A Picture’s Worth a Lot of Words

Deep Justice Journeys Sample Activity

Jul 04, 2011 Brad M. GriffinKara Powell

Excerpted from Kara Powell and Brad Griffin, Deep Justice Journeys: 50 Activities to Move from Mission Trips to Missional Living (Grand   Rapids: Youth Specialties/Zondervan, 2009). Used with permission.

Big Idea: There are more connections between our justice work and our lives at home than we might realize.

You’ll need:

  • Pictures from your justice     experience (make them at least 5 x 7 if not 8 x 10). You want more pictures     than students, so if you expect 12 students at your meeting, print 18 to     24 pictures.
  • Similarly, print pictures     of various scenes that represent your students’ lives at home. These might     include a nearby shopping mall, a typical house in your town, a high     school, a movie theatre, or a coffee shop. You might even ask a few     students to be the shutterbugs and take and/or print out these pictures.

Welcome students and then ask: Think back to our justice work and imagine that your mind is a camera. What images and memories of our experience are most vivid?


Display pictures of your time serving along a table or a wall. Ask your students to come and look at the pictures without talking. After a few minutes, invite each student to choose a picture that triggers a significant thought or feeling. If more than one student wants the same picture, that’s okay; they can both work from the same picture.

Divide your students into groups of three or four and explain: I’d like each group member to share about the picture he or she chose and why it’s personally significant. After each person has shared, the rest of the group can add comments or insights about that picture or the person who shares it, based on what they remember from our justice work.


After the groups have finished, display the pictures of life at home in the same way. Again ask students to come and look at the pictures without talking, and then choose one picture that’s significant to them.

Invite the students to return to their small groups and share about the pictures they’ve chosen and why they are significant. Similar to before, the rest of the group should add comments or insights about that picture or the person who has just shared.

After the small groups have finished, explain: There’s one more question I’d like us to discuss. You’ve talked about the picture from our trip, and you’ve talked about the home picture. But you haven’t talked about how the two pictures relate to each other. How are the two pictures you’ve selected similar? How are they different? Please talk about that in your small groups. If students get stuck, encourage them to raise their hands so you or another adult can come and prod their thinking.

Ask students to return to one large group and invite anyone who wants to share about the relationship between the two pictures to do so. After a number of people have shared, ask:

Q: What themes stood out in either your small-group or our large-group discussions?


Q: What feelings emerged in you during this process?


Q: What does this say about us as a group?


Q: What does this say about our time serving, and how that justice work relates to our lives now?


Q: How can what we’ve seen and discussed today help us go deeper in our justice work?


Close in prayer, but ask your students to keep their eyes open as you pray, looking at the two pictures they’ve chosen. If it feels appropriate, invite some of your students to also pray aloud. Encourage students to take both pictures home and place them in a visible location as a reminder of how their justice work relates to home, and vice versa.

Eat it Up

Free Deep Justice Journeys Sample

Jun 06, 2011 Brad M. GriffinKara Powell

Excerpted from Kara Powell and Brad Griffin, Deep Justice Journeys: 50 Activities to Move from Mission Trips to Missional Living (Grand   Rapids: Youth Specialties/Zondervan, 2009). Used with permission.

Big Idea:

Meals as a team can be so much more than functional necessities while we serve; they can become holy moments through our table fellowship.

You’ll need:

  • Bibles
  • Elements     for Communion—either bread and juice or whatever’s available at your site.    Don’t be afraid to use Communion elements that are indigenous to where you     are serving, like rice or chapattis instead of the traditional bread or     wafers your students might be accustomed to.

Note to Leader:

This discussion could happen during a meal, immediately after a meal, or even just before a meal if you don’t have impatient stomachs on your hands. You could also spread it out over the course of a few meals. In any case, this content will be best digested (so to speak) in the context of a meal.


