Go Do Good – Do It

by Angie Klooster

SERVE 2019 was one of the most influential weeks of my life. Seeing the broken state some people live in is one thing but having the opportunity to help them and change their way of life is entirely different. We made a difference, even if all we did was weed a few rows of a community garden or paint the walls of a non-profit organization. And making a difference made a difference in me.

I was cautious to go on this trip. It was very out of my comfort zone. Then, when I found out no one from my church was in my SERVE small group, I was even more discouraged. However, as soon as I met my small group and spent one day with them, I knew I was here for a reason. The people I worked with and got to know were some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I quickly realized God sent me on SERVE to do good.

God sent me to a small church in Muskegon, Michigan both to help people and to grow, myself. I learned more about myself in those seven days than I have in my entire life. I learned to not take things for granted. I learned that God works miracles in the strangest of ways. I learned to get out of my comfort zone and talk to people. And I learned to make friends, even if it’s just for a week and I might never see them again.

With each service project – every time we handed out yogurt at the church or cleaned a lot – we made a difference, and I was so encouraged. It might not have been much, but it was something, and it was hopefully enough to encourage others to follow our footsteps, too.

One little nudge can make a change in someone’s life, like the way my life changed at Muskegon SERVE. If the people of Muskegon saw us planting a garden and growing food, it shows them that it’s possible. If the kids at Muskegon Heights High School saw that people were willing to help them, it shows them they can help people, too.

Muskegon SERVE was just one week, but the people I worked with have been doing this for years. They have dedicated their lives to helping their community and are very passionate about what they do. They work so hard with so little. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to see, and talk to, and help these people. It’s changed who I am, and I hope everyone gets a chance to have a similar experience. If you ever get the opportunity to go do good, do it. It will be beyond worth it.  

[This is an excerpt from the Fall 2019 Magazine. To read more stories CLICK HERE]

Youth Unlimited Celebrates 100 Years of Ministry

2019 marks the 100th anniversary of Youth Unlimited serving students, churches, and communities through mission experiences and events.

Here’s how God has used Youth Unlimited since its founding:

Youth Unlimited History - GuysEstablished in 1919 as the American Federation of Reformed Young Men’s Society, Youth Unlimited has evolved and grown into what it is today. “Youth Unlimited has a long and storied history of partnering with the local Church to deepen students’ faith and assist youth ministry workers in relevant and exciting ways,” says Rick Zomer, current Executive Director of Youth Unlimited. “From our first Convention event in 1920 and first summer mission trip in 1960 through today, we stand in awe of the work God has done through Youth Unlimited and the number of lives impacted,” he added.

Currently, Youth Unlimited primarily serves students and churches through weeklong mission experiences across North America. Each summer 1200+ students and volunteers mobilize to minister in communities through the United States and Canada through SERVE, which has long been a flagship program of Youth Unlimited. “Youth Unlimited is more than mission experiences for teens, but SERVE has proven time and time again that the experiences and lessons learned are truly life-changing,” noted Zomer.

Youth Unlimited History - GalsYouth Unlimited has also successfully developed and launched various ministry support tools and curriculums, staged large-scale events for teens and youth ministry leaders, and partnered with other ministries to increase their reach in sharing the gospel with teens. “Our experiences have been wide-reaching over the years,” said Zomer, “but everything Youth Unlimited has done has been with the same primary focus – supporting church youth leaders to more effectively speak truth into teens’ lives and share the love of Christ with them,” he added.

With much excitement, Zomer noted, “During our 100th anniversary, we celebrate our past and all God has done to and through Youth Unlimited. But, we look forward with great anticipation as the Youth Unlimited team prepares for new and exciting ways to continue our ministry and, ultimately, continue impacting our world for Jesus Christ.” To celebrate the 100-year milestone, Youth Unlimited is planning several special events throughout 2019, including a golf outing, convention appearances, and two celebration dinners.

