Time For A New Paradigm?

I'm going to acknowledge from the get-go that this post is simply a reflection of some of my current thinking. I've got tons of questions and very few conclusions. My question is this: Is it time for a new paradigm for youth group missions projects?

Others have raised this question and it has been addressed in numerous articles, forums and youth ministry circles, and my response has been what it typically is when people begin to question long standing institutions: 'Show me something more effective, and I'll consider changing'.

But for some reason, I am beginning to feel a strong desire to change how we do missions sooner rather than later, to begin to move toward change even though I'm not sure what the 'something more effective' is.

I believe in short-term missions. I know first-hand the impact they have on the lives of our students (I felt called to youth ministry while on a short-term missions trip). I recognize that the efforts of students on these trips does impact those we serve. But is there more to it than that? Could there be more to it than that? SHOULD there be more to it than that? Certainly Rick Warren's PEACE plan is one effort at a new paradigm, but I'm struggling with how to flesh it out in a youth ministry setting.

Like I said, I haven't reached any conclusions. My only conclusion is that there must be a more effective strategy than a youth group showing up in a bunch of rental vans once a year to run VBS and paint houses. I know this isn't the only paradigm, but it seems like it's the prominent youth ministry strategy. In fact, I'm not sure if 'strategy' is even the right word. 'Tradition' is probably a more correct word. I think it's time to question the traditional approach and come up with a new, more effective, strategy.


Puddles said...

I agree.
Although lives are changed on those once a year mission projects, I think it would be a lot more beneficial to a lot more students if there was something happening on a regular basis. Teach them to consistently serve, not just once a year.
Im not sure how this looks.
1. Once a month mission projects
2. 4 short term trips a year
3. A summer of service. Every week in summer, do something for community.

Just ideas.

Chris said...

Here's another question to add to your questions...
Why do we always say "show me something more effective, and I'll consider changing."? Why are we not moving forward into uncharted territory to find that "something better" instead of just waiting for someone else to find it for us?

John DeMarco said...

A great point is that the focus of these trips are often on our students with the people being served as secondary. That always felt funny to me.

Sandy said...

I too have felt the same way and our team decided to do the unthinkable, not go to Mexico! I took a lot of hits for that one but felt that is what the Lord was asking me to do. Instead of doing the huge trip we decided to do a small trip with 5 students this year. It was out of the box for us. We are really asking where God wants us to serve and how He wants to use us. I don't have any answers yet and I'm ok with that, but it sure is fun and scarry to be in uncharted waters

.justin said...

thanks kurt.

the book "revolution in world missions" has helped shape some of my perspectives on short term missions.

we had out first "trial" of something intentionally different this year.

we did a "cross-generational" trip to Honduras this february. [our church goes every year, but it's usually all adults or mostly students] to go cross-generational we're hoping to "build bridges" between the age groups by having few number of each and working together.

in honduras, we tackled one church building start to finish as the honduran local church needs for a church plant. with a mixed team, we were more effective than ever before, and we built more "authentic" relationships than many trips in the past.

in addition to the "normal fruits" of short term missions, we saw some roots of UNITY begin to form intergenerationally, with an understanding and a respect being built of each generations relationship with jesus.

that doesn't come easy in our church and it was BEAUTIFUL.

.justin said...

i like the regular once-a-month idea too.

we also have "focuses" on different social injustice issues quarterly or monthly:
eg. "zach hunter", one life revolution, invisible children, local honduran villages, local missions, etc.

i really want to see my students begin to take initiative. not to wait for the church to set up their next outreach, but to become little zach hunters, and to feel like they have permission to start the revolution themselves.

one student of ours did.
find out more at Rock for Sudan

Kurt Johnston said...

We have started the ball rolling this year by cancelling our Spring Break mission trip to Mexico and replaced it with four quarterly trips with the hopes of having more meaningful presence as well as breaking the 'missions happens once a year like camp' mentality.