Open by asking students about the food: Their favorite food so far; a local food they’re still hoping to try; and maybe what foods from home they are missing. Be sure to be sensitive to the presence of your hosts when you ask these questions. If students have been grumbling about the food, please use discretion in whether to ask these questions at all!

Next ask:

Q: What is your favorite thing about meals—here, at home, or anywhere?


Q: How many of you like eating with others? How many would rather eat alone? What makes a difference in whether you would rather eat alone or with other people?


Eating is something we do every day—it’s essential to life—but we seldom stop to reflect on how important it is that we eat together. We eat so we can keep living, but when we do it with others, it’s a reminder of our need to be in community with one another. In fact, when we look closely at Scripture we see that eating together is important to us spiritually, too.


Q: Why do you think eating is spiritually significant? How could sharing a meal be a spiritual encounter? Note that students may connect the dots differently here depending on whether you have had many conversations about the interconnectedness of our physical and spiritual lives.

Q: What examples from Scripture can you think of that describe people sharing meals that had some sort of spiritual significance? Likely Jesus’ Last Supper will be mentioned, but push them to think about (or suggest yourself) other meals, like Abraham’s visit from God (Genesis 18:1-15); the manna and quail God provided for the people in the wilderness (Exodus 16); Elijah’s food from ravens (1 Kings 17:6) and from an angel (1 Kings 19:5-8); and Jesus’ feeding of the crowds (Mark 6:30-44 and Mark 8:1-13). It has also been noted that Jesus is often eating (or going to a meal, or coming from a meal!) in the gospel of Luke.

Then say: Let’s look together at one meal in particular that gives us a picture of Jesus’ heart for justice and reconciliation through the way he ate his meals.


Have someone read Mark 2:13-17 and then explain: By recruiting a tax collector to follow him, Jesus was inviting one of the most hated members of Jewish society to be part of his team. Tax collectors dishonestly levied fees against their own people, often taking more than was required by the Roman occupiers and keeping quite a bit for themselves.

Q: What surprises you about this passage?


Q: How do you think these people felt about eating with Jesus? Why do you think the religious leaders were so upset?


You may also point out that tax collectors were not only considered traitors by the people but also declared “unclean” by the Pharisees, which meant they could not attend worship or hang out with other Jews, especially to eat. So Levi’s table, according to this context, was a defiled table—an unholy place. Yet we find Jesus eating there! What’s more, the text identifies that “many” tax collectors and sinners followed Jesus. It’s one thing to walk behind someone along the road, but quite another to sit with him at the table and eat. Jesus’ table fellowship with the outcasts of his community was an act of both healing and worship—of making people well and making them holy.

Q: What do Jesus’ eating habits reveal to us about Jesus’ perceptions of justice?


Q: What do you think our own eating habits on this justice mission, both individually and as a group, communicate about God’s heart for justice?


Q: In light of all of this, what might we want to do differently when we next eat together? Depending on whether your team eats alone or with locals—or in the case of many mission trips, alone while locals cook and watch—students might bring up uncomfortable feelings or questions about whether it seems just to exclude locals from your table. These are good questions to explore, so be sure you have thought through the implications of changing your eating plans if that’s where your group heads in the discussion!

Continue: Eating together communicates a sense of family-like connectedness. Jesus’ common practice of sharing meals with “saints and sinners” alike unveils the value of table fellowship. The Lord’s Supper takes this a step further, making it an act of connection with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and with other believers as we remember Christ’s sacrifice.


Jesus used food—bread and wine—to illustrate his death on the cross. Some Christians believe that every time we eat with other believers, we are announcing Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that he will come again. And almost all Christians believe sharing in the act of Communion is a sacred practice. So today we are going to share the Lord’s Supper together as part of our meal. This is our act of faithfulness to eat as a community seeking God’s justice on earth.

Transition into a time of taking Communion together, or if you are still waiting to eat at this point, begin your meal and then follow it with Communion! At some point during your Communion experience, lead the following discussion:

Psalm 34:8 invites us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in him.”