Infographic: A History of God’s Faithfulness to Youth Unlimited

Youth Unlimited 100 Years History Infographic

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About Youth Unlimited

Youth Unlimited, headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, is a non-denominational, non-profit ministry organization with the focus of assisting the Church and its many local congregations with their ministry to our youth. Through events like SERVE mission trips for teens, Youth Unlimited partners with youth leaders to provide faith-forming experiences to middle school, high school, and special needs students.

Engaging Youth

by Kevin VanderVeen

As a youth pastor, I find myself praying for young people in the church often. I pray young people will discover the depth of God’s love for them and know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. I pray they will take joy in God as the greatest treasure of their life. I pray they will become increasingly aware of how God has uniquely gifted them to serve in his kingdom. I pray the young people in the church may experience a sense of urgency to use and develop their gifts for God’s glory.

At Covenant, we are blessed with young people of all ages, and we’re learning how to approach our ministry to young people in a way that is strategic and developmentally appropriate. As we wonder about what this looks like, we find ourselves asking questions like:

How do we engage young people meaningfully so they will grow and develop spiritually? And what congregational practices lead to spiritual maturity in our young people? In my experience, we are not alone in wrestling with questions like these. The fact is, ministering to young people is an area of concern for the church, and we are all trying to learn how to do this well.

Each ministry context is different, which means ministry will take a different shape in each of our church communities. I would like to suggest, though, that there are some things we can do, regardless of context, to strengthen our ministry to young people. Strengthening our programs or making programmatic changes is not one of those things. If we are going minister to young people in the church effectively, then we need to think bigger; we need to begin thinking about the culture within our church communities. Young people want to feel as though they are a part of the church, and they want to be embraced by the church as a valued part of the body of Christ. To me, that suggests that we, as churches, need to enfold young people into the life of the church.

What would that look like?

Fuller Youth Institute put together a list of common characteristics that are present in churches engaging young people effectively. Here are four of those characteristics:

Cultivating authentic community through peer and intergenerational relationships.

Relationship is key, but youth need both peer and intergenerational relationships. Many churches offer opportunities for peer relationships but struggle with intergenerational relationships. I wonder what it would look like for us to get together, intergenerationally, to share our faith stories. We encourage young people to reflect on their faith stories, but do we ever share our stories with them? I have been blessed by hearing stories from the older members in our community. We have all experienced God in different ways, and sharing those experiences helps build relationships.

Treating parents as active partners in discipleship.

Youth ministry is always youth and family ministry. As churches, we need to find meaningful ways to encourage and equip parents as they partner with us in discipleship. Many parents want to be a part of their children’s spiritual growth, but they’re not sure how, so they hand off the responsibility to church leaders. We need to find ways to give parents the tools they need to partner with us in discipleship.

Intentional engagement with wider culture with a redemptive focus.

Perhaps the greatest gift that we, as churches, can give to young people is the capacity to think critically and theologically about the world around them. Our approach must be twofold: first laying a theological foundation, and second, engaging with broader culture with a redemptive focus.

Corporate worship that is both engaging and intergenerational.

In our context, one of the most celebrated times is corporate worship, and young people love being involved. We have young people leading worship, reading scripture and running our technology. Our young people love having leadership in worship, and the Covenant community has been blessed by their leadership. When worship leading and planning is intergenerational, young people are drawn in and engaged.

As a pastor, I pray for the young people in the church today, but I also pray for the church. I pray God may lead and guide us forward as we seek to be faithful to his calling for us. I pray the church may foster intergenerational relationships, partner with parents, engage the world well and worship in inclusive and meaningful ways.

When the church engages young people meaningfully, church ministry thrives. We are on a journey of learning how to engage young people effectively, let us learn together.


