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!




600 Club!

Blog post #600!

A lot has happened in the last 2 and half years, I am happy to say that a lot of my life (and Youthmark’s life) has been recorded in this online journal format.

Just a fun little survey to find out what you like best about the blog… So, if there is anything you’re particularly fond of, pick it (multiple selections are possible).

Thanks for stopping by, I hope you continue to stop by! Here’s to the next 600 posts.


The New Look!

Welcome to the new look for! (still under construction over the weekend)

As I stated last week, I am a fan of change, therefore this may happen from time to time.  What does the new look mean?  Well, beside a makeover, it means some new content as well.  The categories will expand a little bit as I am planning on implementing a few new ones.  For instance, I am going to add a category for those of you serving in Youth Ministry.  Sort of a Student Ministry editorial piece of sorts.  One might see it as an opinion, whereas others may see it as a written advice section.

What stays?: Contests will still take place from time to time… in fact I’ll try to do a contest at least once every two weeks.  I’ll keep posting stuff about my family.  I’ll continue posting Youthmark related stuff, however, I’ll also do other Youthmark blogging here.

What goes?: Just the old picture.

What changes?: Top 5 Tuesday is going to be changed at least for the time-being to Top Three Thursday.

What’s been added?: I plan on adding some more links, the Student Ministry editorial and perhaps a few other categories. In addition, I’d like to enhance the “Faith Foundations” category by doing these more often. I feel we learn so much from one another when we share about the things we do to pursue Jesus.

That’s it for now… I hope you enjoy the new look!



Getting There… and the 100five50

Apologies for those who may look forward to surfing the net and finding a new post on this site… I have been pretty swamped these last 10 days and am preparing for some overhaul to the ol’ site.

I normally posted the update on Monday, but haven’t had web access the last couple days that was solid enough to do anything besides some facebook updates while speaking at a camp.  However, the last week was a recovery week on the 100five50.  I got back in the groove and back on the bike!

Physical:  I rode my bike six of the 7 days last week for a total of 62 miles.

Carbs/Eating: Certainly got back in the groove with the carb-count.

Weight: Was sitting at 220 pounds on Sunday late afternoon… did this Sunday instead of Monday because I figured there would not be a scale at the camp I was speaking at.

Overall a great week.

Looking forward to some changes on this site and some new features.


Top Five Tuesday: All Star Sports

In honor of our national pastime taking a break over these three days to have their All-Star game, I thought I’d give you my top five “All-Star” activities for all sports.  The criteria, looking at all professional sports “all-star” breaks, I am listing my top 5 activities that take place surrounding these events.  Please note, I think that NFL needs to get rid of their “Pro Bowl.”  Nobody cares the week after the Super Bowl.

Without further ado, the list.

Honorable Mentions: NHL Skills Competition and the  NBA Rookie/Sophomore Game. Haven’t even seen one yet, but I think I’d also enjoy an MLS All-Star Game.

Five: The NBA H-O-R-S-E competition. Nothing like taking a backyard favorite and having some of the guys in the NBA compete.

Four: The NBA All-Star Game. It’s crazy-go-nuts, no defense, but for whatever reason, I still watch it.  The only way I think it will become an actual game is if they did something crazy like made it count for home-court advantage for the winner conference for the Championship series… oh wait, that’s bee done by the MLB.  Okay, here’s my suggestion, the conference that wins, the teams in that conference that are in the NBA draft lottery get an extra ball in the drawing?

Three: NHL All-Star Game.  I’m not a huge NHL Guy, I like the play-offs, but I have enjoyed watching bits of the All-Star game because of the increased scoring.  It’s fun to see a game end 12-10.  I think, similar to the NBA, the game is so much different than the actual season that a purest wouldn’t like it, but for an occasional fan, it is fun to see.

Two: The Three Point Contest in NBA. I love the one-minute format with five racks of five balls each and the “money ball” as the last one on each rack.  This is one competition that can always be repeated because it doesn’t require creativity and it happens so quickly… whereas the Dunk Contest needs to go away for a good number of years.

One: The Baseball All-Star Game.  All other All-Star games are played for fun.  Not that I’m a huge fan of the home-field advantage in the world-series going to the winner, but I do like that the All-Star game in baseball actually seems to be played competitively.  Take basketball for instance, if LeBron is on a break, nobody makes any effort to defend… I’m thankful that Cliff Lee didn’t underhand a pitch to Albert Pujols in tonight’s game.

Anyone have something I am missing?


Top Five Tuesday: Other Places I’d Live

I love where we live… though I have to admit, this spring (early summer) the weather did get to me.  I have NO intention of moving, but for the sake of this blog post we’ll make the call that I had to move my family from Washington… we’ve been outlawed or something like that… so, the criteria for this top five is that I have to pick the top five places I would move if we were to vacate WA.  I will throw out the stipulation that it must be in country as well, just to make it a little more narrow. I have to admit, this is a tough list to do because I know my wife won’t agree with all of them… good thing we haven’t been outlawed… yet.