Let’s think for a minute about this question: Who else needs to be brought to the table? Whom do you know who desperately hopes to hear an invitation to come and eat, to find themselves at home with Christ, and to taste the new life Jesus offers? You could try to focus students’ answers on the people in the community you’re serving, or you could encourage them to think about people back home. Perhaps better yet, invite them to think of people in both settings as a way to connect the dots between their current justice work and their life at home.

Community—and Communion—are never just acts we do for ourselves; they should always point us outward to love others more faithfully in the name of Jesus. Let’s close in prayer for those who need to experience the good news, both here in the community we’re serving or back at home. Let’s pray that the way we live—even the ways we eat together—might whet their appetites for Christ.




Here are some additional ideas for ways to make community meals more meaningful during your justice work:

  • Make     it a practice to gather in a circle and pray before meals. While this may     seem like a simple thing, the symbol of the circle itself is important     imagery of our unity in Christ. Alternate between holding hands, linking     arms, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, sitting on the floor, and any other     creative way you and your students can think of being together in a     circle. Invite the Lord to bring deeper unity as you begin each meal this     way, and point out to students the reason you make circles together.
  • Occasionally     assign seats or require that students sit next to someone new at a meal.    While meals can be important downtime for students to hang with their     closest friends, this can also inhibit deeper relationships from forming     across group lines. If possible, plan at least a few (if not all) meals     for students to intentionally eat with locals as well.
  • If     your meals are not already set up this way, consider involving students in     preparing, serving, and cleaning up after each meal.
  • If you     usually eat in a private space as a team, consider going to a local     restaurant or somewhere you can eat among others in the community. Or find     a way to make and serve food for the church or ministry you are working     with, as an expression of gratitude and solidarity with your hosts.
  • Occasionally     make new meal rules, like restricting use of hands during a meal so     everyone has to be fed by someone else near them, or that each person can     only use the hand that is opposite their normal preference.

Talk to Me About My Daughter

The State of Girls Globally and Locally

May 02, 2011 Desiree Segura-April

“If you talk to me about my mother, you will get my respect.

If you talk to me about my wife, I will tell you it’s none of your business.

But if you talk to me about my daughter, you have my eyes, ears and heart…”
Old Egyptian Saying 1

Think about a girl in your life who is special to you. Maybe you have a daughter, or a niece, or a little sister. Perhaps there is a girl in your neighborhood or at church, or one in your ministry who comes to mind. Close your eyes and envision her face, her smile, the sound of her laughter, the warmth of her greeting each time you see her. Think about the joy she brings to your life and her gifts and talents.

What do you want most for her? What are your hopes and dreams for her life? What are her hopes and dreams? What does God desire for this girl?

Do any of the following common “proverbs” and sayings 2   from around the world reflect what you were imagining for that special girl in your life?

  • “Girls are maggots in the rice.”—an old Chinese saying
  • “Daughters and dead fish are no keeping wares.”—an 18th century English saying
  • A girl is “merely a weed.”—a Zulu saying
  • “Happy is he whose children are sons and woe to him whose children are daughters.”—from the Talmudic writings
  • Announcement of the birth of a female child:  “Nothing was born.” —Among Hindus

While it may seem unbelievable in the 21st century, according to a variety of sources from secular and Christian development agencies, female children and youth around the world are often the most neglected, exploited, abused, and discriminated-against human beings on earth.  3   Unfortunately, most of us are unaware of the problem because “girls are not usually visible on statistical profiles. Their predicament is blended with those of women or boys,” says former Development Education Manager for World Vision Canada, David Kupp.  4

While it is not usually recognized, child and teenage girls are often devalued simply because of their gender, their age, and their economic status.