Sandy, cancelling your trip was bold....I like it!

Mark Artrip said...

At our church we still offer traditional summer trips like you referenced, but we also offer a once a week summer institute. Student come one day a week and in the morning are trained in theology, bible study, ministry skills etc. and than in the afternoon we go out and live that out at local ministries. That way over the summer you get 8-10 days as a group which is more than a normal trip and it is in the context of your home and church a little more.
It is only our second year, last year we did it two days a week a week and decided to make it one this year. Anyway just thought I would share. you can check it out on www.karyoberbrunner.com/gi

Mike, Youth Pastor said...

We started something on Sunday nights after our students kept coming back from mission trips and wondering, "Why can I go and share Christ with someone hundreds or thousands of miles away, but why not here."
We called it CSI--Christians Serving Individuals and we would simply serve people in our church and outside of our church in hope to pray with people and share Christ with them. Our students loved it because there was purpose and they got to hang out with each other.
Also, instead of moving missions further and further from our own hometown, we are specifically targeting our communities. This summer we will be doing a weeklong mission trip in our own area calling it Mission MyTown, essentially doing discipleship in the morning and serving in the afternoon.
These two opportunities along with national and international mission opportunities are making incredible missionaries!
Our next step in helping our students to become missionaries is a specific focus on being missionaries to their campus.


Kevin said...

I agree. It was especially apparent this last week in Mexico when the pastor asked us to not do VBS because the quality of program is worse than what the children normally experience. Ouch...

James Giroux said...

Bob Roberts' book "Glocalization" might have some good thoughts for you to ponder as well. It's all about the difference between traditional missions and kingdom living.
At our staff table we've been trying to articulate our own missions strategy. We recognize the value of traditional missions, the go and serve approach but we're not sure it accurately captures everything that Acts 1:8 calls us to. The traditional model of missions work is to work in house, then in city and then in world in that order but maybe it has to be all three at the same time. Acts 1:8 calls the church to Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the earth all at the same time. What would missions look like if all three were hit at once by a church?
Then there's the whole idea of missions and kingdom living, I don't think the two are mutually exclusive but both need to be happening in order to see transformation take place. There will always be a place for full time missionaries, what we need to do is make room for full time business people and professionals, junior high students and seniors to be involved at all three levels as well.
Maybe a missions approach at the junior high level does some missions work abroad but as part of a missions lifestyle that happens all year long. The church as a whole could 'adopt a country' or region, a neighborhood in the city as well and perhaps projects throughout the year all work towards that one week VBS to Mexico complete with house painting.

I wish this post were more practical but the fun is in fleshing all this stuff out in public...lol.

James Giroux

Stacy said...

We're looking at Summer Camp through that same lens. Why plunk down big bucks for speaker/band/trip when people living in our town have needs? We decided to:
1. Stay local, working out of a big old barn
2. Host small groups in homes
3. Do a half-week this summer
4. Worship in the mornings/evenings
5. Planned/spontaneous service ops during the day.
6. Invite other churches to join us.

We took the idea from Vineyard Cincy's Summer of Service.

B Dub said...

Kurt, I've been dealing with the very same thought as you and the others here for some time. I wrote a long blog about it on confessionsofaworshipper.blogspot.com
Yes I know, shameless advertisement, however, to me it's more of a lifestyle change that needs to take place. I see it as being a student ministry in community and not a student ministry of community. We do student ministry with small groups to create community, and a lot times we stick to that community. But, if we change that to be a student ministry that is always in our communities, doing things like giving away money for free gas, going to high school or middle school ball games and buying people concessions, give out batteries for smoke alarms in the neighborhoods surrounding our churches, and so on, then we become a student ministry IN community. You can program it however you want, but I think that service is a lifestyle. Maybe you buy the meal of the person behind you at Mikey Ds or something. Maybe you do something once a month. But whatever you do, it has to be consistent, to make it a habit. If serving becomes a habit for our students, then we can really get down to what it means to change the world.