Without further ado, the list.

Honorable Mentions: Maui; Santa Barbara, CA; Boulder, CO; Durango, CO and Bend, Oregon.

Five: Boise, Idaho or Redding, CA.  This pick surprised me as well.  I like the climate that both of these places would offer and most importantly the pace of life that I could imagine both these cities offer.  Both are about equal drive time from family in Western WA. Advantage to Boise because of the bigger city amenities but advantage to Redding because of In-N-Out. Enough said.  I like being outside and both have a great season of sun and a great winter season.

Four: Suburbs of Atlanta. I know, weird.  I wanted to throw at least one oddball one out here in this list.  Cost of living, sprawling estates and some southern hospitality all seem to be nice benefits to this area.  I think I could do okay, but not great, with the humidity.  Of all the places I’ve been back east, Atlanta had the most appeal as a place I could live.

Three: North Colorado Springs/Monument/Castle Rock. I like it in Colorado, I could very easily see us living in that area.  I think Denver is a pretty cool city, I could get into the Rockies, but never the Broncos.  I really like the area south of Denver and would want to live close enough to the airports to get out to anywhere in the US.  Colorado would make a lot of sense for the business/ministry side of things.  I love the outdoors and 300+ days with some sunshine coming through is a nice appeal to the state.

Two: San Antonio. Seriously, did I just write that?  Weird.  I know, I’m not a Texas guy, but San Antonio doesn’t feel “south” to me, it has a unique culture there and seems like the hills north of the city would be a pretty cool place to be.  I have relatives in the area and I think for Youthmark’s purposes being near the Bible belt could provide for great business rather than the highly unchurched culture of the west and specifically the northwest, but I do know that for now we are called to our PNW culture!

One:  San Diego County.  I really don’t want to live in CA, however, I can’t think of another place outside of the greater Seattle area that I’d want to live more.  I love the climate of San Diego and would probably pick somewhere in North County.  We’d be only a couple hours from in-laws and very close to many friends and ministry associates.

Got any suggestions and/or major disagreements/reasons I’ve made a poor choice?  Anyone agree with any of these choices?


Top Five Tuesday: Big House Projects

Let me start by saying, “If Money Were Not An Issue…”

The top 5 today is a list of things that we really want/need to get done, but obviously cannot do all at once and/or should probably start saving for because a few of them absolutely need to get done sooner than later.  The criteria, each of these things have been items Elisabeth and I have discussed as things we want to do at our house, on our house or on our property.

Without further ado, the list:

Five: The Deck. Okay, ain’t going to happen, but here’s to hoping.  We are hoping for a year or two more with our current deck.  Elisabeth just blessed me on my last trip by bleaching, scrubbing and preparing the deck for a new sealant.  It looks great, hope it buys us a couple years.  Anyone want to design, pay for and build our new deck… now?

Four: Side-yard gravel and bark. The weed-garden needs to be replaced with a new gravel pathway and that anti-weed fabric covered with bark.  Can’t wait for a presentable side-yard.  Anyone know where we can get some cheap bark?

Three: Playroom/Office/Garage overhaul. These three areas of our house are all related to the one major project of the summer.  The good news, it won’t cost much.  The Youthmark inventory (t-shirts/books) have overtaken the garage with some spill-over into my office as well.  The office and playroom are about to be switched (the office being our old homeschool room, which has also been a spare-room, but was originally a dining room).  With the switch we hope the shelving we add in the new office will alleviate the garage take-over and create a new clean and fresh situation in all three spaces.  Here’s to hoping.  Anyone know where we can get some good cheap shelving?

Two: The Fence/Play Area. I could easily list these ones as separate items, but because I will probably do these ones together, I may as well list them together.  About five years ago I did a redesign on the backyard and created a play area for the kids.  Well, one thing I didn’t really think about was the fact that the area I built up with fill dirt would settle.  The settling has literally pushed our side-fence so much that boards are popping off.  Not only this, but other parts of the fence are just old and rotting.  So, I plan to dig up parts of the play area, level it even more, create a reinforcement system and replace the fencing.  Anyone know a good and cheap fencer?

One: The Roof. Though it isn’t the one that I want to do the most, it is the one that honestly needs to be done very, very, very soon.  Almost six years ago when we were negotiating to buy the house we asked about the condition of the roof in our home-inspection.  The report was that it needed to be replaced but was certified for one more year.  Well, here we are, five-and-a-half years into ownership and still sporting the same cedar shingles. Yep, not an expense I look forward to, but with the rain we had this spring (and early summer), I cannot see another dry fall, winter and spring.  Anyone know a good, but cheap roofer?

Man, doing this list makes me want to buy my first lottery ticket… or move.



