Sabbath Summer

A few years ago we (the Youth Ministries Committee of the Ann Arbor Christian Reformed Church) began to take a look at our youth group meeting and retreat schedule for the middle and high school youth programs at our church. We were noticing a drop in attendance and after talking to families, we confirmed what we knew… our teens were really busy. Of course we were a tad indignant that our programs were taking a hit. Where were these families’ priorities? But then, after taking an honest look at our own programming, we realized that we were contributing to the busy-ness of life for these teens and their families. Our middle school youth had two programs that met on alternating Wednesdays, thereby filling up every Wednesday night during the school year. The same thing held true for our high school students on Sunday evenings. In addition, multiple programs were doing multiple retreats, some with significant overlap of purpose or theme. Families had to make choices as to which events to attend, causing overall numbers at a single event to decrease.
We realized that we were not following through on our responsibilities. We were tasked as a committee to minister to BOTH the families AND the youth of our congregation. Our youth offerings were taking away from family time. It was time to address the over-scheduling our families were feeling. As a first step, we consolidated the multiple offerings we had for middle school and high school students. Now these age groups meet every other week, instead of weekly. We also looked at our summer and winter retreats. We looked at time commitments required of the teens, families and chaperones for each of these retreats. We looked at the costs of the retreats. We realized that we were asking a lot of families if we expected their children to attend all the options.
So, out of this, our “Sabbath Summer” was imagined. Why “Sabbath”? Sabbath is about being present – not concentrating on tomorrow or being regretful for yesterday. One goal we have for our over-committed students is that they learn to rest in the grace of the present. Therefore, we hope to provide a summer where we don’t ask families to budget hundreds of dollars to go towards sending their sons and daughters away from home for a week. This coming summer will be our first Sabbath Summer, which will occur every 4th year going forward. We will be asking the families and students to engage the meaning of Sabbath as rest, balance, health and wholeness. During this summer we will challenge them to also keep a traditional Sabbath day. A few times throughout the summer we will meet to discuss what it means to have a holy day of rest – how to create the time and space to be quiet, not connected to our technology, in the hopes of experiencing spiritual growth, awakening, healing.

What now?

Love Jesus. Love Others. Like the directions on a shampoo bottle; lather, rinse, repeat.


“Repeating” asks us to do it again and again. Maybe you heard something like this in grade two: Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out and who was left? That could go on and on, my friends. Slightly more fun was changing it up to: Pinch Me and Punch Me were in a boat… but I digress.


In the past, student mission trips have seemed that elementary at first glance. It seemed the directions were go, return home and repeat.


That’s changed and we are realigned with the command of Christ. The emphasis in student missions is no longer on the mission trip. The principle worth repeating is living with the mission mentality. Love Jesus. Love others. Repeat daily (not annually after raising the proper funds). The mission of life is loving and serving with a clear gospel focus, especially at home where caring for others is most effective.


The goal of mission trips is not to accomplish missions. “Missions” are not something you accomplish – they are lived. Part of the goal is learning alongside of those we’re sent to serve. We learn how God is working in their community so we can better understand how he is working in our own.


In 2007, the Fuller Youth Institute developed the resource Deep Justice In a Broken World: Helping Your Kids Serve Others and Right the Wrongs Around Them by Chap Clark and Kara E. Powell and in 2009, followed that up with the student companion journal, Deep Justice Journeys: Moving From Mission Trips to Missional Living by Kara E. Powell and Brad M. Griffin. Thank God, after seven years we are living this idea more fully.


Youth Unlimited has woven this key thought into our mission trips: You are being invited to serve alongside a local church and community for a week, learning from them how to compassionately care for a community. Then, you are asked to return home to engage more fully with your church to compassionately care for your own community and the world.


The summer has drawn to an end, so what now? The school year has started, what now?


How will your students repeat missional living each day and all through the year?

Faith For Life

Have you ever heard the phrase, “words and pictures don’t do it justice”? That is how I feel right now as I type this post. You see, last summer I had the joy of traveling to many Serve Sites, The Chicago Project and Live It. I witnessed students commit their lives to Jesus Christ, seek out prayer for challenging life experiences, and reflect Christ’s love by playing with children, sorting clothes at thrift stores, painting widows’ houses and serving food to those living on the streets.


The Youth Unlimited team is full speed ahead preparing for another exciting summer of faith-forming experiences in 2014. As we empower students to serve others in the name of Jesus through one of the 25+ Serve Site locations, The Chicago Project or The Prairie Project experience, we will be focusing our Scriptural teaching on Isaiah 58. This Scripture passage confronts apathy, empty religion and indifference to the needs of others. It is God’s call, his heart’s cry for his people—that we use our God-given potential to help those in need reach their God-given potential. This is my prayer, that each student attending a Youth Unlimited experience commits their life to Jesus Christ and lives every remaining day of their life for him—Faith for Life!


Finally, I say thank you on behalf of every student you have invested in over the years. God is using you to mold students into who he created them to be. Each Youth Unlimited experience needs caring adults like you. Individuals on the planning teams give hours and hours of work and prayer in preparation for these experiences. Youth Unlimited would simply not be as impactful or even possible without you and others with your same heart and passion.

Bridging the Gap

Every summer a group of students and leaders from our church embarks on a service opportunity through Youth Unlimited. We have chosen our location carefully, prayed and prepared ourselves for the week ahead. As we gather in the church parking lot—bags full, a bit anxious, unsure of what to expect—we wonder what lies ahead. The series of emotions, experiences, stories, and worship that unfolds throughout the week is invaluable and impactful. There is something about intentionally setting aside our busy lifestyles—cell phones, internet, our usual routines—that allows us to become more fully open to the movement and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of those around us.


And then before we know it the week is over. Oftentimes coming home can be a bit disillusioning. We have just had a wonderful faith-forming, relationship-building experience and are left wondering, “Now what?” How do we bring what we have seen and learned back home with us? How do we allow God to continue the work he has started in us?


Our students live in a generally safe and quiet community—most have not encountered hunger, homelessness, addiction, poverty, or broken homes; they live relatively secure lives. One of the reasons a service opportunity is so challenging for our students’ faith is because they must face these issues head-on. Their eyes are opened and their beliefs challenged.


This is why it is often hard to bridge the gap between our service site and our small quiet town. This year—after wrestling with these hard questions for the past few—our youth group is seeking to seize this valuable experience by engaging in service opportunities in our own backyard. We called some local ministries to set up opportunities where we could continue hands on, faith-forming experiences.


Our primary requirement for our locations was that our ministry sites be relationally based instead of task oriented. Our small groups are meeting once a month at these ministry locations hoping to build relationships, share the Good News and encounter God. We are partnering with families and individuals of different ethnicities, abilities and a variety of backgrounds, including past imprisonment, addiction and the effects of age. (Our hope is that these sites will allow our students to implement the lessons they have learned on previous service trips to enhance our own community. This will also help students who will embark on service trips in the future.) Through this experience we are seeing generosity, hospitality, openness, deep faith and wisdom. Our hope is that of Philippians 2—that we would be one in spirit with God, considering others and their interests above our own.