Kevin is part of the Niagara, ON Host Team as well as the Pastor Of Community at Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, ON.
[This is an excerpt from the Fall 2017 Magazine. To read more stories CLICK HERE]


He Delights in Using Young People

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.” Joel 2:28-29

Sometimes we forget I’m not old enough to rent a van…or drive a rental van, for that matter.

I started leading a youth group at the age of 19. Being just months older than a handful of my students was daunting at best, terrifying at worst. For every time a student questioned my authority, I questioned my own authority five times. I really did not have a clue, and now in my second year of youth ministry, I can confidently assert that I still have absolutely no clue how this came to pass in my life.

I’m still a baby in the faith, honestly. I made the commitment to serve God with my life five years ago this summer, and though I am a theology student at a brilliant private college, I find each day I have more questions about who God is and what he is doing than I did before I started.

My church is made up of young leadership. We have a young pastor, a young worship leader and a young youth leader. This has its negative aspects, for sure, but there are certainly some amazing positives.

I often feel like I have an incredible advantage because of my youth. The insider perspective I have on youth culture helps me to have grace for the students’ situations, however large or small they may be. This gives me grace to be an advocate for them, an advocate to their parents and an advocate before the throne of Jesus to intercede for them. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly.

I love to watch my students grow. I love to grow with them. I love that we are all new to this “follower of Jesus” thing and I love that we are asking the same questions. I love that we are asking different questions.

I love that Jesus delights in using young people, as messy, confused and fallible as we are. I love that his Spirit is poured out on all of us, men, women, young and old – he holds nothing back in his outpouring of revelation. I love that he is raising up a new generation of leaders, and that, for some crazy reason, he decided to give me a front row seat to the most beautiful journey I could ever imagine.

Life Changing Serve

Three high school students from Ferry Memorial Reformed Church in Montague, MI attended Huron Serve in July of 2015.

Sure, they enjoyed getting to know some new Canadian friends and trying poutine for the first time, but they also allowed Serve to change their life in larger ways. Many of the work projects at Huron Serve were in small rural communities. As one student, Seth, experienced working with people in rural poverty, he said, “Serve opened my eyes to see lots of people in need in areas you wouldn’t think there would be a need – in a small town”. A freshman, Cecilia, adds, “I didn’t realize so many people were in need”.

Huron Serve encouraged students and leaders to look at the world through someone else’s eyes and to build relationships with those they came to work alongside. The youth leader, Mike, appreciated this aspect of Serve. “I thought I was helping others before (in other service projects), but it was more about making me feel good about myself, not thinking about how they feel”. Seth agreed that treating someone with dignity and getting to know them is important, and he says, “It is more than giving someone on the street a bottled water, it is sitting down and drinking water with a person.”

A senior (now a college Freshman), Lauren’s, experience with Serve was one reason she changed her major from English to Social Work. She has always had a big heart for people on the margins, but her experiences at Serve working with homeless and people living on the edge of poverty helped her realize what she really wanted to do.

As a leader, I am enthusiastic about my Serve experience. I took three quiet, introverted students with prayerful confidence that they would be enfolded by their small group teams and find a place to belong and to serve. I appreciate that the the Serve experiences I have been on emphasized a relationship with God at the core of all we do – including serving others. We are encouraged to treat all people with dignity and respect. The feeling wasn’t that the volunteers come with answers or even with “help”, but that we work together; in fact, getting to know someone and hearing their story may be the “help” that we both need most.

Trendy Teens (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from last week’s Trendy Teens (Part 1 of 2):

Another key way to engage with students is to control our atmosphere! While none of us can always control every situation and decision our teens make, we can control the atmosphere in our homes and church youth groups, and atmosphere is everything!

