Tag Archives: short term missions

two ways of viewing long-term partnership for short-term missions

had another wonderful day in jamaica yesterday, visiting with a few local pastors served by teams who come with Praying Pelican Missions, and visiting teams in action.

and i realized i’d only been communicating one of the two (equally valid and beneficial) meanings of talking about the value of long-term partnerships in short-term missions. i’ve written many times about how one of the things i really love about PPM (and one of the values and practices that sets them apart) is their commitment to developing long-term relationships with local, indigenous church leaders (in this case, jamaican pastors), and exercising a no-exceptions policy of only doing work requested by these pastors. it’s a significant way they are able to stay away from activities that aren’t culturally appropriate, or are tainted by anything like corruption, or are merely bad missiology and american-savior colonialism.

i saw this in PPM’s work in haiti two years ago; i saw it in belize last year; and i’m seeing it again here. but, while the Cartel does have a partnership with PPM, i still feel a pretty strong obligation to represent my youth ministry tribe. so i check this value/practice with every pastor i meet on these trips, asking them about their vision, asking about how PPM treats them, asking if they feel served or used. i make it clear that i’m a third-party, and usually get a bit of alone time with them. and so far, that value/practice has been proved in 100% of these conversations.

but there’s another way to think of long-term partnership in short-term missions. it’s the value of you and your church establishing a long-term partnership with a church and community somewhere else. i was reminded today that this is the ideal that PPM longs to see.

but, honestly, few groups do this. and i think the primary reason (though i’m sure there are others) is that many of us still have ‘tourism’ in the mix, at least a little bit, when we think of a location for short-term missions (particularly when it’s international). as a middle school pastor, i wasn’t convinced it was good stewardship to take young teens on a foreign missions trip other than to a mexico border town (which, for the last 25 years of my life, has been within 2 hours of home). and, honestly, i sometimes got a little jealous of the high school ministry heading off to exotic locations when my group was heading back to the border again.

but i’ve seen the impact of long-term consistency, since my own church has had a church-to-church partnership with a single church (and community) in haiti for about four years now. the benefits multiply for both the recipients of ministry and for those traveling to do ministry.

for the recipients, the long-term relationship offers (at least) these things:

  • it removes the dance of not knowing the visiting group, and wondering what their motives actually are
  • it removes (or at least lessens) the feeling that recipients are ‘less than’ or begging
  • it increases the joy of working together, since the visiting team begins to feel like family
  • it allows the recipients to play a more active reciprocal role of ministering to the visiting group, praying for them and in some ways participating in communion with one another

for the visiting team, the long-term relationship offers (at least) these things:

  • it decreases our temptation to see ourselves as little saviors. we’re going to visit (and serve) people we know and love, not faceless foreigners who need our generosity and pity
  • it takes the guesswork out of the relationship, building confidence in serving alongside (with a confidence in knowing how the serving fits in with the vision of the church and pastor)
  • it decreases any pressure we might feel to slip into unhelpful (and even damaging) stereotypes, like some already mentioned
  • and it builds momentum, healthy tradition, and expectation in your group and church

heck, i’ve even seen, in my own church, how our long-term partnership has re-shaped the worldview of our whole congregation. prior to that partnership, we had a somewhat myopic vision focused almost exclusively on our local impact. now, a short three or four years later, local and international serving has exponentially grown at my church, with a much greater sense that we are playing an active role in God’s redemptive work in the whole world.

so it’s obvious: i think youth workers should consider returning to the same location for multiple years, building a relationship with a church or ministry you learn to know, love and trust. you and they will both benefit greatly. really, in my mind, i see the best-case-scenario as a triangle: a three-way partnership (including an organization like PPM to both find the right partnership and handle logistics).

oh, and as a wonderful corrective to anyone who might, even for a second, think something like “we’re bringing the gospel to jamaica;” i took this photo of the cornerstone of one of the churches we were at today. yup, jesus has been here a very, very long time.


