“How many of you have been on one mission trip? Two mission trips? Five? Ten? Twenty?!”
While leading workshops on best mission trip practices, I’ve asked that sequence of questions to roomfuls of youth workers and volunteers a bunch of times. My findings? Adults in youth ministries have a broad range of experiences when it comes to mission trips—and that’s just counting the ones who show up at youth ministry conferences.
Of course, it’s always nice when the adults we bring along on youth mission trips are veterans, but that’s often not the reality. More than likely you’ll have a parent, college student, bus driver or random adult from your congregation joining a mission trip with little to no experience or training in youth ministry or missions. Rather than this feeling like a stressor, recognize the great opportunity in front of you to lead your leaders well!
No matter what the experience of the adults on your next trip, think through how you’ll prepare them for a great service experience with your students. Here are three things you can do to prepare your volunteers as they prepare for your next mission trip.
Set role expectations.
It’s important to get on the same page as your leaders. Help them understand their purpose on the mission trip is much more than that of a chaperone! Sure, they need to be on the lookout for safety, fill the role of drivers and be the responsible party in the group. But leaders are also the ones who can move an ordinary trip from “good” to “life-changing.” That happens when they are empowered to encourage student leadership, engage in the experience and take time to process with teenagers.
YouthWorks does a great job setting expectations for adult leaders with a whole packet of information, including an Adult Leader covenant laying out 10 roles leaders fill during the mission trip: processor, participant, team player, motivator, servant leader, tone-setter, communicator, activator, safety champion and expectations advocate. Take time to talk through each of these roles with your adult leaders so they understand the vital part they play during the trip.
Use their strengths.
Let’s face it. You need other adult leaders on your mission trip! And not in a ho-hum, “I guess if I have to” sort of way. You need other adults for their logistical support, for their relational investments and for their diversity of strengths! When you put together your team of leaders, recognize that they have a lot to offer. Look for unique opportunities for them to contribute to the tenor of your trip.
What does that look like?
Well, on every mission trip I’ve ever led, I look for another leader who is great with organization and logistics. Beyond simply recognizing that gift in others, this is a great opportunity to tell a leader why I value them and how I see their strengths as an asset to the team. Then I ask them, “Will you use this specific strength to help this mission trip be great?” If they say yes, I let them know a few areas in which they can do that. Your areas of support might be different than mine, and that’s great! Recognize what you need and how the other adults on your trip can compliment your leadership.
Of course, adults are still in process, so although the mission trip is about developing the faith of students and serving a community, it can also help strengthen adults’ vision for leadership. As your leaders walk alongside students during mission trip prep, make it your job to walk alongside adult leaders. Help them understand their own potential for growth during this upcoming service experience.
Equip them with great resources.
It’s a lot easier to do a job when you’re given the right tools. Give your leaders an edge by resourcing them well. Here are three things to do as you give leaders tools for the upcoming trip:
Equip leaders early.
If at the next meeting you’re giving everyone on the team a handout on cultural awareness, it won’t hurt to send that handout to leaders in advance. That will allow them to be half a step ahead of students, helping them lead the conversation and ask better questions. At very least, you’re going to garner some appreciation from the adults on the trip and give them greater ownership.
Equip leaders often.
Check in with leaders during the months and weeks leading up to the trip. Find out what questions they have and get them answers in a timely manner. Use the space before the trip to invite them into deeper learning about the place you’re going and the service you’re doing. Think through a schedule of what and when to communicate with leaders as the trip date gets closer.
Equip leaders well.
There are lots of useful things you can share with adults around how to lead a successful mission trip. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Invite leaders to read and discuss blog posts about leading students on mission trips (such as this one about service and cell phones, this one about respectful service, or this one about mission trip preparation).
- Equip leaders with written logistical information, such as schedules, addresses and information about projects.
- Educate leaders about the place you are going to serve. It might be a documentary or article or something as simple as a Wikipedia page.
- Challenge engaged leaders to take a deep dive into learning about respectful service by reading books, such as When Helping Hurts.
When you take the time to prepare your leaders, everyone benefits—the adult leaders who get more from the trip, the students who are led well, the community you’ll serve, and you too! Don’t miss the opportunity to intentionally walk alongside your leaders as you prepare for your upcoming mission trip.
Are you still looking for that life-changing mission trip experience for this summer?
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