In Jim Burns book, Teen-ology he says; “While no home is perfect, and you will experience conflict with your teens – Here’s the deal: I don’t think we should solely blame our kids for the chaos in the home. Their “job” as teenagers is bound to cause some chaos and conflict. They are experimenting with behaviors, challenging authority, and generally doing things to mess up any positive atmosphere around them. Your job in the home is to set a tone and atmosphere that is more conductive to a better environment in the family. (It’s not going to be easy). If your family is living at too fast of a pace, or if your own life is filled with chaos and conflict, don’t expect your teens to set a positive atmosphere in your home. And don’t expect communication to be all that good either. It’s back to the intentional parenting of teens by staying calm, working a plan, and getting as emotionally healthy as YOU possibly can. To set a better atmosphere you will need to 1) be intentional 2) sometimes have to decide when certain behaviors and choices are just not worth a battle. (If your children see you as constantly nagging or criticizing them, don’t expect them to enjoy hanging out with you).”

Research is still showing that parents are the biggest influence in their teen’s life. Parents have the opportunity to make the biggest impact in their teen’s decisions. While we as adults can’t always control the decisions teens make regarding drug use, sex and friend choices, we can control the way we engage with the culture around us. We have power, through the Holy Spirit, to help our teens to be rooted and established in love, and not rooted in the popular trends all around them. It is messy work, but our teens are too important to ignore. Engage in their world and remind them of “real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”.

Trendy Teens (Part 1 of 2)

Looking back on the trendy fashion, music and entertainment from the 60’s and beyond, one common thread remains; it was the teens that were the “trend-setters.” If we look at the current trends in music, technology and entertainment, it is teens that are still influencing trends today. Therefore, as loving, caring, faith-filled adults, how should we respond to cultural trends from a Christian perspective?

Let’s first look at how Jesus interacted with and responded to culture. I love the way Brian Housman describes the way Jesus interacted with the culture around him in his book Engaging Your Teen’s World. He writes, “Jesus came to heal and renew what sin has infected – by revelation and instruction he (Jesus) reattaches the soul to God the source of its being and goodness and restores it to the right order of love.” Notice those verbs; Renew, Reattaches, Restores. He doesn’t ignore, or respond in panic or fear.

Unlike Jesus, our first response is too often to reject or ignore tough questions and hard battles. However the best way to deal with issues of culture (music, tech, entertainment) is to engage!

Look at the story in John 10:6-10 where Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Message says it like this; Jesus told this simple story, but they (the disciples) had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

“Will freely go in and out”—Notice Jesus doesn’t lock up the sheep. Dead bolt the gate shut! Keep the sheep completely sheltered, in hiding. John Rosemond, that man who coined the phrase “helicopter parent” says this; “Too many parents are ultimately carrying the burdens of their teen’s problems on their own shoulders. No teen will become a responsible adult if their parents carry the load for them. It’s not healthy for either party!”

So then, how do we engage without taking on our kid’s burdens? Whatever you do, don’t stay silent. Silence will often lead teens to jump to feeling of shame! Things so terrible we dare not mention them. When we try to engage, too often we ask simple (yes or no) questions. Then we’re surprised or disappointed when all we get is a simple yes/no/fine answer. Instead, begin your questions with phrases such as, “What do you think about…” or “How do you feel about…” These are open-ended questions, and can be quite helpful. Try them. They work!

To be continued…

Fall “Faces of ThereforeGo” Part 2

The following is an excerpt from the ThereforeGo Fall Magazine. To read more, click here.

Zan Ingalls

Q. What do you do to stay relevant to youth?

A. Having three children, ages 20, 18 and 15, keeps me relevant. I get to learn the lingo of the day. Also, working at a juvenile detention center with ages 13-19 gives me a definite inside scoop. I listen to their music and watch their shows and have open, candid dialogue with them. I intentionally ask them questions about why they do what they do, why they think like they think and what their motivation is. I have literally asked them what I can do to impact their peers. Their responses have shaped how I deal with the youth of the day.

Q. I never leave for youth group without my _____

A. ability to be flexible. I plan what I am going to say, and in some cases send the “planned” talk ahead. Sometimes what I’ve planned gives way to what God plans. In youth ministry (and ministry in general), nothing can shock you!