Top Five Tuesday: Decaf Coffee… what?

A few weeks ago I was sick for a 24 hour period.  I could barely drink anything let alone eat anything.  Because I was in this woeful state I thought it could provide the perfect opportunityt o go ahead and break the potential addiction I may have acquired to caffeine?  I’m not saying I was addicted, but I can say that I couldn’t remember the last day I had gone without caffeine intake.  What’s worse, is that I couldn’t remember the last day that I hadn’t consumed multiple caffeinated beverages.

I enjoy tea.

I like Coke Zero.

Diet Dr. Pepper… yummm.

Oh yeah, I do like my coffee as well.

So, I went three days straight without a single ounce of caffeine.  I can honestly say that I only had a slight headache, cured by Tylenol on the 2nd of those three days, so whether or not I have an addiction or not, I am not sure, but I do know that as much caffeine as I had been consuming could not have been good for me.  So I broke the habit and am now being very conscientious of how caffeine I am taking in.

With all that said, I have experienced multiple decaffeinated coffee drinks over the last several weeks.  Some places you can really tell the difference between the drugged version and the non-addictive alternative (which still does contain some caffeine, by the way).  So, I decided to make this the subject of today’s Top 5.  The criteria, they have to be branded as “decaffeinated” coffee beverages.  They are not necessarily ones I have had just in the last 3 weeks (yes, I have had the occasional decaf before).

Without further ado, the list.

Five: Tully’s. Elisabeth and I had some Tully’s from Alki the other day, my iced decaf Americano was very good.  I am not normally a Tully’s fan, I have felt they over-sweeten with syrups and their regular brew has often felt weak to me, but the decaf espresso shots did the trick for me this time.

Four: Cutter’s Point. I know that I am influenced by the setting, I simply love the Cutter’s Point cafe settings, and I really like a place that keeps decaf for the majority of the day.  It is a fine coffee, nothing too distinct, but nothing to complain about either.

Three: Peets Coffee. We have their decaf at home, when the decaf beans are fresh I can tell little difference between this and the regular stuff.

Two: “67” at The Edgewater Hotel. We had breakfast there a couple weeks ago and I have always loved their strong brew there, well, there decaf is something to write home about as well.

One: Seattle’s Best Coffee.  Very smooth, yet still have a very full flavor.  I had to double check just to make sure they pulled it from the right brewing mechanism (what would you call those things anyway, “ginormous coffeemaker?”).  Sure enough the refill was just as good.  Nice work SBC!

Any other decaf fans out there?  Have any suggestions for a good one for me?

Oh, by the way, I wrote this from Starbucks, while enjoying a Venti Drip… FULLY CAFFEINATED, after all, it is early!



Top Five Tuesday: Youth Pastorate Misses

Let me start by saying that I love my role with Youthmark.  I really like what I do and have chosen this line of work; it flows directly from my previous role of 16 years as a Youth Pastor. And I am quite happy to not be a Youth Pastor right now.

Now I’ll continue by saying that there are a few things that I miss about being a Youth Pastor.  I am reminded of these things as I meet with the variety of Youth Leaders I get to interact with very often.  So, for the top 5 today, let’s look at the things I miss the most about my old job.

The criteria:  These were all things I got to do as a Youth Pastor that I don’t necessarily have the opportunity to do right now (yes, I know I can volunteer in a church youth ministry, and do to a degree, but I am also a Young Life leader so, there is only so much time available).

Without further ado, the list.

Still love coming up with Retreat Ideas!

Five: New and Innovative Retreats. Retreat for the sake of retreat has been done.  However, doing a new and exciting way of retreating became a nice challenge.  Whether it was crashing another church to save money and use their facility or doing a retreat where students led every aspect, there was always new twists to put on a retreat.  My favorite of all of the ones I made-up was the Senior Thing. It was a pre-senior-year retreat I took with just the seniors-to-be and their core-group leaders.  This retreat would focus on student leadership–not defined by being upfront, rather, being a leader is using your gift, whatever it may be.

Four: Creative & Admin Stuff. Yep, I’m a freak.  I liked putting together the calendar for the entire spring, thinking through the different events, games, skits, talks.  I actually enjoyed assigning this person for that role, emailing the chart and keeping up the general communication chain.  Like I said, I was a freak.  I miss being a freak that way.  I equally enjoyed the “Big” program events that needed creativity behind them.  Like a once-a-year big retreat where we’d pull out the stops with the program.  Because I was so non-program for the most part, doing it once a year was a lot of fun.

Three: Staff Retreat. I could categorize this one as the entire Volunteer team, because I did love and truly miss having those teams, but I REALLY loved doing our staff retreats.  I enjoyed ending the summer with a couple weeks of “down” time for the students before we started the program year.  During this time I ran the aforementioned “Senior Thing” but would also do a staff retreat during this time.  It was a time to do some training, but also bond as a team.  We’d get away to a cabin, eat well, tell lot’s of stories and play lots of games.  It was really part training and part reward for those involved.

my last mission as a YP, Council, ID.

