Foundations in Youth Ministry:
Making Mission Part of Your Mission
By Daniel Griswold
(This is the first copy of the article published in The Advocate, UMC Publication in the South Carolina Conference)
When first starting a ministry to youth, mission may not seem like a huge priority. There is a budget (or lack of) to wrestle with, relationships to build, schools to visit, parents to meet, programs to run, volunteers to lead, and a new pastor to get to know. That’s a small fraction of the to-do list, and wrangling a team together and convincing them to pay good money, or fundraise to travel and be inconvenienced by the unpredictability of travel seems like a hard sell. It would be far easier to do some quick local service projects, we all can feel helpful, and we sleep well at night knowing our kids can work hard.
There is a small problem though. I’ve yet to see local service projects have the same personally transforming experience that a week and a half serving others in a foreign situation can. Why is that? I think that there are a few factors that come into play that bring about a huge transformation in young people.
First, being inconvenienced and having to convince oneself that serving others is worthy my time, money and effort creates a self-sacrificing atmosphere. Youth can often be idealists, so speaking about the good that can be done and showing the people that we can serve with builds not only compassion, but camaraderie with peoples around the globe. Once the team is on the ground, they can already be an oiled team who has met the challenges of fundraising, getting passports, doing paperwork, and learning the local culture and possibly language. Once on the ground, it is assumed that the projects will be hard, that everyone will have to step beyond comfort, and because of this, everyone is stretched. It is in these situations of stress that we can learn who we all really are.
Second, young people need to see that God is alive and is working through the hearts and hands of people all across the globe. Sometimes we accidentally fall into the mentality that we, the privileged, can go and serve among the unfortunates who need our help. This is dangerous thinking because it sets us in a caste above those we serve. I’ve always been able to experience excellent teams who realize that we are going to serve with and among good hard working people, and partner with Christians and missionaries already on the ground. We become part of a continuum. We bear our own weight and don’t expect more because of our lifestyles back home, and we worship in the styles and culture of Methodists here and there. In this we begin to see a glimpse of the future multi-national, all-cultural unity of the Kingdom of God. Those who see it tend to get over some of the petty cultural battles that disengage the church from its true mission to spread the Gospel through action and love.
Throughout scripture, in the Old and New Testaments, God calls out to His people and says “Go”. “Go where?” I don’t know where God will lead you and your young people, but it is clear that it is in the midst of going out that we begin to fully understand what it must have been like for Moses to leave Midian to save his people, or for the apostles including Paul, who went out and became missionaries to all people who would listen and come alongside them. Our youth groups need someone with leadership and vision enough to take on the challenge and say, “We need to listen to God and go out.”
United Methodist Volunteers in Mission constantly run great trips. Salkehatchie, with 48 camps across the state, has been amazing for our youth group as well, and allows for in-state but still out of comfort trips uniting many churches with one mission. Talk with your church’s mission committee or to those who are passionate about mission opportunities and to ask them, “How can we get young people serving alongside you?” It may take some time to build the chain of trust with working adults and retirees, but the resulting intergenerational opportunity will break open misconceptions of all sorts and show the world that our God is not someone who segregates us by culture, race, age, geography or whatever separates us. We are all children of the same God, and we are all in need of the saving Love of Jesus Christ. Your youth group may or may not grow in numbers, but you’ll likely produce a few world changers. Pray about it and meditate a bit on the Great Commission at the end of Matthew. Jesus said, Go. Let’s get going.
Youth Director at Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC
Hilton Head Island, SC Twitter: @Dannonhill Email: DanielGriswold@Gmail.com