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blessing a school so a local church wins

a number of years ago, i started volunteering as a lunch-room monitor at three local middle schools. i’d met with principals, and they’d told me this was help they needed. there were four significant positive benefits: i got to see kids from my group at school; i got to meet their friends; i got to build trust with the school; and i got to hang out with the vice-principal and principal on a fairly regular basis, chatting about this and that.

somewhere along the way, after i’d built some trust, one of the principals share with me–in passing–how he was frustrated because, with budget cuts, he just couldn’t afford to bring in special speakers for all-school assemblies anymore. i quickly offered: i could bring speakers in for you.

we usually brought in top-notch communicators a couple times a year–once for a retreat, and once for our biggest outreach event. so, for two years, i would bring those speakers in a day early, and they would do a non-evangelistic, non-religious talk (critical for keeping trust!) at the three schools. the principals LOVED it, and it built massive bridges, opened all kinds of other doors in the community, and reflected really well on our church and its commitment to the community.

then i got fired. so there’s that. different story, though.

but my successor called me about a year later to ask for input. he said, “i have these three principals calling me asking for assembly speakers, and wondering if i’d like to come by and get to know each other. can you tell me what’s going on here?”

here’s why i share this today. as you might know, i’m in jamaica, observing the work of Praying Pelican Missions. i very much dig (and approve of) the all-too-unique approach of this organization: their stringent commitment to developing long-term relationships with local, indigenous church leadership, then serving the vision of those leaders. i know plenty of other organizations who say or imply that they do this; but as someone who’s been on more missions trips than i can count, with lots of organizations, i can honestly write that i skepticism keeps being undone with PPM.

IMG_7136this morning, i found out the american youth groups i was going to see were doing work in schools. my skepticism instantly kicked in. i instantly imagined reluctant school administrators, tolerating the imposing gringos. and i instantly started to question my PPM host, almost as if i was going to finally find out the truth of this organization, that they were only committed to working under the leadership of the indigenous local church leadership when it was convenient.

i was wrong.

the local church leadership WANTS PPM teams to work in public schools (btw, the teams are doing work with children in the classrooms in the morning–both jesus-y stuff, and math and spelling reviews–and doing service projects in the afternoon, some at schools, some in other locations). in fact, PPM was skeptical when church leaders asked for this. but the church leaders explained: we are on these school boards. we want to bless our communities. but we need help. and if (this is where it started to remind me of the benefits of my partnership with principals all those years ago) the school and community are blessed because of the church, that’s enough for us right there. but it also has a significant positive impact on the community’s view of our church, which helps in plenty of other ways.

i sat with three different jamaican principals today also. in each case, they honestly shared (i could tell they were being authentic with me) how the visiting teams were a win for everyone, including their students.

ok. i stand corrected. i’ll put my skepticism back in it’s storage container (i have a neat little pocket for it in my new travel backpack).

oh, and here’s a pic of my and sister norma. she’s a PPM staffer here in jamaica, after a lifetime of being a teacher and principal herself.


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why i’m in jamaica

when i was a little kid, i was proud of the things i collected: rocks, coins, pennants. these days, if i’m honest, i collect experiences. there’s no question that’s one of the reasons i so love traveling internationally–grabbing up unique sights, sounds, views and memories. i have this little personal agenda that i hope to add a new country to my list each year (this is a banner year, btw, as i’m adding three: italy, jamaica, and spain, in addition to my two returns to new zealand).

nothing wrong with tourism.

but tourism and missions make extremely awkward, even destructive, relationship partners.

i think that’s why i added a couple days of low-key tourism onto the front end of this jamaican missions trip: to get the tourism out of the way. i’ve been staying, since sunday afternoon, in a budget-level all-inclusive resort in montego bay. the rooms are fine and the food sucks (for a resort). it feels a little like the place the wal-mart crowd vacations. but i’ve holed up in my room, or out on a beach chair, and read books (halfway through my third one today). so this bit of palm-tree-ocean-view-don’t-set-an-alarm-clock jamaican warmth has been good for me.

jamaicaflagbut now it’s time to change hats. or, change shirts, since i have a few ugly-but-breathable shirts i pretty much only wear on missions trips, and i put one of them on this morning.