Strike One: Being Female

First, girls are marginalized simply for being female. However, “unlike apartheid and racism, gender prejudice is not acknowledged as a formally articulated behavioral precept or doctrine. But it clearly exists and has an impact on the female life-cycle.” 5

Strike Two: Being Under-Age

Second, simply being under age 18 is a disadvantage because “until quite recently, all societies placed the well-being of adults above that of children” according to Robert Edgerton, a professor of anthropology and psychology at UCLA. 6

Strike Three: Being Poor

Finally, in many cultures children and youth are among the poorest of the poor. The economic status of girls often makes them even more vulnerable. Due to cultural beliefs, young females may be viewed as an economic burden. Rather than bringing more income into the home, income will be needed to pay for her to be married. In many cultures, once she is married she will leave the family and no longer contribute to their economic well-being. 7

Although the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees the rights of girls and young women, in many places these rights are often denied. Some ways in which their rights are violated around the world are discrimination against girls from the time they are conceived (selective abortion); a higher value placed on boys leading to a denial to girls of equal rights to education, food, dignity, and protection; exposure to harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, violence, sexual abuse and exploitation; and girls being judged by physical appearance or objectified in media, rather than by what they contribute to society.

Researching a Response

In light of these realities, how might the church respond? More research needs to be done on the issues girls face around the world and how the gospel can become truly good news that brings transformation in lives, families, communities and cultures. We need to be willing to look closely at the situation of the “girl-child” (a global designation meaning all girls under 18 years of age) in our own culture and around the world and ask some tough questions:

  • Are girls being given access to     appropriate healthcare and nutrition?
  • Are they able to attend school     within an environment and structure whereby they may flourish and     graduate?
  • Are they being given the     opportunity to learn skills that will help them break the cycle of poverty     in their families?
  • How might we challenge the ways girls     are being exploited in the home and labor force?
  • In what ways are media and     society objectifying or sexualizing girls, and how might the church seek     to change this?
  • Are we speaking out against     gender-based violence in their homes and communities?
  • Is the gospel being presented as     good news that brings freedom to grow and develop into all that God     created them to be?

FYI is participating in research on some of these questions, and we are currently in the middle of a three year project focused on the girl-child. In the first phase, twenty-eight qualitative interviews were done with girls and leaders in Christian programs focused specifically on girls in the greater Los Angeles area. This was just a meager start at beginning to understand some of the issues young women face growing up in the U.S. and how the church is walking with them in their journey.

The girls who were interviewed ranged in age from eleven to twenty-one; included African-American, Latina, Caucasian, and Asian girls; and represented varying socio-economic and educational backgrounds. As a case study approach, the goal of the research is to find emerging themes and issues for the girls and the ministries, and the interviews with both the girls (16 in all) and their leaders (12 in all) affirmed general trends found in the current literature on the girl-child.

Insights from Girls Themselves

Some of the issues raised by the young women interviewed included:

  • feeling like there is a double     standard for guys and girls;
  • being limited in certain     activities, such as sports or jobs because of being a girl;
  • higher educational expectations     for girls;
  • girls gossiping about and     mistreating or bullying other girls;
  • self-esteem issues;
  • physical challenges, such as PMS     and pregnancy; and
  • guys treating them like they     aren’t capable of doing things or being independent, or are somehow “less     than” boys.

The girls also discussed not liking the stereotypes that girls are too emotional and often seen as “drama queens” and as weaker than guys. Interestingly, when asked what they liked about being a girl, some mentioned being glad they could talk about their feelings with friends because guys think they have to be so “macho.” So, while on the one hand some girls don’t like being perceived as too emotional, others embrace the ability to connect with their emotions and talk about them.

One girl said she loves surprising people and proving them wrong when they think she is weak. Another girl said she likes “that we are strong and we’re fighters.” Several also mentioned liking being able to do “girl stuff,” such as wear make-up, style their hair, go shopping, and dress up in nice clothes and jewelry.

