Posted on Leave a comment

The Most Important Thing You Can Do After Your Summer Mission Trip

Summer is mission trip season for many of us in youth ministry and my social media feeds are currently full of pictures and comments celebrating the wonderful, beautiful, Jesus-led moments surrounding short-term mission trips. I love it. It’s awesome.

Strangely, many of the same people fill up my fall and winter social media feeds asking for advice or feedback on options for next summer’s trip. Why submit yourself to the effort, stress, and vision-casting needed to make a new trip happen, when you already have had an experience full of wonderful, beautiful, Jesus-led moments on a short-term mission trip?

So, in a selfish effort to clean up my youth ministry social media feeds this winter, I want to make life easier for you. I want to pass along a youth ministry shortcut that I’m passionate about. A “hack,” if you will, to make sure your mission trip next year is both less stressful to plan, and more honoring of those you serve.

Book the same trip, to the same location, at the same time of year.

I understand the temptation to choose new locations each year for your mission trips.

  • Variety keeps things interesting
  • Your teens (and you!) enjoy visiting new locations and cultures
  • The hope that “maybe this year your teens will be more excited about going to _________ than when hardly anyone signed up last year when you went to __________.”

But each of those reasons are far more about us than they are about honoring those we are serving.

When we choose to invest in the same area, the same city, the same neighborhoods, and the same people we open ourselves, and our teens, up to a consistency that God honors in fruitful ways. The resulting relationships end up being far more mutual, honoring, and formational than what we usually experience on a one-off trip. (You can read a little more about my personal experience with consistent mission trips HERE)

Consistency isn’t valued nearly enough by youth pastors when it comes to mission trips.

Consistency means you get to know and trust an organization more and more while they get the opportunity to know and trust your group.

Consistency means there’s a likelihood of seeing the same folks year after year and actually building meaningful relationships with them, instead of a one-time interaction.

Consistency means you and your church get to see the active, ongoing work of God outside of your normal context at home.

Consistency means that it will be a lot more difficult to fall into the unhelpful, but all too common, trap of swooping in to an area as (likely) white, middle class people playing savior for a week, never to be seen again.

So, if you have already returned from a week of service, love, and community on a short-term mission trip – awesome. Want to know the most important thing you can do in the wake of such a profound experience?

Call up the organization you went through and sign up to do it again next summer. Sign up for the same city, the same community, and, if possible, the same service partners.

Maybe you are still gearing up for you group’s trip, and have high expectations of the wonderful, beautiful, Jesus-led moments that are about to happen. Awesome. Want to know the most important thing you can do if those hopes and dreams are fulfilled?

Call up the organization you went through and sign up to do it again next summer. Sign up for the same city, the same community, the same service partners.

Maybe you recently returned from a mission trip and it went horribly. The organization you worked with was unprepared, disorganized, and dishonoring of the folks you were serving. Don’t sign up with them again! Find a better mission trip option and do that next summer! But then stick with that trip for the coming years.

I truly pray that each and every trip this summer has expanded you and your group’s concept of just how big and how active God is in our world. And how big and active a role they get to play in that world. If that was (or will be) the case for you this summer, go ahead and make the call. And next year go back to the same area, the same city, the same neighborhoods, and the same people. Watch how God honors the work and those relationships and consistency grows year after year.

Brad Hauge is a lifelong resident of the great Pacific Northwest and has survived this youth ministry thing for 15 years in spite of crippling introversion. He is currently the Director of Student Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, where he lives with his wife and daughters- who are far better humans than he is.

Posted on 12 Comments

Are You an Introvert In Youth Ministry? Me too.

Introvert in Youth Ministry-

My name is Brad. I am a youth worker and I am an introvert.

People are often surprised when I confess to them I am an introvert, usually responding with some form of, But, but, how can you be an introvert when all you do is hang out with people?Or, You arent an introvert! Look at how you love running around at youth group and do so much public speaking. Youre even good at it! You arent an introvert…”

Oh, but I am. And not simply in an I like to relax with a good booksort of way. My reality as an introvert is much more in the vein of nearly-constant headaches after a day of sustained human interaction that even occasionally leaves me curled up on the bathroom floor vomiting.(OK, that’s only happened twice, but it’s totally happened!)

