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Monday, November 22, 2010

On Group's Week of Hope

As we continue to plan for next Summer's Week of Hope trip, we're meeting with students and parents to talk about it.  One of the questions that's come up is "Why are we doing this?"  Here are some thoughts:

One of the biggest things that we do as a student ministry is evaluation.  It's why I meet with our youth leaders after their night of ministry each week for 20-25 minutes; we talk about the night, about the direction, the tone and feel of the night, the things said and left unsaid.  We discuss our roles, our hearts and our attitudes.  We discuss the material, the Bible lesson and the prayer time.  This is not an effort to second-guess, it's an effort to provide feedback to determine what, if anything, we could do differently.  In addition to an evaluation of our weekly ministry programming, we also evaluate our annual events.  When we are away at CIY, or Mexico, or Kansas, or wherever...our sponsors meet as frequently as possible to talk, pray, etc.  The process as described above takes place.

But, we also evaluate those events as events themselves.  We take a look at our ministry from the macro, 30,000 foot perspective and try to discern a) what God is doing, and b) the current state of our ministry.  And then, we make adjustments.  Up to this year, the senior high ministry at Eastview has functioned the same way for it's Summer event schedule.  One year is the "conference year" and the next year is our "mission trip year."  For Eastview, the conference has always been CIY, and for the past 5 years, our mission has been Pavon Christian Mission in Mexico.  Here's what I've noticed about the conference year...

CIY Summer Conference, for our current group, is largely the right answer to the wrong question.  It has been the practice of our student ministry to rely on this event as a catalyst for further spiritual growth.  And, for many, if not most, this has simply failed.  Don't believe me?  Listen to our students.  For them, CIY summer conference has become an emotional pick me up, a time to endure the spiritual content to simply hang out with friends.  This past year, we watched and listened as kids talked about some serious conviction, and then less than 4 hours later completely deny that it had happened.  Based on this, I began looking for something different, and like a person simply looking for a program, my research led me to something the same, big and loud "worship," dynamic speakers, all seemingly geared towards pumping kids up.  I looked elsewhere, which led me to...

Service Trips.  There are also a lot of choices.  The first place I looked of course was the trusty CIY Know Sweat.  But, as I dug deeper, I saw the same thing in CIY's service projects that I saw in their conference, great speakers and Jesus cheerleaders.  The second place I went to was Group Publishing, initially to look at their Workcamps, then I discovered their other service trip, Week of Hope.  I've been engaged with Group Publishing for the past few years through their Simply Youth Ministry Conference, and the one thing that I've noticed about them is they are all about relationships.  As I examined the Week of Hope ministry, I saw that this relationship orientation was evident.

Here's the bottom line, through conversations with students, parents and our youth workers, what we see as a missing piece in the lives of our students is relationship.  In the past, many of the things that we have done have lent themselves to the dysfunction and cliques that have plagued our group over the past 2 years.  Our kids have not really been "forced" to be in relationship with one another, and they haven't focused on their relationship with God.  The service opportunity with Week of Hope is the slow down, focus on others, event that we need as a group because in the end, this week of service will not be about them.  Not doubt, they will grow and learn, they will benefit.  But this week will not be entertainment-driven.  Spending multiple travel days in a vehicle will force them to be in relationship with one another. Working in groups with kids from other places will force them to be in relationship with others.  And spending time with God, through service, quiet times and our own youth group time, will put them in a position to be in relationship with God.

I believe that it will be beneficial for all of our high school kids to go, and in fact I want them all to go.  No doubt, some of our students will not be interested in this trip.  I want you to know up from that I'm actually ok with that.  Why?  Because this trip is not about them.  So, as your family processes this trip, please talk with your students about their motivation for this trip.

Yep, we're going rafting.
We'll do some hiking.
We'll have an awesome time together, making up new youth group sayings, and resurrecting old ones.
But that's not why we're going.

We're going to serve, and to love.

PS-  To be very clear, I am not anti-CIY.  For our middle school students, CIY has proven to be a very positive event in that it has created an atmosphere of relationship between students and from student to leader.  At this point, we're simply taking a break from the conference for our high school ministry.  This will be re-evaluated after our Week of Hope trip.