i think i’ll write more about this later this week: but i think there are two particular things that are done very poorly or very well in youth ministry. those are: presenting the gospel, and short term missions.

in the last couple years, i’ve had the chance to get to know Praying Pelican Missions. two years ago, my son max and i traveled to haiti to see their work there (and max, having already been gifted with an indescribable call to the country and people of haiti had that calling solidified, and is now unstoppable in his commitment to haiti, returning for a month each summer). last year, i traveled on my own to see PPM’s work in the country where they launched: belize. and what i’ve seen, the deeper i dig, is an approach to short-term missions that dismantles my skepticism and reminds me that a few organizations do this in a way that’s theologically, missiologically, and culturally sound (and clarifies for me that many don’t).

these last two years’ trips gave me more of a 30,000 foot view of PPM’s work: traveling around haiti and belize, meeting with national church leaders and learning about how PPM serves them. this year i’m doing something different: i’m hanging out for four days with one american church youth group (a huge one, honestly, with something like 150 participants). i won’t be traveling around, seeing work all over jamaica. instead, i’ll be observing (somewhat like a fly on the wall, actually — i don’t know the youth group and they don’t know me) what things really look like for a team coming here to serve.

i get picked up in a couple hours to put my ‘missions trip shirt’ into action. i’ll be reporting and blogging more as the week unfolds!

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in defense of short term missions (with pictures!)

short term missions in youth ministry has been taking quite a bit of hits recently. and, honestly, i agree with a good bit of the criticism. but i think much of the criticism misses a few extremely important points and throws the baby out with the bathwater.

take, for instance, this huffpo blog post i read last week (but was posted earlier this year), called The Problem With Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism. the author recalls the savior complex she brought to her orphanage visit, and the horrendous construction work done by her group of teenage girls that required local men to come during the night and completely undo and redo the work. based on her experience with a poorly executed trip, the author suggests:

It turns out that I, a little white girl, am good at a lot of things. I am good at raising money, training volunteers, collecting items, coordinating programs, and telling stories. I am flexible, creative, and able to think on my feet. On paper I am, by most people’s standards, highly qualified to do international aid. But I shouldn’t be.

I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries. I am a 5′ 4″ white girl who can carry bags of moderately heavy stuff, horse around with kids, attempt to teach a class, tell the story of how I found myself (with accompanying powerpoint) to a few thousand people and not much else.

and her “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” final conclusion:

Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip.

this, i believe, is unfortunately misinformed. i completely agree that there are some missions trip that are ill-conceived, poorly executed, and focused almost exclusively on giving the american participants a warm fuzzy feeling. i completely agree that you shouldn’t take your youth group on a trip like this.

but the correction doesn’t have to have only the two options the author (and so many others) suggest: either have a useful skill, or don’t go. instead, there are other very helpful (essential!) ways to ensure that your trip isn’t voluntourism. they boil down to these issues:

  1. work with an organization that is imbedded in the local culture.
  2. work with an organization that ruthlessly cultivates long term local relationships of trust from an unflinching commitment to serving the vision of local, indigenous leaders.
  3. prep your team effectively, so they come to serve, rather than to be either “saviors” or tourists.

here’s what i saw again this past week in belize, during my time here with Praying Pelican Missions:

people like this decide what needs to get done (the guy on the left, that is). that’s pastor henry, pastor of sand hill baptist church and a national leader in the belize baptist church. HE decides, not the visiting groups or PPM.

skilled laborers are employed for construction projects, like this construction worker on a site i visited this week:

but no particular skill is needed to mix cement and do other grunt work. in this case, the visiting group of teenagers and some teens from the church worked side-by-side on the non-skilled grunt work.

kids min doesn’t focus on conversions. in this fantastic case, belizians led parts of the kids min (they’re the up front people during this time of singing), and visiting americans help where they’re helpful (running games, doing crafts).
kids min

and when an orphanage with wonderful leadership says “we’re short-staffed, and the children don’t get as much touch and play as we would like them to have,” well, it doesn’t take much skill to be present to a child who’s not experiencing much of childhood.

so, yes, let’s absolutely be thoughtful and super cautious. let’s stay away from voluntourism and colonialism and savior complexes and helping that hurts. if your trips include any shade of those mindsets, repent, and find a new missions trip provider. but even if you wouldn’t think of knowingly taking your youth group on “bad” trip, don’t allow your good and healthy aversion to those sins keep you from helping teenagers participate in kingdom work in the world. just make sure you and the organization you work with or through is ruthlessly committed to (and has a track record of living out) the values i’ve suggested here.