Q. What resource has inspired you for ministry lately?

A. Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and Soaring with Eagles have inspired me. These books have blessed me to open my mind and perspective as to how to be a blessing to this generation.

Q. What do you do in your free time?

A. I like bowling, playing in the water (beach or pool), roller coaster rides, spending time with family, watching a good movie, cooking and trying new restaurants with Liane. I have also written two books and am working on a third.

Q. Where would you like to travel someday?

A. I would love to go to Africa.

Devin and Gaby Mulder

Q. If your students described you in five words or less, what would they say?

A. That’s easy! “Devin and Gaby are crazy!” We hear this just about every week, but they continue to come and bring their friends, so we assume it’s a positive thing.

Q. What do you do in your free time?

A. In the little free time we have, I love to sew clothes for myself and Devin engineers tall bikes (a double-frame bike that sits five feet tall).

Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a youth group fundraiser?

A. Our craziest youth ministry fundraiser is the Chili Cook-Off Dinner and Auction, which raises funds for sending kids to Serve. Directing 40+ teens while trying to put on a nice dinner for the congregation usually feels like being at a zoo where they’ve opened all the cages! Even in the chaos, it ends up being one of the best fundraisers of the year and the teens always work really hard to make the event a hit.

Q. Where would you like to travel someday?

A. We’ve both had the privilege of traveling around the world, so our next dream visit would be to Nepal. It sounds a little cliché right now since everyone is going to help with earthquake trauma (which is totally valid), but Devin’s best friend has taken several mission trips there and is now moving to Nepal long term. We want to plan a trip to witness the seeds he has sown in that country.

Q. What is one website you visit every day?

A. If I’m being totally honest, Pinterest has me tied around its finger. I’ll usually look at Pinterest more often than my emails. Devin enjoys passing time with a good laugh, so he usually watches comedic videos on YouTube.

Fall “Faces of ThereforeGo” Part 1

The following is an excerpt from the ThereforeGo Fall Magazine. To read more, click here.

Brian Bierenga

Q. What’s your favorite place to meet with students, and why?

A. Starbucks – because the students enjoy it and I’m a sucker for earning those “stars”.

Q. What do you do to stay relevant to youth?

A. It’s all about relationship. While I appreciate the “heart” behind this question and understand that it’s a common question among youth workers, I find it a little strange. I have two kids of my own, ages 7 and 9, and I would find it strange it someone asked me how I remain relevant to them. Although there’s always room for improvement, I think most parents would say they’re able to connect well with their own kids because they’re in relationship with them. The same applies with my students; I aim to always be in relationship with them as if they were my own kids so that the connection happens naturally.

Q. I never leave for youth group without my ____

A. CB radios for the vans because they’re tons of fun. And a can of Febreze to secretly freshen up the guys’ stinky laundry piles while they’re away on free time.

Q. What resource has inspired you for ministry lately?

A. I regularly listen to the “Defining Moments” leadership podcasts from Willow Creek when I run. I’m also enjoying the book Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull (head of Pixar and Disney animation) much more than I thought I would. In addition to some great Pixar stories, Ed has great ideas on intentionally creating the culture you want among your team.

Q. What do you do in your free time?

A. I enjoy time with my kids, running, cooking or working on my yard or car. I don’t sit still very well.

John Bijl

Q. Where could we find you at 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning?

A. I would either be grocery shopping with my wife, doing weekend chores around the house or having breakfast at a local restaurant. I love going out for breakfast.

Q. What’s your favorite place to meet with students, and why?

A. I love to meet at local coffee shops because I love the atmosphere in these places and even though coffee shops can be busy, it is still a great place to relax and get to know where the students are at.

Q. I never leave for youth group without my _____

A. iPad, which has all of my notes for announcements as well as my Bible. Once, I did leave it in the youth room while I got something from my office and I came back to a series of “selfies” some of the students had done in the five minutes I was gone.

Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a youth group fundraiser?

A. We did an 80’s themed dessert night where the other leaders and I lip synced to a mash up of 80’s tunes. I was lip syncing Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night”, and yes, there is a video of it.

Q. What is one website you visit every day?

A. I usually go to flipbook to read up on men’s health, health food or photography.

Seven Changes that Affect Every Generation

If you were born before 1980, I’m sure you’ve noticed an interesting trend: it seems that every generation of adults looks at the newest batch of kids and is sure they are the worst bunch of rebels our world has ever seen. Thousands of years ago, Socrates wrote of the misguided youth in Greece and was sure they were “good for nothing”. He actually wrote that kids in his day were:

  • Lazy
  • Disrespectful
  • Lacking in responsibility

Doesn’t that sound strangely familiar?

I’ve noticed something else as I’ve studied today’s newest batch of students, the ones I call Generation iY. (They’re the kids born since 1990 — the second half of Generation Y — that some sociologists believe are the first portion of Generation Z.) What I’ve noticed is that we adults, on some levels, are guilty of the same negative elements we point out in them.

With each generation, changes take place. There are patterns to be observed that leaders should take note of today. For instance, I have noticed…

  1. With each new generation, time becomes more valuable.
  2. With each new generation, expectations of convenience and service rise.
  3. With each new generation, the demand for work to have meaning intensifies.
  4. With each new generation, the hunger for options grows.
  5. With each new generation, the sense of entitlement increases.
  6. With each new generation, the need for speed and space goes up.
  7. With each new generation, the desire for customization expands.


By knowing these realities, we can take a step forward in mentoring students. And let’s face it: the newest technologies (and the conveniences that come with them) affect all of us, not just the kids. This has always been true. When we were growing up, our parents, teachers and coaches often called uslazy slackers.

The key is to understand the current reality students face and ask: What life skills are they missing?Then, we must search out an activity to prescribe that will enable them to develop these timeless qualities they’ll need in life and in leadership. Sometimes the answer to both can be quite simple.

One Simple Secret a Mother and Her Daughter Discovered

For example, a couple of months ago, I posted a blog about how many in the emerging generation of students lacked ambition, discipline and, in fact, were moving back home after finishing school with no plan for the future. One woman replied and told me her daughter was a “case study” on what I had just written about. Her daughter often slept in late and had no passion for anything.

In the blog, I suggested we must introduce activities that will cultivate timeless virtues in young people—then watch what happens. I just received an update from this woman:

Months ago, I responded to your blog in respect to my 25-year old daughter who was sleeping until noon. After reading your blog today, I thought I’d share the hobby she has taken up that has really helped her: sewing. (Yes, you read that word correctly). It has many of the attributes that you mentioned about sports—you must slowly keep working on the process; you must keep learning and getting better. Each week, you can see progress on the specific project you’re working on when you sew. It requires much preparation and planning; it is a lot of tedious work; it usually includes mistakes that you must re-do. But the process pays off in the end. As a seamstress, you eventually get to see a finished product. My daughter is getting much enjoyment from sewing and has quit watching so much TV. She is also getting to bed earlier and getting up earlier. Thanks for your blogs. I gave her a Habitudes book as a graduation present this year.

A Diagnosis and a Prescription

Can you see what happened? All that this young adult needed was an exercise that would engage her. When she found it, her discipline, ambition, passion and emotional maturity began developing. It required more than an angry parent, more than a lecture, more than added house rules. It required a diagnosis and a prescription. Once again, we must ask ourselves:

  • What are the missing life skills in our young people?
  • What are some engaging activities that would build those life skills?

I have a “heads up” for you that might represent some good news.

In two months, we’ll be releasing an updated version of my book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future (5th Anniversary Edition). The book contains current research and updated case studies on the newest students on your campus, at your workplace, on your team, or even in your home. I talk about these trends and what we can do about them as adults. I also include diagnoses and prescriptions for how we can better engage this emerging generation.

