Taking Advantage of Teachable Moments on a Mission Trip

Guest blog from our friend Ben Zuehlsdorff, High School Director at Marin Covenant Church and contributor at www.averageyouthministry.com

Youth ministry is all about setting the table. Throughout everything we do as youth workers, we know that Jesus is the one who changes lives, so we continually create spaces for Jesus to show up. Intuitively, we know certain youth ministry events are better “tables” than others, and a mission trip might be one of the greatest tables we could invite our students to partake in!

Mission trips are full of teachable moments. With some intentionality, mission trips can be a deep well of discipleship opportunities that point students towards Jesus. Here are a few suggestions that will help maximize these teachable moments.

1) Prepare for Cultural Competence.

We have all heard the stories of short term mission trips gone wrong. Make sure your group is part of a different narrative. Prep them beforehand of the cultural do’s and do-not’s. Put a precedent on being servant hearted, and emphasize partnership. After all, we do not “bring Jesus” with us. God is already at work wherever you are going. Highlight the importance of serving with and learning from those you are traveling to.

2) Remove Cell Phones.

Mission trips are one of the few times where you have the power to get students to interact face to face. After you travel, remove screens from even being an option of distraction. At first, they might be upset that their record long Snapchat streaks are coming to an end, but after the trip is over, most students are super grateful for the technology break, as well as the sense of closeness they feel with their peers.

3) Morning Devotionals.

We know that an essential part of faith formation is cultivating a habit of reading Scripture on a daily basis. Before you get after the daily tasks, have students spend some time reading their Bibles and journaling about what they read. Doing a short morning devotional reminds everyone to be aware of how they may see God in their midst throughout the day.

4) Evening Group Time.

Every mission trip I’ve been a part of, we carve out at least an hour or more of time after dinner to debrief the day and worship together. There are a few ways to go about this, but I have found that the debrief works best when you can highlight how students are seeing others, and how students are seeing God.

Here are some ideas for how that time could look:

  • Highlight “funniest moments” that happened during the day. Make sure it’s not belittling or spiteful towards anybody, but laughing together at the funny things that happened throughout the day is a great way to cultivate a sense of community.
  • Highlight “servant-hearted” moments. Same idea as the funny moments, but this time, ask the group to share stories when they saw others in the group do something above and beyond. When students can encourage one another, and also see that their actions, words, and deeds are noticed by those around them, that matters.
  • Ask student to share how God got their attention. This is the golden stuff! Students are now in the rhythm of sharing about the day, so talking about what they are seeing God do in their midst comes a little easier.
  • Worship together. If you have a student or leader who can play guitar, do a few worship songs. If you have no musical people in your group, consider having students pray together instead, or maybe read a passage of Scripture before the night closes.

5) “God wanted me on this trip so that….”

This might be the most important step I’ve done on a trip. At the end of the week, during the final evening debrief ask each student to share why they felt like God wanted them to come on this trip. When every person in the group takes a swing at this question, it is incredible to see how God worked and moved.

These are just a few examples of how to take advantage of teachable moments on a missions trip. At the end of the day, it is the movement of the Holy Spirit that changes lives. May we simply be attentive for how to best set the table for the students we are called to serve!

Written by Ben Zuehlsdorff, High School Director at Marin Covenant Church and contributor at www.averageyouthministry.com

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