A group of youth on a mission trip with a quotation from Lewis Carroll above their heads

The Mission of Our Mission

With COVID-19 vaccines being widely distributed, more and more churches are considering taking groups of youth on trips to engage in mission (aka “the mission trip”).  Like with so many things  at church that we had to stop because of the pandemic, we are now in a position to consider, Do we want to go back to “business as usual” or do we want to take the opportunity to think about this differently? 

We at Youth Mission Co encourage our colleagues in youth ministry to use this time to consider

the “Mission” of our Mission.

Often when I talk to adults about our work of engaging youth in mission, they remark about how important it is…

Because our young people need to know how others are living

Because our youth should learn to be thankful for what they have

Because giving feels good

Because Jesus told us to do such things

All of these responses are valid.  All of them are true.  But they only represent half the picture. 

Engaging youth in mission is indeed a great way to help them see problems in our society… that there are people who are struggling.  However, much of the work we have our youth doing remains centered in band-aid solutions.  We feed people for a day.  We clean up a space for a day, or paint a building.  My colleagues and I believe this is only half the mission.  Here are some our thoughts about the other half.

Part of the mission is to dispel the myths.  The biggest of these being that people are poor or homeless simply because they didn’t work as hard as the rest of us.  This requires us to not just feed someone a meal, but to understand the life of someone who is food insecure.  It means we have to do more than help clean an apartment for a new recipient, but to understand the difficult journey new recipients have taken.  In that learning, our youth discover that some folks are facing additional obstacles that many of us don’t.  They see the strength and resilience that many of our underserved neighbors exhibit daily in the face of adversity. 

Another part is helping youth see the systems that create the symptoms.  In our society we are given an incomplete narrative that “we all make our own way in life” and that “our choices have consequences.”  While it’s very true that our choices matter, it’s also true that some of us have lots of good options to choose, while others have fewer.  This is not by fate or chance.  It’s by design.  America has a long history of giving power and access to some, while intentionally holding back others.  We are all downstream from that history, and it is more pervasive than many of us realize. 

A final part of the mission is exploring what the Kingdom of God looks like, and God’s work of bringing that kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”  This requires deep Bible study, particularly in texts that can make us uncomfortable.  We have to walk beside youth as we consider Jesus’ unwavering solidarity with those who are oppressed, and his consistent critique of those who use their power and privilege to hoard and exclude.

This fuller kind of mission experience causes youth to be transformed. The lens widens.  Mission goes from isolated acts of charity to a lifetime of seeking justice.  Scripture goes from some stories about being nice to each other to a challenging blueprint of how the world should be.  A youth’s perspective goes from “counting their blessings” to discerning God’s call to change things for the better. 

As we begin to exit this pandemic, we look forward to working with our friends in youth ministry in this ongoing mission—not only on a “mission trip,” but throughout the year!

Rev. Bill Buchanan is Executive Director of Youth Mission Co. He lives in Asheville, NC.

Rev. Buchanan has offered from Youth Ministry Co  a description of their summer programs and a year-long partnership program with churches on these same themes, called “Journey of Justice,” both of which you can explore by contacting him at Youth Mission Co.

DIY Vacation Bible School

I know we are all in a bit of panic mode when it comes to our summer plans. We have no idea what the future holds with our large group gatherings and everything is confusing with some areas opening back up and some locking down further. I know VBS has been keeping me up at night wondering when and if. One thing I will not worry about is how.

A few years back I worked at a church that was in an area of about 5 other churches. I would see their VBS signs pop up and realize that we were all doing the same package and of course mine was the one later in the summer when all the other kids had attended other churches earlier. Who wants a repeat? I sat down with my committee to come up with a way to create a unique VBS that focused on the areas that our church was passionate about without losing our minds.

Continue reading

World Food Day

You may not be aware of it, but Thursday, October 16 is World Food Day in Canada and the United States. This day was first established in 1979 in a collective effort to make the needs of hungry people known to the world at large.