Let me ask you: Have you noticed these trends above? What have you done to build timeless qualities in students, athletes, young employees, or your own kids?

Find out how adults can equip young people to lead us into the future in our best-selling book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future.

Order Today

Generation iY helps adults:

  • Guide unprepared adolescents and at-risk kids to productive adulthood
  • Correct crippling parenting styles
  • Repair damage from (unintentional) lies we’ve told kids
  • Guide young people toward real success instead of superficial “self-esteem”
  • Adopt education strategies that engage (instead of bore) an “I” generation
  • Employ their strengths and work with their weaknesses on the job

How to Prepare Spiritually for a Mission Trip

First things first: How do you prepare for a mission trip?

I’m not talking about the logistics – the fundraising plans, coordinating the ubiquitous big white youth vans – I’m talking about how you, in the midst of all that, prepare your heart, your spirit, for the work God will be doing in your own life through this experience. And not only how to prepare your own heart and spirit, but also the hearts of your students as the mission trip looms closer.

Now there’s lots of articles out there on the interwebs telling you the best way to prepare spiritually for mission trips. But many can be boiled down to: Read your Bible. Prepare to share the gospel with unbelievers. And get your students a prayer partner who will pack chocolates and uplifting notes for them during the trip.

But let’s go a little bit deeper, shall we?

Question your motives.

Yep. You heard me correctly. Question your motives. Why are you going on a mission trip? Not why you should go on a mission trip or why others are going on a mission trip. Nope. Why are you?

Is it just another item on the List of Things Every Good Christian Should Do? Want to go play White Savior with the poor people? Be the hero? For students specifically: Do you simply want to travel and a mission trip is easily approved by the parental units? Or, more positively: Do you want to learn about other cultures? To learn something about yourself?

Examine your heart. Your reasons. Your motivations. We are complex creatures with complex motives. Examining your own reasons for signing up for a mission trip – whether you’re a leader or a student – is essential for preparing your own heart for the trip and opening yourself to what God may have planned for you through the experience.

2. Pray intentionally for the people and places you will visit.

I’m not talking about general prayers like “We pray tonight for Nicaragua” without having any idea what’s going on in Nicaragua, let alone the specific region and cities you will actually be visiting.

Whether you’re going somewhere outside of North America, like Nicaragua, or you’re going to a different neighborhood in your own hometown, get to know the prayers and needs of the people living there.

If you’re going local, take your students (or go yourself), on a prayer walk around the neighborhood you’ll be serving. Connect with long-time residents and hear their stories. Don’t stay strangers until the day you strap on work boots and color-coordinated team shirts.

If you’re going global, read the BBC World section or the New York Times International coverage for your country’s region. Find and follow recommended Twitter accounts from folks in country. Learn and listen to the national conversation. If you live near a place like Toronto, seek out immigrant communities in your own backyard – attend a Haitian church service, taste mole and pico de gallo at a local Mexican restaurant.

Get to know the people and places you will visit on a mission trip so that your prayers for them may come from knowledge and compassion, not ignorance and disinterest. Intentional prayer cultivates empathy, curiosity, and awareness which are essential attitudes to pack alongside those coordinated team shirts.

3. Ask for a word.

Instead of opening your Bible and searching for a meaningful verse on your own, seek out a wise person in your life – a pastor, a mentor, an insightful friend – and ask them for a word.

Ask them to pray about and discern a Scripture passage to assign to you. Then receive that word. Read it. Mediate on it. Live with it. Carry it with you. Even when you have no idea why this supposedly “wise” person would give you such a dull passage! Or so you think….until you’re packing your bag or listening to someone’s story and the Spirit brings the words of that passage to mind and you hear the voice of God for you in that moment.

In all this, remember that God is at work in this world and we have the privilege and invitation to witness to that work when we’re on a mission trip. May your eyes be opened and your hearts moved by the Spirit as you glimpse the mission of our God.

