As our calendars flip toward summer, our planning turns toward our summer missions/convention/camp trips, and in the back of our minds we begin to think about this: The post-missions trip spiritual spike and fade. The spike is nice and the fade, it seems, is inevitable. Of course, we don’t do missions trips for the spiritual boost it gives our students. Our goal is to help people and share the love of Christ, both in actions and words. But a spiritual boost is a nice windfall and it usually occurs. And it almost always fades.
Does it have to be this way? We’ve all tried to minimize the fade factor, employing different tools and strategies for post-trip follow-up. Some of us have accepted it as inevitable and simply appreciate the brief spiritual boost students enjoyed. There is, however, one tool that guarantees fade-free results and you already have it on your desk, or shelf, or phone.
Perhaps one of the best follow-up actions we can do as youth workers is to connect the enduring, sustaining Word of God with the freshly softened and newly humbled hearts of our students. We are given a special window of spiritual hunger and curiosity after a missions excursion. Let’s leverage that for life-long benefit. But let’s do it with some strategy.
Consider this. We know four things about missions experiences and the spiritual boost they create:
1. missions experiences help us live out John 14:21.
21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (NIV)
The missions experience itself is an opportunity to “keep” (obey) Jesus’ commands, likely through the purpose of the missions experience, whether it be in the form of taking care of the least of these, sharing compassion, or making disciples. Further, we most likely crank up the “having” of Jesus’ commands through increased devotional or quiet time during the experience and in prep for it. This one-two punch leads us to experience the promise Jesus gave in John 14:21: He shows Himself. We see Jesus! It’s why missions experiences are so powerful and a spiritual boost is likely.
2. This “seeing” of Jesus creates a soft heart and a humble spirit.
Commitments are made. Stakes are driven down. Accountability is scheduled.
3. Commitments Fade.
A third thing we know. The commitments fade. The stakes rot. Accountability gets squeezed out of the schedule.
4. Yet, the Word of God promises Lasting, Sustaining Impact.
I contend that it doesn’t have to be that way. This, then, brings us to the fourth thing we know: We have a tool at our disposal that promises lasting, sustaining impact. The Word of God.
This is nothing new, but maybe we have all gotten a little stale at being intentional and creative in connecting mission-impacted, soft-hearted students with God’s Word. Let this summer be the summer that changes.
Strategies for Connecting Missions to Scripture
Below are a few strategic ideas for custom-connecting your missions experience with meaningful engagement in the Word of God. As you read these you’ll see a pattern: identifying something specific from your missions experience and connecting it to a parallel in Scripture. We have a unique and small window of opportunity. This process is our hook for effectively fastening a fleeting spiritual boost to the enduring Word of God.
1. Connect Mission Theme with Bible Theme
Your missions work will likely have an overarching purpose—evangelism, compassion, building, teaching, justice. Plan a post-trip dive into a Bible theme that connects with the purpose of your missions work. Will it be evangelistic in nature? Mine out evangelism passages (instructions, examples, promises). Are you doing a compassion project? Explore the word “compassion” or compassion examples through the gospels. You get the idea.
2. Explore Why You Accomplished Much by Working Together
It’s likely that your students will notice, maybe for the first time, how everyone brought a unique set of gifts and talents to the missions experience, enabling your group to accomplish way more than seemed possible. Springboard off their observations into a study of spiritual gifts. Set out to “own” the key spiritual gifts chapters of Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 (with a 1 Peter 4:11 kicker). Hone in on the mutual dependence we are to have on each other and our unique giftedness.
3. See Your Missions Trip in Scripture
After your trip, poll your students with this question: What commands of Jesus did we live out in our missions experience? Or: What traits of God did we experience on our trip? Or: How did we see Jesus? Let each answer serve as a topic to explore in Scripture over the weeks following your trip, one topic per week. You could front load this by asking students to be on the lookout for those things throughout the week.
4. Teach How To Fish
Utilize newfound spiritual zeal to teach students how to engage in Scripture. Offer a post-trip deeper dive Bible experience (using the above ideas or a Bible book of your students’ choosing) and introduce students to inductive Bible study tools or match each student’s learning style with a Bible study tool, resource, or genre of Bible book to explore.
When God’s Word is described by, well, God’s Word, you see traits like enduring, everlasting, bedrock-solid. It seems God is emphasizing a point. Youth workers are in a unique position to fasten spiritual zeal to the bedrock of God’s Word before the zeal begins to fade. Channeling spiritual zeal into a study of Scripture at a time when students’ curiosity is high is a gift you can give your students that they will enjoy for the rest of their lives.
I’d love to talk specifics on this topic with you. Feel free to drop me a note or comment.
Barry Shafer has been in youth ministry over 25 years and is the author of Unleashing God’s Word in Youth Ministry. As director of InWord Resources, he has written many small-group Bible studies and teen devotionals. Barry lives in Middletown, Ohio with his wife Jessica, and their two toddlers, Reade and Rachel. You can connect with Barry through email, his website, Facebook, Twitter, the InWord Blog or his personal blog.