I often find myself frustrated at my introversion, especially when my job is one that demands both recurring face to face interaction in addition to the hours spent with those lovable, energetic, noisy, brilliant, hilarious, energy sucking leeches that are apparently the reason I have a job in the first place!

In the worst moments, usually when I see pictures or hear stories of the stereotypical extroverted youth worker seemingly excelling at their job in ways foreign to me, I feel like a youth ministry unicorn. A creature so rare that it is simply known to be a myth. Except maybe unicorns are far too joyous and vibrant to be an apt metaphor for an introvert. In those moments I feel far more like a youth ministry Eeyore. Still mythical, but far more well… Eeyore-ish.

But the truth is that I’m far from the only introvert in youth ministry, and my personality rarely is anything like Eeyore’s. Some recent studies have even put the percentage of introverted adults in our population at around 40%. Im sure the percentage of introverted youth workers out there is a bit lower than that, but I know you are out there!

Anne Lamott famously said, The most powerful sermon in the world are the words me too.’” I love my job. I am even pretty dang good at it! I am passionate about it dream of being the old guy in a wheelchair still playing dodge ball surrounded by high school kids. But sometimes it’s nice to have someone say, “me too.” So heres to you, my fellow introverted youth workers:

  • Have you ever let your emails or text messages sit unanswered for days because even a simple reply of “sure, see you then” felt impossibly hard? Me too.
  • Were you aware of a student who really wanted to hang out and talk—but you just. did. that. yesterday and two days in a row seems impossible? Me too.
  • Have you ever ditched brainstorming meetings and instead gathered information through guided journaling and reflection and had it turn out far better? Me too.
  • Do you secretly look forward to Monday mornings where a chance to simply sit quietly in your office and catch up on administrative stuff is both necessary and expected? Me too.
  • Have you ever hung out with a student and had it be incredibly life giving and sacred and wonderful, inspiring you to do it more often—then woken up the next day to find the simple thought of more human interaction made it hard to leave your house? Me too.
  • Do you find that sometimes the you were able to actually listen to the Holy Spirit during a time of solitude and realize you just stumbled upon the most amazing ministry idea ever? Me too.
  • Do you have endless energy and pure joy and appreciation for your time spent at youth group, and then need to unwind by yourself for hours sucking your thumb in the fetal position afterward? Me too.
  • Ever text a kid to hang out hoping they’ll already be busy? But, hey, at least you tried!? Me too
  • Have you ever spent the morning after youth group just laying around doing as little as possible because the idea of setting foot back in the church, or running into another human, before noon sounds like probably, definitely, the worst thing that could possibly happen to you? Me too.
  • Have you ever let a voice message hang out in your office phone for days before you even listen to it, since you know it’s only either a sales pitch or an unhappy parent? Me too.
  • Ever spent the hours leading up to youth group fantasizing about an excuse, or an illness, so you could just go home and watch Netflix instead? Me too. 
  • Do you know you are called to this job filled with human interaction and wouldn’t change a thing? Me too. Me too.

Feel free to add your own me toostatements in the comment section!

Brad Hauge is a lifelong resident of the great Pacific Northwest and has survived this youth ministry thing for 13 years in spite of crippling introversion. He is currently the Director of High School Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA and is part of the team that brings the Youth Cartel’s VIVA! curriculum to life each month. You can follow his ministry and baseball thoughts on Twitter @bhauge

Posted on Leave a comment

Fall Kickoff Hype: what are we inviting kids into?

Fall Kickoff Hype

Fall Kickoff Gatherings! Invite Nights! Welcome Back to Youth Group Events! It’s the time of year that is filled with both genuine excitement and, if were being honest, soul-crushing anxiety. Are people going to show up? Do we have a ministry that kids care about? What if we scheduled our kickoff on the same night as the schools freshman orientation? DO I EVEN DESERVE TO HAVE THIS JOB?!?!?!

Many of us tend to overcompensate for these insecurities by hyping our kickoff events to insane levels. And yes, I hear you already: Brad, we dont hype our events because we are worried no one will come! We hype them so kids will come and hear the gospel and come to know Jesus!