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Rev. Amanda Bakale is the youth and young adult engagement coordinator at World Renew. Based in Kitchener, Ontario, this former West Michigan girl loves her bi-national identity, her Canadian husband, and cheering for the Toronto Blue Jays in the midst of all her Detroit Tigers-lovin’ friends and family.

Stepping Out of Student Ministry

The following post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of LifeWay Student Ministry

Three years ago I stepped away from student ministry in a local church setting into my current position as the director of LifeWay Student Ministries. I had been a student pastor for 13 years and I was having the time of my life at an incredible church in Hampton, Virginia. It was one of those situations that you don’t just walk away from.

Over the last couple of years many of my friends have also transitioned out of student ministry into other roles. Some are pastors, others church planters, associate pastors, next generation pastors, young adult pastors, you name it and they’ve transitioned into it. All of them were in healthy situations where they were making an impact, and have made healthy transitions to these other positions.

This leads me to the question of the day. Not just today, but a question that has been asked of me many days throughout the last three years and a question that has been pondered frequently among those who have been in student ministry for a while.

When is it time to step out of student ministry?

I would like to admit up front that I don’t think there’s a concrete answer for this question. There’s no magic formula that you can use at the end of this blog to find out if you should step out of student ministry into another role. A current reality in student ministry is that we live in a day where the tenure of a student pastor seems short. I’m not referring to church switching here (different issue altogether), but the actual time that someone spends as a student pastor. It saddens me to think of how many “student pastors” are just using the student position as a catapult to something “greater.” Student ministry isn’t a stepping stone. If you are treating it as such, just go do what you’re really called to do.

Back to our question: when is it time to step out of student ministry? I think the best way to answer this question is to give you some observations from my own experience, and the experiences of others that I’ve gleaned from countless conversations with people who have made healthy transitions out of student ministry.

Observation 1: Healthy transition often comes when you aren’t seeking the transition on your own.

Observation 2: There are seasons of growth, and there aren’t. Being in one of the non-growth seasons doesn’t mean that you’re washed up and should leave student ministry. It IS a time that you can use to evaluate process, strategy, and vision.

Observation 3: Age isn’t a factor in this decision. Restructuring around where you are in life is always something to consider. For example, leading a student ministry when you have multiple children looks different than when it is just you or you and your spouse.

Observation 4: There will always be people who disagree with you and these people shouldn’t determine God’s call on your life.

Observation 5: Your response to authority says more about your own relationship with the Lord than it does about the leadership of your boss. Translation: leaving student ministry because of a bad relationship with your pastor is not the first option. There are many steps you can take before you get to that point.

Observation 6: The work is always going to be hard, and there’s always going to be a lot of it. This is true because what you’re doing is meaningful and when you consider the end goal of reaching and discipling the next generation, we should work hard at it.

Observation 7: As a student pastor you are serving in one of the most fertile mission fields on the planet.

Observation 8: It is a tremendous honor to be a student pastor, to disciple students and their families, and to speak into a person’s life at its most critical stage.

Observation 9: The grass isn’t greener over there, wherever “there” is. It’s just different.

Observation 10: It is difficult to lead an effective student ministry when one foot is with students and the other foot is trying to find the next step.

When is it time to step out of student ministry? In all honesty, I’m not really sure. What I am sure about is that student ministry needs people who will stick around. Churches and families need student pastors who will give their focus and energy wholeheartedly to student ministry until the moment that God decides to move them. This is the way it happened with the friends I mentioned above. They were wholeheartedly devoted to student ministry until the moment God transitioned them, and even in the transition there was reluctance and a hesitance to walk away from something they loved so much.

When is it time to step out of student ministry? At some level, it is time to step out when God calls you to something else, and you are hesitant, fearful, or remorseful (maybe all three) to step away from something that you love dearly.