Each year the World Food Programme(WFP)  of the United Nations publishes sobering facts about the number of hungry people in the world. Did you know, for instance, that there are at least 795 million people in the world who will go to bed hungry tonight? That is about one in every nine people. Asia is the continent that has the most hungry people, although the largest percentages of the total population can be found in sub-Saharan Africa. WFP also provides downloadable hunger maps that make the scope of this problem even more visible.

There are many resources available to churches who wish to educate about and simulate the issue of hunger. Continue reading

Water @This Point

Almost ten years ago, Columbia Theological Seminary inaugurated a new online journal, @ this point: theological investigations in church and culture. The goal of the journal was straightforward: to model (and encourage) theological conversation among Christian laity on important topics of the day and, therein, help shape a more theologically literate church. The format, too, was straightforward: invite a scholar to write a lead essay on an assigned topic, ask three other scholars to write responses to the lead essay, and then have the lead essayist write a reply to the responses. The back-and-forth is intended not to foreclose conversation or thought but to open them up; as such we ask the scholars to end with questions, not criticisms and to highlight new ideas rather than simply assessing old ones. And we strongly encourage our writers to be brief but thoughtful and to avoid academic jargon where possible. “Think of your audience as the people sitting in the pews with you,” we tell them. “They may have college degrees, but those degrees aren’t likely to be in religion or philosophy. So think about the engineer or the schoolteacher in your midst.” Continue reading

Reminder Rocks

Middle school and high school youth are an integral part of the leadership of Vacation Bible School at Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church–under the watchful care of loving adults of a large span of ages. Two of the afternoons they stay later–one is a mission day and the other is just for fun. This year, our mission afternoon was called Random Acts of Kindness Day. We began with a Bible study and discussion about the experience of feeling “not good enough” (sports, academics, looks, parental expectations…). We found we are either disappointed or discouraged when we fail or fall short of the standards set by others (or perhaps even ourselves). That failure either makes us try harder the next time or often means we never try again. Or worse. But as followers of Jesus Christ, we have hope in God and understand that God’s love is unconditional. Good news!
(Romans15:13, 1 Peter 1:3-4)
We believe that God believes we are good enough. Continue reading

Generations in Faith Together

Sunday school was working, but not well.  It was bringing in the same folks
we would see for almost any other church gathering and very few of the folks
we only see at worship or for our Wednesday night LOGOS program.  So we
decided to try something different.

Our Christian Education committee (through some weeping and gnashing of teeth on the part of some) decided to stop Sunday school and replace it with a program we call GIFT (which stands for Generations in Faith Together).  The vision of GIFT is to get people of all generations (preschool, elementary, youth, college, young adult, middle aged, senior citizen, etc.) to gather for some sort of educational event once a month between September and April/May. Continue reading

Planning for Adult Faith Formation

At the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) Annual Event in Baltimore,  Zeta Touchton Lamberson led a workshop on Adult Faith Formation. Believing that the role of the church is to walk alongside adults through their journey of faith providing resources, opportunities and conversations that will draw them into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, the workshop led the participants through a process of developing an intentional comprehensive adult education program. Using the Stepping Stones on the Journey of Faith resource (available from Zeta Lamberson at billzeta@bellsouth.net) four areas were identified as important: Biblical Knowledge, Worship & Sacraments, Stewardship & Mission, and Church History/Theology/Doctrine/Polity. The participants used a brainstorming process to identify resources that had been used in their churches in four areas. Following the event the list of resources were compiled and amplified and Zeta has shared them here and would love to know of other resources used successfully with adults. Continue reading

The Transformative Power of Short-Term Mission Trips

Opportunities to experience short term mission trips have exploded in the past few years as churches help their youth live into their call to serve those in need in Christ’s name. These trips not only express an understanding of our Reformed faith that we are saved to serve, but also tap into the need of young people to belong. Community building and faith sharing abound while living, working, and worshiping together for a few days. In addition, such trips develop life skills, shape our faith in new ways, and touch the deep hunger we all have to make a difference in the lives of others. Continue reading