Equipping Parents to Help Their Students Process Their Mission Trip

My trouble in the kitchen is that I sometimes burn things.

I take the time to buy the ingredients, prep the food, season everything just right… and then, in the end, I get distracted. I move on to the next thing just before this thing is over! And the end product isn’t as good as it could’ve been.

Mission trips can be like that. We can do everything right but we move on to the next thing too quickly, when we could be paying attention to how the service experience lands in the day-to-day lives of students.

Mission trips need to be finished well! And that involves parents.

As I think about how to equip parents for that period after the trip, there are three action steps that stand out: listening, engaging, and moving forward. Youth workers have an important part in equipping parents to benefit students in each of these areas. Take some time to consider how you might strengthen your next service experience through equipping parents to do the following after the trip.

LISTEN

Students benefit when parents… hear what happened on the mission trip. It’s true that some students will arrive back home with tons of stories, but others will describe the mission trip as “good” and say it changed them because they are now “tired.” For parents to engage in their students’ lives, they need a better picture of these important events. And students need more than a three-minute window to summarize what happened. They need people close to them to care enough to listen to the long version and to ask more than once how the service experience is sitting with them several days and weeks after the trip.

Your part is… providing opportunities for this kind of sharing to happen. Schedule a time of story-sharing after the trip. That could be a church report or a living room roundtable discussion or something in between. Whatever the context, make sure parents have a clear invitation and know that their presence is greatly desired. Ask every student to share something—a meaningful moment, a shift in perspective, a time God tugged at their heart. Show some pictures too! And say thank you to those who supported the trip. Don’t skip formal mission trip sharing, and make sure to encourage other opportunities for students to share their story, especially with parents.

ENGAGE

Students benefit when parents… not only listen but getting involved in the conversation. Their teenager is processing what happened and may still be trying to make sense of the contexts they served in. Setting aside time to sit across from a student and ask great questions will give the student the opportunity to verbalize what they are experiencing. Because parents know their children, they’ll be able to make connections that no one else could! Plus, parents can engage by sharing their own parallel experiences with students. This kind of mutual sharing benefits students and strengthens relationships.

Your part is… inviting parents to lean into these times of engagement with students and equip them with great questions to ask. Sometimes youth ministry can feel like a bubble to parents. You’ve probably witnessed parents hovering outside the door to the youth room, feeling like they’re not allowed inside. But we need to invite parents into these sacred spaces and conversations! Encourage them to ask great questions and remind them how valuable these times can be to students who are processing big moments in their lives. Also, send them a list of questions. YouthWorks has a whole lot of great post-mission trip questions to get you started: 101 Questions For Your Students >>

MOVE FORWARD

Students benefit when parents… are onboard with bringing their experience back home. The aim is for mission trips to be faith-building experiences, but faith needs legs! It needs to get up and walk around in teenagers’ everyday lives. Parents can help students move the mission trip beyond processing to participation in service or deepened devotional practices or other life change. Beyond listening and asking questions, parents should wonder with teenagers, “So what?” So you felt close to God during the trip… so what do you do now? So you saw how important it was to serve at-risk kids… so what will you do with that? How does this meaningful experience change what you do here? And after wondering these things with students, parents can move the conversation onward toward action. Offer to serve alongside them. Make prayer a priority around breakfast each morning. Ask the student to find a cause they care about and match whatever donations the student makes. But do something! And do it together.

Your part is… prompting parents toward action alongside students. Hold a meeting where you challenge parents to make a real plan with their students after the mission trip. Additionally, you can offer opportunities for parents to serve alongside students locally, or you might find a devotional and challenge students and parents to go through it during the month after your mission trip. Finally, if you’re going on the mission trip, be an example by asking your spouse or friend to take this “move forward” step with you when you return. Share the results with parents as you encourage them to do the same.

It can be easy to move on from the mission trip once it’s over, but so often committing to the final step greatly impacts the result. Don’t miss your opportunity to equip parents to listen, engage, and move forward with their students after their upcoming mission trip!

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Sam Townsend

Sam Townsend loves wooded trails on warm summer days, full conversations over half-price apps and puns that could make a grown man groan. He is a writer, a third-generation footlong hotdog salesman and the Senior High Ministry Pastor at Calvary Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He’s also a big fan of YouthWorks, where he contributes to theme material creation and blog production.

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