a lot of ministries are stuck. Left screaming “c’mon, let us out.”  Rest is on the horizon, but the horizon seems so distant.  Right now it just feels like work.  I’d like to give three suggestions to help you get out of that rut!  Three possible applications that could very well be the solution you need to get “unstuck.”

Teach Something You Don’t Know: Well, it may not be something you don’t know, but at least something you didn’t know before you started teaching it. When you’re excited about what the Lord is teaching you (not just what he previously taught you) your teaching is fresh. Look at what you’ve taught in the last three months, six months, perhaps even the last year, has it all been stuff/series/books you’re somewhat of an expert in already (yes, accuse me of teaching Acts… a lot!)? Dive into Malachi, Habakkuk, Jude or Philemon.  Here’s the shovel suggestion to dig yourself out: Do a series on something unexpected and as you learn perhaps the traction you gain will get you “unstuck.”

Ditch the “Discipleship First” Mentality: Whoa, did I seriously just say that? I love training (discipling) Christian students to live out and speak out the Gospel. The natural end-result of discipleship is multiplication (disciples who make disciples). So many put their efforts into helping the Christian grow deep so they can grow wide.  How’s this working?  How “wide” is your group because of your emphasis on discipleship?  Not saying it is wrong at all, but I will argue that the “fuel” or “spark” for discipleship might actually be a passion for evangelism.  As YOU (yes you, Youth Leader) challenge yourself to love on and lead others to Jesus, you’ll find that you actually need the church (and all it entails: teaching, worship, fellowship, accountability) more. Prioritizing Bible Study, prayer groups, accountability, etc. often leads to complacency in programming and concentration on numbers (guilt for not “performing”). Passionate pursuit of the lonely and lost actually leads to a need for discipleship (to learn the answers you need and get the support you desire). Don’t just make this your priority, but a practice in your ministry! I say, prioritize the lost and see if they may actually lead you out of the rut?

Make a Short-Time Commitment to Something Crazy: I was horrible in French Class; heck, I wasn’t even all that good at English; but because I had a girlfriend who had a deaf sister I decided to learn sign language. You have any idea how many times I’ve been able to converse with many who often go ignored? Sometimes doing something new in your own life will carry over to something new for the ministry.  Sure, it may not be teaching the whole group sign, but what if you committed yourself to something outside of yourself; taking on something new may just get you out of a personal rut that leads to a ministry rut being conquered. Some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Try coaching or even once a week substitute teaching (side benefit: campus ministry and/or additional income)
  • Research and then support a clean-water well in Africa (guarantee you’ll get others involved)
  • Risk in your neighborhood by organizing a “neighborhood watch” group (it will require you to get to know your neighbors)
  • Go on a ride-along once a month with the police department (get a deeper understanding of your city and specifically teens)
  • Become a referee for a youth-league (get yelled at by parents for a different reason)
  • Go on a personal mission trip through an organization or to a missionary your church supports (come home with stories that will change your ministry)

My guess is that doing something completely new will open your mind up to doing something completely new in ministry.  It will literally plow away the old crusty layer and give you a fresh path!

Ministry bliss is fast approaching!


Three-For-Thursday: Superbowl Commercials

Many-a-year I have been to and/or hosted a Superbowl Party with youth groups.  It’s always a mixed bag when it comes to Youth and Superbowl  Events.  You hope for a good game but you also hope for great commercials.  Of course, some of those commercials are a little too PG-13, R and unfortunately NC-17 rated.

Hopefully, my best commercial “3-fer” is G or PG at worst.

As we prepare for the 2 million dollar every 30 second phenomenon this Sunday, I’d like to list three ads I’ve enjoyed over the years.  I’ll admit , several “adult beverage” commercials have had me howling, but for the sake of this list, I’ll stick with the non-potentially controversial ads.

1. When I grow up:

2. Tabasco: 

3. Michael and Larry: 

There are many others that have had me laughing over the years, but these ones I felt represented some creative thought, randomness and were probably effective as well.

Shoot me links as comments to the ones you think have been the best clean-ones!



Three-For-Thursday: 1000 Word Pictures

I just returned from a six day Scout/Speaking trip to Costa Rica.  This summer Youthmark will have a few teams headed to Central America.  I was honored to have my friends Anthony (C.O.O. of Hope Partners International) and Mac (Lake Sawyer Christian Youth Pastor) with me on this trip.  I will post a few blog entries about this trip, but for today, I will give you the top “Pictures that tell you 1000 or more words.”   These will begin to give you a glimpse of a few of the things we were able to see and experience.