Insights from Ministries Serving Girls

The ministries working with these girls varied in their approaches, although there were also many similarities among them. A main focus seemed to be on nurturing a sense of identity and belonging among the girls. Many emphasized the importance of sharing the love of Christ with the girls and helping them to see that their value and worth comes from being made in the image of God. They also accentuated the potential of the girls, seeking to show them new opportunities for their lives and to give them a place to serve in the church and community right now.

Almost all of the leaders interviewed described the importance of older women, or even older girls, mentoring and discipling younger women. One leader said she takes very seriously the biblical mandate of guiding younger women. She described it metaphorically by saying that if there is a ditch around the corner, and she knows that a girl is following behind her, she has to warn her about it.

This mentorship impacts both the girls and the women who are mentoring them, thus producing fruit in the lives of everyone involved. Research has shown that girls are more likely than boys to pass on what they learn to others. As one ministry leader said, “When you teach a girl, you teach a community.” Girls will pass on what they have learned to other girls, their own children, and their children’s children.

Youth Ministry Implications

First, in our daily lives and ministries, we must listen to the girls themselves and try to understand their realities. How will we know what a girl’s life is like if we don’t ask her? How will we know how to help girls grow and develop and overcome obstacles they might face if we don’t know what those issues are?

Second, talk to the girls in your own life and intentionally listen to their stories. Read books by and about girls. Give them opportunities to come together to share their stories, ideas, dreams, and goals. With these girls, analyze their experiences to discover how we can work together so that all girls might be welcomed to participate fully in the family of God and be free to use their unique God-given gifts and abilities in building the kingdom.

Finally, we must act in practical ways to make a difference. Analyze how we are unintentionally teaching children and youth gender stereotypes in our churches. Become educated about the issues. [[

The following reports and websites are a good place to start:  American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. 2010. Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls [Online report]. American Psychological Association. (Accessed March 13, 2011); Blagbourgh, Jonathon, and Nikki Van Der Graag. 2009. Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2009/Girls in the Global Economy: Adding It All Up. [Online report]. Plan UK, Plan International. (Accessed February 28, 2011); 2010. Girl Effect: Your Move. [online report]. (Accessed February 28, 2011); Van der Gaag, Nikki 2007. Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2007. [Online report]. Plan UK, Plan International. (Accessed February 28, 2011); Hoffman Hanchett, Ruthi 2007. Hope for the Girl Child: A Briefing Paper to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women at its 51st session, February 2007 [Online Report]. World Vision International.$file/CSW2007_WEB.pdf (Accessed February 28, 2011); Van der Gaag, Nikki 2008. Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2008/ Special focus: In the Shadow of War. [Online Report]. Plan UK, Plan International. (Accessed February 28, 2011);

Van der Gaag, Nikki 2010. Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2010: Digital and Urban Frontiers:Girls in a Changing Landscape. [Online report]. Plan UK, Plan International. (Accessed February 28, 2011);

World Vision Australia. 2009. Refocusing Rhetoric Into Action Investing in Women: Why It Matters. [Online Report]. World Vision Australia. (Accessed February 28, 2011).]]

Speak out, with love and sensitivity, against cultural practices that may be harmful to the girl-child. Become advocates for exploited girls so that governments will take notice of the problems.

Research and perhaps join campaigns such as “Girls Count”, “Because I am a Girl”, and “The Girl Effect”.  Carefully, thoughtfully and theologically analyze the root causes of violence and seek ways to change them. Consider gender and age in our Sunday School and youth group curricula and activities and in our outreach ministries. Keep listening to girls and expanding this list of actions.

We can’t change “proverbs” or cultures overnight; a complex web of factors work together to create these situations for the girl child. Yet, these girls are God’s creation, made in God’s image. It is time for the church to become aware of the obstacles many girls face and begin to talk about (and with) our “daughters.” Then, as followers of Jesus, we may speak blessings into their lives instead of curses, proclaiming, “You are the daughter of the King!”