And yes, I get it. And no, I dont assume anyone is being disingenuous when they say such things. But here is a sample of real life, actual hype Ive found in just the past few days:

  • A post on social media from a high school student imploring his friends to come to that evenings youth ministry event. The caption read something along the lines of, Tonight! Come to ________ and find out more about camp this fall. You all should come and if you say you came with me Ill get $10 off camp for each friend that came.
  • Free t-shirts to wear at school throughout the week that promote the kickoff event.
  • Promoting their fall kick off with promises of free food, iPod raffles, and other giveaways just for showing up.
  • A group that was bringing out all sorts of inflatables: bouncy castles, sumo wrestling, ZORB balls, etc.
  • A multitude of Invite Nights.taking over social media (seriously, check the hashtag) and bombarded kids with information on the coolest, hippest, most exciting night of ministry any youth group has ever created. And how we need to invite our friends to this unforgettable night.

But what happens when the kickoff night is over and they return to their normal entertainment-filled lives the next day? What happens to the kid who came to win an iPod but didnt win? What about when Johnny finds out his friend made $10 by getting him to show up that night? What happens if the night feels successful because kids do want to come back the next week, but the bouncy castle and food arent there anymore? Do we hope theyll just say, Bummer! But heyI got a free hot dog last week! I’ll go back and find out more about Jesus!!!

I understand that sometimes it takes a little something extra to get a kid to show up to a church event. And that sometimes its that something extra that helps them connect to a place and people that love them and grow them in the name of Jesus—and in that case, hallelujah!

But doesnt the hype and promotion of entertainment and giveaways just feel a littleicky?

What if instead we all work toward creating a community of kids that feel compelled to invite their friends and peers because Jesus is just that compelling. Because they get to participate in something that is bigger than their day-to-day lives of stress, academics, and achievements. Because Jesus is enough and we dont need anything extra.

Lest you think Im writing this from an ivory tower of judgment, just last year I helped plan, promote, and execute a kickoff night that included a BBQ, a luau, a 4-square tournament, and a glow in the dark dance party—all taking place within a two-hour time frame. I know what it is to try to keep up with the cooler ministry down the street or to look for my worth as a youth pastor in the level of excitement drummed up by a room of teenagers. But heres the thing: after the luau-dance party-BBQ-tournament night was over, I felt gross. I felt like our community had tried to be something it wasnt, like we didnt believe that Jesus was going to be enough. It didnt fit our groups context of high school kids full of doubters/believers/partiers/atheists/missionaries/jocks/nerds/etc. who had coalesced around the love and hope found in following Jesus—who had not come together because we put on a better show than the youth group down the street. We now want to make sure our kickoff events feel like a chance for people to reconnect, not to be impressed.

Now, hear me loud and clear. I am NOT anti-fun. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making fun a hallmark of your ministry. We should, however, check our motives for the uber-hype that often accompanies our kickoff events. Are we promoting something that is unsustainable? Are we simply attracting kids who are involved in other ministries in town? Are we ignoring our groups context in exchange for hoping for something bigger and better?

What we have continued to find over and over, at least in our context, is that youth are currently looking for an antidote to the hype.

They are looking for something that is bigger and more meaningful than their entertainment and achievement filled lives. And the obvious thing that we can provide, the very reason our ministries exist, turns out to be entirely compelling. If we don’t trust that Jesus is compelling enough, if we feel we need to add cash incentives and dance parties to our Invite Nights, then maybe we need take a step back and reevaluate what exactly our ministries are presenting. Because the Jesus of love, hope, grace, purpose, forgiveness, beauty, understanding and peace should be more than enough.

May you have fun in your ministry. May you attract new youth to your community. May you take time to discern the specific, God honoring context of your ministry and not feel the need to make it anything more than that. May your youth find something worth being a part of. May your community grow into the sort of group that is attractive to the world around it because your students have found something compelling and worthy of their time—and may that be the person of Jesus.

Brad Hauge is a lifelong resident of the great Pacific Northwest and has survived this youth ministry thing for 13 years in spite of crippling introversion. He is currently the Director of High School Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA and is part of the team that brings the Youth Cartel’s VIVA! curriculum to life each month.