1. Costa Rican Christian Television! No make-up, no big-hair and unfortunately, no Carmen!  Oh well!  On Tuesday we were in studio for a 30 minute television show.  We were asked many questions about Youth Ministry.  It looks like Youthmark may be playing a key-role in a national Youth Leaders Conference in 2011. The guy on my right is Ronald, he was the talk-show host.

2. Blessings! It seems each day we were gone for many hours; but the longest day was Monday, we drove to a coastal town where we met Fernando. Several months ago this Christian leader discovered he had cancer, the doctors now give him just a few months to live.  We visited him in the morning and discovered he and his wife are sleeping on the floor (with a 1970’s mattress on the ground).  He is in great pain (especially his back).  We left spent the rest of the day visiting many others, driving hours away.  But Fernando stayed on our minds. On the way back we stopped and got an Orthopedic mattress and surprised them by returning and presenting him with the mattress.  In a quiet moment several minutes after we gave the gift, I found Fernando overwhelmed and crying on his new bed, praising God.  He said, “God is so good to me, I can’t believe how good He is to me…I believe God will heal me, I will continue to serve Him.”    I promised Fernando that we would have many back in the states praying for him.  Would you please lift up Fernando right now?

It was reported to us the next day that he had a VERY good night sleep!

3. Church! Many of you know I am a BIG fan of the book of Acts.  This trip to Costa Rica felt very “early-church” to me.  On Sunday we got to experience two church services.  I was asked on Saturday evening to preach on Sunday morning at a church about 90 minutes away.  What an honor!  The worship was pure and genuine.  We were so blessed by this humble setting.  An 11  by 45 foot room is what I’d guess.  In the afternoon I was asked to preach the message again at our second church back in San Jose, during worship I was led to change up my message, Erick confirmed that each message was the right one for the two different congregations.  The second house-church was truly that, 30 people gathered in a 14 by 14 room.  I thoroughly enjoyed how  well they loved each other and devoted themselves to the things of Acts 2:42-47.  After church we shared life, watching the Costa Rican National Football (soccer) team play on TV.

I can’t wait to share more.  God is at work in Costa Rica.  I am happy that He is blessing several from the US to join Him there this summer.


Three-For-Thursday: Prayer

It’s been one of those weeks!  Up and down, for sure, but all of it has been a pleasant reminder of the grace of God and the utter dependence we need to have on Him.

I have consistently been reminded to pray (and ask for prayer)… with that, I’ll make that my 3-For for this Thursday.

1. Pray For Youthmark.  Our first trips are only a couple months away (we’ve offered spring trips) which has caused all of our “due-dates” to be moved up; Pray for Buzz as he works the connections with host communities.  Pray for Kirk as he finishes up his part of the new Merge book (and for me as I write the “fable” part of it) and pray for all the “sending” churches we know of and don’t yet know of (Youth Pastors who are just now deciding on a mission trip or training).  Prayer is appreciated for Alon, Kirk and me as we interact with these Youth Pastors. In addition, you can pray for Frankie, he does some ad-hoc stuff for Youthmark and right now he’s finishing a video which we’ll use for marketing.

2. Prayer for Friends: Very briefly, I have a few friends and ministry partners who are really struggling because of difficult situations (family, sin, finances, etc.).  Praise for Friends! The flip is true as well, we are celebrating some great blessings in the lives of other friends as well (jobs, engagements, provision)!  Considering it all pure joy, I invite you to do the same with me!

3. Pray for Mission51 Opportunities! This is more than just praying for folk to connect with YMV’s and/or our training materials.  I think God is going to bless us with great opportunities for speaking and training at churches or organizations.  Mission is meant for anywhere!  My prayer is that every Christian understands his and her calling to live on mission wherever God has them.  I am VERY open to come speak at your church, event, retreat, school, etc.  Let’s see folk equipped for M:51!


Three-For-Thursday: Middle of Night Sitcoms

I tossed and turned all night last night. We were in bed at/around midnight, but by 1:00 when my son Will started crying, it was obvious that I was not going to fall asleep soon, so after getting him settled, I headed downstairs.  Not much on TV at 1:15 in the morning. Channel surfing got old at 2:00 and I went back upstairs to bed (I thought my eyes felt heavy then).

