Five Tips for Your Youth Mission Trip

Shhh.  Listen.  Do you hear that?  If you really concentrate, you can just make out the sound of throngs of enthusiastic teenagers loading onto vans and buses and heading toward your friendly neighborhood ministry center, armed with sack lunches and paint rollers.  Even if their skill sets aren’t yet fully developed, their energy and zeal can make up for what is lacking, as they kick soccer balls with the kids and ladle one hot meal after another onto waiting plates.

Of course, if you’ve ever worked with a youth missions team, you know that things can either go very well, or, well, very, very, wrong.  The last thing any good youth minister wants is to head across the state or country with an ill-prepared group of students who contribute to more problems than they alleviate.  

Hope Place recently hosted a team through our partnership with ServeLouisville, that contributed beautifully to our ministry goals.  The team consisted of nine high school students, an additional local teen who joined with them during their trip, and three adult chaperones.  Throughout their service at Hope Place, which included an ice cream sundae party during the Explorer Clubs on Wednesday night and a full Thursday of cleaning up trash littering the streets surrounding our building, these teens were fully present, open-minded, and worked hard without complaint.  We asked Youth and Family Minister Ethan Davis, of Center Christian Church in Knightstown, Indiana, to share a bit about their strategy and preparation.

1. Prayerful Preparation

“For this trip, we prayed, opened up the registration link, and prayed more.  We didn’t advertise heavily, but trusted that those who wanted to go and were engaged enough would self-select.  We do ask some questions on the registration to get more info about their relationship with Christ, but we don’t make it laborious.”  In the time leading up to their departure, during their weekly meetings, Davis says they worked on “our choices and allowing God to be the focus and honoring him in all things. . . [Before we left], we were brought up and prayed over by the elders.  We were sent as an extension of Center Christian Church, as a whole, and not just the youth.”  

2.  Looking for God in Each Moment

“Besides the weekly meetings, we all attended Sunday school together the day we left.  They were pestering me about the details of the trip. I shared with them the Greek has two words for time:  Kairos and Chronos. . . We as Western Americans live in Chronos time–clock time. I was asking them to step into Kairos time–‘living in the moment’ time.”  Davis and his leadership team encouraged the teens to look for what God was doing in each moment, and participate with the Holy Spirit in that work, rather than simply filling the hours with empty activity.  To minimize distractions, the students were not allowed to carry their cell phones. Davis attributes the team’s success in Louisville to, “the grace of God, no cell phones, and having leaders committed to being present with no distractions.”

3.  A Biblical Approach to Discipline

Davis cites Matthew chapter 18 frequently when he discusses discipline.  This passage discusses how believers should confront one another when one has sinned.  “Before we left for the trip, we only had one real rule: Matthew 18. We knew conflict would come, we just wanted to handle it biblically.  We really strive to create a “follow me” approach to leading these kids. Our leaders have high trust and high accountability for and with each other.  This modeling is evident in how the kids approach each other. We are present, we are engaged, and other than that, we try to elevate relationship and unity above rules.  When we live out “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” it shows. This means that it’s not the leaders rule, but Jesus who gets to rule. Our leaders know that they are not perfect, we are just accountable to a higher authority.”

4.  Emphasizing Grace

Davis notes that while the team didn’t have any major disciplinary issues, “we did have some joking around that was a bit on the line.  We [the leaders] walked alongside both students by asking questions, not demanding behaviors. We try to allow them to discover for themselves the reasons behind a God-given ‘rule.’  After all, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. The struggle is to make sure all of our actions are in Christ. That [has been] our mega theme for this past year.”

5. Creating Margin for the Team

When asked how the leaders dealt with the inevitable bad attitudes that emerge after many hours of togetherness, particularly when the students are outside of their own local culture and learning so much new information each day, Davis responds, “Honestly, we didn’t have a lot of grumbling at all.  We tried to create relational white space in our calendar to allow them to be as a group rather than just do.  We really wanted to get to know them, but not push.  On the way down, we played . . . a collaborative card game [called Oregon Trail].  They had to overcome challenges and take on responsibilities of pioneers settling the old American West.  It really doesn’t seem spiritual, but it was a good chance for us to see how their personalities presented and who we can partner together for future assignments.”  

Davis’ notes offer encouragement to other student groups who may be heading out to serve in the coming weeks and months.  As we serve together for Kingdom purposes, may we use our gifts–along with our soccer balls and paint rollers–to build one another up and bring God glory in all that we do.  

If you would like to bring your team to serve at Hope Place, contact

By | 2019-04-02T03:01:26+00:00 April 2nd, 2019|HopePlace|0 Comments

About the Author:

Lindsay Shores is the Youth Services Coordinator at Hope Place. She loves Jesus, her family, and her neighborhood.

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