Changing the Meaning of “Church Service”

Bethel CRC in Brockville, Ontario, has left the building. Rather than seeing a teen summer mission trip as a mountaintop experience, they are working to build serving into the DNA of the congregation.


Students from Bethel have participated in Youth Unlimited’s Serve many times and have taken it home to help reach their own congregation.


Pastor Jack Van de Hoef and his team planned three days of worship, prayer and serving with a total of 10 very local work sites. Here is the report in his words:


Most of the sites involved revitalizing properties and creation care (pretty fancy words for pulling lots of weeds). We also helped out at the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore because the damp weather interfered with our outdoor painting projects. Two of the sites were through our local social services agency; the others were through our own church connections. Only two of the sites were for members of our church. 


We set it up much like Youth Unlimited’s Serve, with devotions in the morning, work for the day, supper together and worship in the evening. We slept in our own homes. It made for a long day, especially for our seniors, but no one complained.


On Sunday morning, participants were invited to share their thoughts of how they saw God at work. The comments included appreciation for the inter-generational experience and the blessing of seeing the look of appreciation on the faces of those we served. There was the joy of serving, of experiencing teamwork, of coming back to church after a day of work and knowing someone had prepared supper for us.


It was a very positive experience. We will see how the Lord continues to bless our church through this. I’m sure the impact will be felt beyond this one week and into the other 51 weeks of the year.


Thank you for the theme material on Isaiah 58.  I gleaned from it to prepare a handout for the morning devotions (with credit being given to Youth Unlimited). I also used the idea of living out of the centre of normal for our Friday evening worship. Instead of a speaker, I interviewed three members of our church who volunteer on a regular basis for different community agencies. I introduced them as three normal people, doing normal volunteering as their service for the Lord and his kingdom.


I could probably say a lot more, but this gives you an idea of how things went. 


Thanks again for your support. 


Blessings, Pastor Jack


To see a video of Bethel CRC’s experience, click here.

Fasting for Serve

My name is John Eigege. I am a church planter from Nigeria working in Houston, Texas. Over the past three years, God has taken my family on a wild ride as we plant a church that connects Houston’s Midtown and Third Ward neighborhoods. These two neighborhoods, separated only by a highway, are polar opposites economically, socially and ethnically. Our church plant, Square Inch Houston, seeks to reconcile, renew, and restore all things through the gospel of Jesus Christ.


God has definitely connected my heart with the collective heart of Youth Unlimited. The Serve experience is one that seeks to help youth join Christ in the renewal of all things. During Serve, this intense, catalytic, week long mission experience, youth gather in worship, grow in community and go out to join in Christ’s mission of restoration in our world.


Every year, my heart says a resounding yes to the privilege of being the speaker at the Houston Serve site. However, this year was a wee-bit challenging. Houston Serve 2014 fell smack-dab in the middle of the 2014 FIFA World Cup! Remember, I am from Nigeria. Any kind of football (or soccer, as it is called here) is a pretty big deal for me. Since it happens only once every four years, the World Cup is the Holy Grail of sports competitions for me.


In ways of poetic justice that only God is capable of, our theme for this year revolved around Isaiah 58. Isaiah 58 is God’s trumpet call to his people to give up “lip-service”, and replace it with true worship and fast. In true worship and fast, we give up something good in order to gain something great! After my initial pity party, it became very evident that The World Cup would have to take the back seat this year. I would have to give up something good for something great.


When we give up something good for the greatness of God’s Kingdom, amazing things happen. At Serve, I saw youth from various churches pouring themselves out on behalf of the poor and oppressed. I saw high school students seeking righteousness through right relationships and justice through right actions. I saw host churches becoming catalysts for spiritual and physical revitalization in neighborhoods and the lives of individuals and families.


I saw young Christians, broken by guilt, shame, fear and inadequacy at the beginning of the week lay those burdens down at the foot of the cross. I saw the Holy Spirit work in them through worship, relationships and acts of service throughout Serve. By week’s end, I saw these same youth receive a new identity in Christ as powerful sons and daughters of King Jesus. They literally became repairers of broken walls,and restorers of street dwellings.


Our acts of service daily ended in worship, and our worship daily lead to acts of service. God used Serve as a catalyst to help us love him with all that we are and love our neighbors as ourselves. Through it all, God used Serve to fulfill his desire; to transform us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, into the image and likeness of his son, Jesus.


Right after Serve, my family and I made our scheduled move from Midtown into Houston’s Third Ward. We seek to be agents of transformation in our community. We seek to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We seek reconciliation, renewal and restoration of all facets of life through the gospel of Jesus Christ. For us, the Serve experience is an invaluable spark that keeps moving our vision and mission of restoration forward the remaining fifty-one weeks of the year. We are carrying the momentum of Serve with us as we learn to forever find our sense of purpose, our identity, and rest in Jesus Christ as his agents of transformation in this world.


“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, too him be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.”

Who We Are in Christ

For more than a year the staff of Youth Unlimited prepared for this past summer. We prayed that students who attended a Youth Unlimited experience would come to understand that what we do grows out of who we are in Christ, and that being in Christ changes us and our actions.


Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” This Scripture was the focus of study at 27 Serve sites and at The Chicago Project in 2013. Last summer we were also grateful to roll out our second Live It experience. All total, approximately 2,000 youth and leaders sought to bring hope to a broken world with the love of Jesus Christ through one of our experiences.


We continue to pray that the work of their hands and the words of their mouths will ripple from the churches and communities they served outwards across North America and beyond. Please join us in praying that through their service the Holy Spirit will continue to move in the hearts of each student and will bring about a faith that impacts every aspect of their lives.


It is hard to believe that 2013 is now over and a new church ministry year is upon us, but it is with great excitement and enthusiasm that we remind you once again of our faith-forming experience opportunities for 2014! During these experiences students are going to dive in to the message of Isaiah 58. This Scripture and this year’s theme, Divine Normal: Kingdom Living By Mere Mortals, will confront apathy, empty religion and indifference to the needs of others. This is God’s call, his heart’s cry for his people, that they use their God-given potential to help those in need.


As youth workers responsible for assisting youth in their faith formation, please know that Youth Unlimited is here to help you. Much thought, many prayers, lots of work and hundreds of volunteers are eager to partner with you in the coming year.