Just before 3:00 one of our girls was coughing like crazy, I still had not been sleeping, so after she settled, I went back downstairs to find I had just missed two episodes of M*A*S*H! I loved that show growing up.  However, I was excited to find an episode of Cheers was just beginning!

I did eventually fall asleep (at 5:45 AM) after watching an hour or so of Mike and Mike in the Morning on EPSN2 and an hour of SportsCenter.  But I say all this by way of intro for todays “3-For”… if I had three-sitcoms to watch during the middle of my non-sleeping hours, which old-time sitcoms would I pick?  The criteria for this one, is that they have to be sitcoms that aren’t on typically during the day/evening and are from “yester-year.”

  1. M*A*S*H: This is one of the first shows I remember watching with my Dad growing up.  Of course, I missed/was unaware of much of the adult-humor.  I can remember watching many an episode in syndication for years on KSTW-11 in the evenings through the 80’s and 90’s, but it really hasn’t been on much since the turn of the century.  I would love to catch a few episodes from time-to-time.
  2. The Wonder Years: Fred Savage’s claim to fame.  You remember the little romance between Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper? Great show!  This one would be a fun series to watch all the way through again.
  3. The Cosby Show: Absolute classic.  Enough said.

There are several honorable mentions: Cheers, Gilligan’s Island, Night Court and Family Ties are a few that pop into my mind.

How about you?  Which would make your top-3 middle of the night sitcoms?


Three-For-Thursday: Interns & Apprentices

As a Youth Pastor I had the privilege of working with some fantastic volunteer leaders.  The “staff,” as I called them, often felt more like our small group and/or family.  In addition to these great folk, after several years of being a YP, I took on the role of “boss” to paid employees as well.  I can only laugh now as I think of how pitiful I must have been in my first few years of leading those whom I was supposed to be grooming as these folk served as “interns.”  However, through the years (and many mistakes) I think I learned something about serving with interns (and eventually Apprentices, laughter has turned so joyous smiles.

As my Three-For-Thursday today, I’d like to highlight three (actually 4) of my former employees in the Youth Ministry Church-world.

Nathan Schlaud: Nathan served as my second “Apprentice” at Boulevard Park Church.  He moved across the country from Michigan to take this one-year risk of being an Apprentice.  It really was a perfect storm, we were working out the kinks of the now second-year Apprenticeship program we had developed (think: “Student Teacher” but for Youth Pastors-to-be) and Nathan had just recently graduated from College with a Youth Min degree but most of the churches he was interviewing with were not giving him the time-of-day because all other candidates were married, more experienced or older.  Our church and his personal circumstance, made for a great year. Nathan was a fantastic Apprentice, has become a very good friend and has grown tremendously.  He and his wife Megan are doing a great job at Grace Church leading the Jr. High through college-age students as well as handling many “associate” duties at his church.  Hard to believe he is now a “seasoned veteran” (28) in Youth Ministry and is really becoming a mentor to younger Youth Pastors now!  Proud of you brother!

Brad Hostak: Brad was my first intern at Boulevard Park.  Immediately when I arrived (in April) I was told that we would have an intern for the summer.  I was then told I would get to choose between two different college-age students who had applied.  It just so happened these two were good friends as well.  Thanks a lot church! Make me choose between friends!?!  I did the smart thing–I made a committee decide instead!  Anyway, they chose Brad; honestly, the most “raw” Youth Intern I had worked with yet.  Brad loved (still does) people! This foundation, love for God and others, proved to be a wonderful thing to build upon.  I don’t say this as a slam at all, but I honestly just didn’t think Brad had what it took to be a Youth Pastor; he was semi-shy, stuttered when speaking in front of groups, was extremely nervous up in front of groups, etc. etc. But, one could never deny is his passion for Christ and students. God did and is doing AMAZING things in Brad’s life.  He has shaped him into a great Youth Pastor.  Shyness, stuttering and nervousness all gone (okay, maybe some nerves with big crowds still?).  He and Sarah serve the Lord and the students so well at River Ridge!  I’m honored to have had Brad as an intern!