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“You think the gospel is boring? Come live with me for a week.”

Yesterday my Praying Pelican Missions (PPM) host drove me an hour west of Belize City to spend a few hours in the town of San Ignacio. I couldn’t help but think of Ignatius (the town’s namesake), the saint who instituted the Prayer of Examen, which calls us to reflect on where we saw God in both the life-giving and life-draining moments of our day. My middle school guys small group practices our own little version of this each week called “happy/crappy.”

And although life in San Ignacio is “crappy” by most American standards, I was almost overwhelmed by the quantity of “happy.” And I’m not just talking about a smiley feeling; I’m referring to the abundance of truly life-giving activity happening in and around San Ignacio. Much of this is due to a larger-than-life dynamo named Pastor Elizabeth and her family.

Pastor Elizabeth is exactly the sort of local church leader that PPM is laser focused on finding, then serving.

We drove to San Ignacio with Paula, Pastor Elizabeth’s 19 year-old daughter. This young woman has more maturity, drive and skill than most people a decade her senior. She leads trips for PPM, leads leadership development for Pastor Elizabeth’s church, and is responsible in one way or another for a myriad of creative outreach, community development, and leadership development initiatives.

IMG_4726We started with lunch at Pastor Elizabeth’s home (then ventured out to see many of their ministry initiatives). There were an extra half dozen people living in her very small and humble home at the time (not an uncommon occurrence, i came to discover), as people had need and she took them in. She served us a tasty meal and gushed energy and stories and life and Kingdom theology and embodied gospel like a freakin’ firehose for an hour, non-stop. Rarely in my life have I met an embodiment of living the gospel to the extent that I saw in Elizabeth.

Just a few of their ministries (most of which, visiting PPM groups sometimes help with, at Elizabeth’s request):

  • They found that many of the children coming to Sunday school on Sunday mornings were critically hungry (food scarcity is a significant problem in Belize). And even when the children do get meals, they are mostly starches and sugars. Elizabeth said to me, “When a child walks to church four miles for Sunday school and says “I’m hungry,” you can’t just say “Here’s a banana, I’ll pray for you.” So they started a feeding program for the children, which has grown to feeding 120 – 150 children each week. Elizabeth said she usually doesn’t know where the food will come from, but it’s always there, somehow.
  • At some point, they felt they needed a more dependable influx of protein. So they began a brilliant community development initiative. They build chicken coops for people (PPM teams often do this work), and stock them with 50 baby chicks (a particular chicken bred for meat), and give the family enough chicken feed for 6 weeks. At the end of the 6 weeks, the chickens are ready to be eaten. 10 of the chickens go to the family who raised them; 10 of the chickens go to the church’s feeding program; and the remaining 30 chickens are sold to provide funding for additional coops and starter-chickens. All of this is slowly building to the goal of providing financial resources to families in need, and food provisions for the feeding program (which they’re hoping to expand to a daily meal).
  • Similarly, they’ve started community gardens to grow vegetables (there is a surprising shortage of vegetables in Belize).
  • A nearby community was desperately in need of clean water. Women and children were walking miles to get water from other sources, often not clean. So Elizabeth’s church (with the help of a PPM team) designed and installed a rainwater collection system in multiple locations with an expectation that the water would be shared with anyone who needed it.
  • Paula leads an outreach and discipleship ministry that might seem interesting in the American church, but is unheard of here in Belize. They start cell groups around affinities of people in the community: sewing (which is actually a skill-training cell group, leading to work options for the women), sports, music, and others. They find that people are very willing to join one of these cell groups, even if they would never step into church. These groups become leadership development for the young adults who lead them, and outreach and discipleship for those who attend.