Two: Mission (before, during & after). It should come as no surprise that THIS is one of the things I miss the most.  Though I still participate to a degree and will from time to time go on a mission, it’s not the same as when you are the shepherd of your own group.  I loved the entire process of interviewing, training, taking and following up after the mission.  It’s where this whole Mission51 concept was conceived.  On the actual missions the “family time” at night was certainly the highlight!  The highlight after was seeing students come home with a passion for their lost family members and friends and the struggle that ensued seeing that the field is really no different than the home-turf, but it sure feels different when it is loved ones you’re trying to reach.

my last core-group and our "last hoorah" to the Grand Canyon

One: Core-Group. No doubt about it, the best part of being a Youth Pastor was having my own small group of guys I discipled through their high school years.  I think I was good at it (not in a cocky way, rather I believe God gifted me in this area). The weekly interaction with a bunch of teen guys and seeing them grown through the years and continue in friendship is such a blessing.  I count it an honor that to this day I am still in contact with most of the guys I have been involved with through these groups.

I am sure there are many other things that I miss.  Church Staff meetings NOT being one of them.  Did I miss any?


Top Five Tuesday: Tour “Moments”

The last eight weeks of my life have passed so quickly.  It feels like an eternity ago that Joe Poppino and I met up at SeaTac for our first leg of the Youthmark Mission Ventures Spring Retreat “Tour” as it affectionately became known.  Though the tour was only six of those eight weekends, I had one weekend in Montana for my sister-in-law’s wedding and last weekend I was speaking at a camp down in Oregon, so 8 weekends straight of being at least partially away.  Whew!

Today’s Top 5 gives you a glimpse at a few of my favorite moments during the six spring retreats.  The criteria is that it simply had to have taken place during the travel times for one of the retreats.

Without further ado, the list.

Honorable Mentions: Colorado–seeing/serving with so many friends (Alex, PK, Peter, Steve, etc.); Time with Jeramy, Jerusha and family in Escondido, the fantastic times with all my help @ the northwest retreats (Mike and Ricky need to especially be thanked for all that they did for these retreats!).  Shooting the videos with Frankie (and just time with Frankie in general) would be a highlight too, but the video shoot didn’t take place on the retreats.

Me with Mike and Mike in Canby

Five: The Leaders Lounge at Canby, Grove. On Friday night as the students head to their first family time after snack, Joe and a I carried on the tradition we started in Houston, we’d grab some time together and talk through the night and celebrate.  Well, this happened pretty much every weekend, and on Friday night in Canby the “Leader Lounge” took place in a room next to the dining room.  With about 10 of us, band members, sound and behind the scenes folk we stayed up too late eating, talking and LAUGHING way too much!  It was fantastic.

Joe and Neil leading into "the moment"

Four: The Original “Moment” in Spring, TX. On Friday night our theme was “Listen.”  We ended the worship time with an extended time of silence.  In Spring, TX (and every subsequent retreat) this went off really well.  I loved this moment each week, but especially loved it in Spring.

Joe "has an album"

Three: The many, many moments with Joe. I know, sounds cheesy; but can’t narrow it down to a single moment, but I can say it was very nice to journey the entire “moments” with someone.  We had many a meal along the way at some FANTASTIC places.  Joe is a great person to travel with as well, he wants/needs his own space, just as I do, so I can honestly say we did not get in each others ways!  A couple “moments” that I would mention: “He has an album,” “The Prius,” “The Escondido Waiter” and the many many times we made fun of each others routines (we got to the point where we knew exactly what the other would be saying from the platform).

Two: Escondido, CA, Commissioning. The Leaders of Emmanuel Faith and Pine Valley Community Church had no idea that they were setting up a wonderful moment, but their delay in going out to pray for students really set a tone that we wanted to see take place the rest of the weekends.  Overall, the students worship time at this weekend was one that stood out to me.

One: The Last Night, The Last Song. Youthmark has a tradition on how we end our retreats with our unique commissioning.  I won’t give it away here, but it involves a wonderful time of prayer followed by the crowd’s unified voice being lifted in praise.  On this last retreat at Lake Retreat we had nearly 220 strong sining so loudly.  The emotion of all six retreat was rolled in one for me!  I loved that time.

I am sure now that I am done with the list I’ll have several new ones pop into my mind.  I look forward to posting even more pics from the retreats soon. We had a professional photographer, Brooke Anderson, take pics the last two weekends (Canby and Lake Retreat), much thanks to Brooke, as soon as we get more pics back from her I’ll post and give out her contact information so that you can use her for your photo-shoot!

Anyone out there at a retreat and have a favorite “moment?”