Wescott and Heather Robinson: Wes was a former student, turned college-age leader, turned intern, turned second year intern.  After we had hired him as a second-year intern at First EPC, I asked him if he’d have any issues with us hiring a female intern to work alongside him for the summer.  He was semi-hesitant and semi-excited.  When asked “how would you handle it if you felt any attraction toward said female intern?”  His immediate (emphatic) response: “I’d do nothing about it, I’m here for the students.” Well, he and Heather are now married and have two children.  Just so you know, his response “do nothing” was followed by me saying “why not?  If you had feelings, I would just want to know about so we could handle the situation appropriately.”  It was a great summer with Wescott and Heather; they served so well together  (and still do).  Wes and Heather are very good friends to the Aabys, we love them and their two daughters a ton!  I love seeing Wes grow as a man-of-God, a Pastor and as a Daddy.  His passion for the Word is so evident and he loves seeing students (and leaders) transformed by the Spirit!  Westwood is blessed to have Wes and Heather!

These four people are just a sampling of those that God has blessed me with as partners in ministry.  I’m thankful that I’ve been able to play a small role in their lives as they developed as great leaders of Youth (as well as great leaders to staff, parents and others in their sphere of influence).  I am thankful for all the interns and apprentices and the influence they have had on our lives!


Three-For-Thursday: New Youthmark things

It seems we’re either gearing up for something or winding down from that last something.  In our families it’s stuff like the school year, the holidays, family vacation, or a sports season.  In ministry it’s the program year, that camp, the mission trip, graduation and a few others!  As soon as we get done winding down, we’re gearing up for the next, sometimes we never get to wind down!  As I wind down from the fall tour of lunches and put the final touches on the writing projects I’m “gearing up” for some great stuff ahead…

For today’s Three-For-Thursday, I am going to share three things I am very excited about that we’re “Gearing Up” for  at Youthmark!

  1. Costa Rica! Last year we had our first “international” mission trip to Mexico through a large group that did a select package with Youthmark.  Well, this year we’re launching not only Mexico, but also Costa Rica!  Having been there once and I have  second scout trip planned for January I can simply say that there is no shortage of need there.  These trips are going to be so transformational for both the communities served but also for the teams serving.
  2. Together: Spring Retreat! Our first two years of spring retreats have been amazing, as the preliminary plans are being formed for the 2011 Spring Retreat I can simply say that once again it will be so different but equally awesome!  Joe Poppino will be back for worship, but this time we’re also bringing in The Admission. Joe will bring his singer-song writer-worship leader expertise to help mentor them as a new band!  In addition the training will be over-the-top creative!  I can’t wait to reveal these new aspects!  The theme is “Together” as we’ll concentrate on how often the Lord uses many “together” to bring people to Himself!
  3. The MPW & Leaders Guide! Brand-new this year is the added element of 10 lessons we’ve outlined in the Leader’s Guide so that the entire Youth Group can learn about Mission51. We don’t want anyone in the group to miss out on the opportunity to be a missionary here and now!  On top of that I am so excited about the materials in the Mission Prep Workbook entitled Anywhere. There are 10 studies (for the individuals training) and 10 PODs (Practice of Discipleship).  I think it is by far the best we’ve done so far.

If you haven’t seen this years stuff, you can click here for a preview.  I am VERY excited about all the places we’re sending folk, but to be honest I’m even more thrilled to hear about the “at home” stuff that I continue to hear, read and see with groups that have gone with Youthmark in the past!

Please pray for even more groups to sign up with Youthmark for a mission trip or for our new “A La Carte” options that allow groups to still use our training materials that already know where they are going or already have a sending agency they are working with.  Mission is not just there!  Mission is not just here!  It is ANYWHERE!



Three-For-Thursday: Priorities

This week I have a number of things I am trying to balance… in other words, there are a few too many plates spinning.  So, today’s “3-For” is a really quick one.

So, to those who are regular bloggers, overwhelmed youth workers or just in general “really busy right now,” here are three things you ought to do.

1. Don’t Blog (or if you have a regularly scheduled blog, make it short and perhaps make it a post about prioritizing the things you ought to be doing instead of blogging).

2. Get Your Other Work Done Before Blogging or Reading Blogs.  Duh, obvious.  So obvious that maybe I shouldn’t have taken the time away from my busy schedule to post this point.

3. Don’t Come Up With a Third Point if you’re list requires three things.  Sitting there trying to come up with a third point means you’re really not following the first two all that well, so you may as well not wrack your brain trying to come up with one!