Elizabeth told me a story: “I was preparing a meal for a group of people from our neighborhood. There were 20 people, and I only had 2 small chickens. I had no idea how the food was going to be enough; but I prepared it and served it, praying that Jesus would do something amazing. I don’t know why everyone seemed to want drumsticks that day, but way too many of them specifically asked for a drumstick. And I kept serving them drumsticks. At the end of the meal, I said, ‘Now, wait a minute. How many of you ate a drumstick?’ And too many hands went up. I said, ‘Leave the drumstick bones–I want to see them.’ I went around and counted 13 drumsticks. And these were not some sort of weird chickens!”

She hit me with “Miracles don’t happen if we just sit there. We have to step out.” And she drove home the point with, “I tell people, ‘You think the gospel is boring? Come live with me for a week.'”

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Belize in the Lord with all your heart

today i’m flying to belize, a small country in central america. for some reason, not fully understood by me, i’ve always been curious about Belize. maybe it’s because it’s the only country in central america that has english as its official language. belize is on the gulf of mexico, with mexico to the north, and guatemala (a country i’ve been to a dozen times) to the west and south.

i’m not going on vacation. i’m going to see the work of Praying Pelican Missions. honestly, even though i’ve been in youth ministry since just after ronald reagan took office, i’d really not heard of PPM until a couple years ago. i mean, there sure are a lot of short term missions groups to choose from these days.

but after adam and i went to haiti with PPM last summer (see my posts from that trip here, here, here, here, and here), they have become my number one recommendation for youth groups doing international missions trips. i’ve seen the impact of short term missions done well. and i’ve seen the impact of short term missions done poorly. and i can truly say that i don’t know how i would improve on PPM’s approach. they form long-term relationships with existing ministries led by indigenous leaders. then they work to serve the vision and needs of those indigenous leaders, careful to not replace local workers, careful not to make the trip about the visiting americans, careful not to manipulate or mislead or run some version of ogling feel-good tourism. really, i was SO completely impressed by their work in haiti (and by the haitian leaders they serve and support).

belize welcomebelize is PPM’s oldest field. and while adam went to guatemala with PPM a month ago to see their newest work, i’m excited to see the work in a place where PPM has had relationships for a very long time. i’ll be meeting many belizian ministry leaders and pastors, and will be joining with a youth group on their own trip for a few days.

at the end of my time, i’m going to spend 24 hours out on caye caulker, by myself, resting, collecting my thoughts, and processing what i’ve experienced (and maybe snorkeling, since caye caulker has the second largest barrier reef in the world).

so, pray for me, primarily that i will really see what god wants me to see (including that i’ll see god at work). i’ll be blogging a few times while i’m there, so you can check back to read my impressions and thoughts and stirrings.

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why i still believe in short term missions

was thinking about haiti yesterday, which got me thinking about short term missions and youth ministry. i get asked fairly often for recommendations of organizations i trust. and i’ll be honest: while the list of organizations offering trips seems to grow every single year, there are very few i whole-heartedly feel good about recommending.

some time ago, i was asked to respond to this question about short term missions trips and youth ministry:

Why are (or why aren’t) mission trips good for building students’ character? How high of a priority should they be in youth ministry?

A few years back, a handful of thought leaders in youth ministry were in a room that I also happened to be in. We were talking about what spiritual growth actually looks like in teenagers. But we experimented by starting the discussion with stories from our own lives of when we experienced significant spiritual growth.

After we’d all told a bunch of stories, and themes from the stories had been placed with sticky-notes all over a wall, we noticed something interesting. All of the stories fell under one of four umbrellas, or contexts:

  1. meaningful community
  2. pain or failure
  3. victory or success
  4. perspective-altering experiences

Missions trips can offer all four of those contexts. Seriously, what else do we do in youth ministry that offers all four of those contexts in a compact span of time?

There’s some bad short-term missions trips out there, to be sure. Drive-by missions, or missions-vacations, or “lets go see the poor and destitute so I can feel both bad about myself, then better about myself because I felt bad about myself” trips. But a theologically and missionally thoughtful trip can from what I’ve observed have a more lasting impact on the faith formation of a teenager than anything else I even did in youth ministry.

PPM_Logobut if i’m really being responsible, there are additional questions i have to layer on top of the experience it will offer “my teenagers.” and most of those have to do with the host organization having a ruthless, uncompromising commitment to two things:

  • long term partnership with local ministries
  • an unflinching desire to and practice of serving the vision of the leaders in those local ministries

these days, my top recommendations are Praying Pelican Missions and Center for Student Missions. Mark+CSM-Large_BlackPPM is newer to me, but i was truly surprised by how unreservedly i feel like i can recommend them after seeing their work first-hand. CSM is an old favorite of mine (and i took more than a dozen trips with them back in the day), but conversations with my niece who worked in their san francisco site for a year, and now works in their chicago site, has renewed my sense that they still get it right. I’m also a fan of Group’s Big Day of Serving (particularly for junior highers — it’s been fantastic for the junior highers from my church). if i were making short-term decisions for a youth group these days, i’d take middle schoolers to the Big Day of Serving; i’d take a mix of middle schoolers and high schoolers (and maybe parents!) on an urban domestic trip with CSM; and i’d take high schoolers and parents (and probably other adults — mult-gen, baby!) on an international trip with PPM.big day of serving

i’m sure–quite sure, actually–that there are other wonderful options. but when i’m asked for recommendations, those are my go-to responses these days.

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responsible short term missions starts with humble leadership

any youth worker who has taken a group on a short-term missions trip has seen the way it has impacted the lives of teenagers. that’s why so many youth workers make these sorts of missions trips a key aspect of their programming. we want to be sensitive to cultural issues, and we don’t want to hurt the communities where we serve. but we tend to be pragmatists, and we get stoked about seeing our teenagers have their developmental narcissism poked, and seeing their worldview shaped.

i remember, with some embarrassment and regret, some of my earliest missions trips. i’m sure we did some good. and i’m sure there was some sort of impact on the lives of the junior highers i took. but, really, way too much of the trip was about us. i remember building tiny little homes (the sort that a group of junior highers was capable of building); and i remember being asked why we were building something so small. while i don’t think i could admit it at the time, i’m pretty sure our reasoning was more about what we could do (and how we could do it all on our own). there wasn’t any partnership, really, with the vision of a local church or even the family who would receive “our gift.” i remember mexico border town missions where we “led children to faith in jesus” who had certainly made the same “decision” every week during the summer, for each group of visiting gringos, who were obviously pleased (and deeply gratified) by the children’s learned responses.

but it doesn’t have to be that way.

i loved adam mclane’s post (adam is with me here in haiti) yesterday on this very subject. read his post When Helping Helps (it’s really good).

marko with youth workers

and i think i’ve learned this lesson. but it was great to see humble leadership in place today here in haiti. we’re with jim noreen, the haiti operations director for Praying Pelican Missions. they have 170 americans in haiti this week from a whole bunch of churches. they’re working on multiple sites, in multiple forms of ministry. today we’ll be joining a group who’s arriving from mississippi, and will be mostly with them for the next few days. but these first two days, we drove around with jim and visited all the other groups.

and here’s the math equation i saw working…

a visionary and humble local pastor + a missions organization committed to long term relationships of serving the local church’s agenda + a youth worker who’s committed to coming under the leadership of the local indigenous church leadership = great short term missions.

if any one of those first three components are missing or compromised, things go wrong very quickly. the teenagers themselves might not see the skew. they might still return home all charged up, full of great memories and stretched hearts. but the impact doesn’t really have a kingdom scent to it. and, the long term results will just be flat (in the lives of all involved).

the first two components are very much about choosing to work with the right missions organization. but the last one: well, that’s on us. today i had the privilege of meeting and hanging out with a handful of youth workers who “got it.” they set the tone for their groups in word and deed. it’s one thing to organize a trip. it’s another thing to constantly provide a model in word and deed of honoring and following (ooh, that’s a big one!) the local church leadership. our little american autonomous selves sometimes find it hard to put ourselves under someone else’s authority, particularly when we have a culture (including our church culture) that tells us that people with more stuff are of more value.

but that’s when things get really good, when we voluntarily set aside our preferences and assumptions and valuations, and place ourselves under the vision and leadership of local leadership. yeah: then this short term missions stuff can be a BIG WIN for the kingdom, and for everyone involved.

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do you razoo?

recently, at one of my youth ministry coaching program cohorts, we were having a general idea-sharing time. and in a brief section where we were sharing administrative ideas, i asked if any of them used online means for collecting fees or getting donations for missions trips. none who were there had that technology on their church websites, and all saw how it would be such a great benefit.

so i told them about razoo.com. josh griffin, doug fields, and others have blogged about this in the past. but razoo is a cool site made for non-profits to collect donations. it’s super easy to set up a page for your missions trip, customizing it with photos and other info. team members can even create their own pages. then the page becomes a place for support-raising, and it handles the receipting and other stuff that can be a major hassle for a small or mid-sized church’s accounting functions.

when i was leading missions trips (and the fundraising that comes with them), this was always one of our biggest hassles. it wasn’t that big of a deal if the donor was part of our church; but it was always awkward to have out-of-town friends and family write out checks to our church in support of a particular teenager going on the trip. this was particularly true if the donor was reluctant to give money to a church (even if they wanted to support the student). i can remember specific times when we had participants with donors who didn’t want to write a check to the church, but did want a receipt for tax purposes.

razoo merely charges a flat 2.9% fee (which you can either eat, or have the donor pay). they even have widgets you can embed on another page (a youth group website, a blog), and other tools that make it really simple, including an iphone app. check out this page to see how it compares to other services like this.

anyhow, with spring break missions trips upon us, and summer trips in the early stages of fundraising, this seemed a timely tip. i’d encourage you to check it out.

Q&A on Discipleship, Missions, & the Evolution of Youth Ministry

the fine people at the adventures in missions youth worker blog asked if i would do a Q&A on discipleship, missions, and the evolution of youth ministry; and i happily complied. click here for the whole post.

here are the first two questions and the answers i gave:

Q: What has changed about the way youth workers (yourself and in general) disciple students over your career in youth ministry?

There’s been a healthy shift away from a one-size-fits-all mentality. We were really into creating “discipleship programs” that offered one path, one option, when I was a young youth worker. Of course, there’s many still pursuing this route. But, my thinking is (and the thinking of lots of youth workers these days) that a mono-optional “program”-driven approach isn’t honoring to either the disciple or to God. It’s not honoring to the disciple because it only allows for one kind of disciple, the kind that is naturally wired for the expectations and path of the program or approach. And it’s not honoring to God because it denies, at its core, the gorgeous diversity of God creation as seen in the body of Christ.

The move toward mentoring as a key theme in many youth ministry discussions is a reflection of this shift. the old approach was to programmatic; the new (and, really, super-old, in that it’s the way Jesus discipled!) is relational. The old was all about “do this”, while the new (super-old) is all about “follow me.”

Q: What’s the same?

Teenagers are living in a different world, to be sure. But they’re still teenagers, and they’re still dealing with all the developmental realities of a post-pubescent awakening. They’re still wrestling with core questions of Identity, Autonomy, and Affinity (or Belonging). All of these necessarily play into any discussions about teenage discipleship, since they were and are central to the everyday experience of all teenagers (whether they’re aware of these issues or not). Another way to say this: teenagers are still wrestling with who they are (identity), they’re still wrestling with how they’re unique and to what extent they can influence the world around themselves (autonomy), and they’re still wrestling with the question of to whom and where they belong (affinity). All of these are deeply discipleship questions, at the end of the day. Or, at least, they should be!

the remaining questions were:

Q: What’s the best “how-to” discipleship advice you’ve ever received?

Q: What’s one trend in youth ministry today that you disagree with (or want to change)?

Q: Why are (or why aren’t) mission trips good for building students’ character? How high of a priority should they be in youth ministry?

but you’ll have to click through to see my responses.