  1. Ann Smith, Sister Heléna Marie, Nancy Grandfield, and Lucy Germany, WomenPrints: A Detailed Plan of Action for the New Millennium (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1997), .224-225.
  2. Neera Kuckreja Sohoni, The Burden of Girlhood: A Global Inquiry into the Status of Girls. (Oakland, CA: Third Party Publishing Co., 1995), 20-21.
  3. Neera Kuckreja Sohoni, The Burden of Girlhood: A Global Inquiry into the Status of Girls (Oakland, CA: Third Party Publishing Co., 1995), 20-21; World Vision, The Girl Child: Enhancing Life Sustaining Hope 1998 Washington Forum (Federal Way, WA: The Institute for Global Engagement, World Vision, Inc., 1998); World Vision Canada, Girls! Stories Worth Telling: Report and Conference Manual (Toronto, Canada: World Vision Canada, 1998).
  4. David Kupp, “Growing up a Girl: A Tough Life,” Voices 1(1994):2.
  5. Neera Kuckreja Sohoni, The Burden of Girlhood: A Global Inquiry into the Status of Girls. (Oakland, CA: Third Party Publishing Co., 1995), 7.
  6. Robert B. Edgerton, Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony (New York: Free Press, 1992), 75.
  7. Neera Kuckreja Sohoni, The Burden of Girlhood: A Global Inquiry into the Status of Girls. (Oakland, CA: Third Party Publishing Co., 1995).

Deep Justice Journeys Live

Mar 01, 2010 Kara Powell

Recently Kara had the opportunity to share insights from our short-term missions research at the Evangelical Covenant Church’s “Connection 2010” event in Denver.  With spring break short-term mission trips just around the corner for many of our ministries—and summer coming just down the block—we thought it might be helpful to you and your ministry team to share this video!


Re-posted by permission from the Evangelical Covenant Church

Short-Term Missions and Missional Youth Ministry

Feb 01, 2010 Eric Iverson

Note: This article is adapted from a talk presented at the “Being There: Short-term Mission and Human Need” international conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, July 30-August 1, 2009.  You can also watch Eric give this talk at the conference.

I hated short-term missions!

As a young, inner-city African-American male from a single parent home, with a working knowledge of the welfare system, I saw short-term missionaries as doing more damage in my community with their “drive-by’s” than the gun-toting gang-bangers ever inflected with their own version of this practice.  I felt a sense of powerlessness as I watched yet another group of white kids (at least that’s how I remember it now) burst from their new vans every summer to “save” me, and others who looked like me, again that year.

Now I love short-term missions!

I love the potential short-term missions work has for kingdom restoration when it realizes the power it has to influence church culture.  I love when it sees the part it can play building up a generation of people who are aware of their ability to love Christ by selflessly loving others without ever stepping foot inside a bus, plane, van, or car.  I love when it realizes its role in engaging the church to be the missional body of Christ, and to be that missional body of Christ the fifty-one other weeks of the year it is not paying money to be on a trip.

At YouthWorks, our missions experiences occur exclusively among economically and socially oppressed people: the materially poor.  As an employee of this organization, I pay my mortgage, eat and survive through the facilitation of service in those communities; therefore, it is my responsibility to struggle against the poverty that exists there.  It is my responsibility to fight the economic conditions, which we introduce to thousands of Christians every year, so that they may create life-change for their students and then maybe those communities too.

If I am not working to reverse those conditions, I am at risk of becoming comfortable or complacent with poverty and potentially dependent upon its very existence.  This puts me dangerously close to becoming seen as someone who is “pimpin’ the poor” in the name of ministry.  The message a community receives from me could sound like, “Hey thanks for letting us serve here this summer, hope you’re poor again next year so we can sell another trip.”  Because my ministry is exclusively in materially impoverished communities, I have a responsibility to work against that poverty.

Fighting against the oppression which creates poverty will be a lifelong and difficult journey for any church or mission organization.  Here are some ideas for moving forward in the struggle against poverty while we serve host communities with integrity:

  • Design interactions that reverse false perceptions the teams may have of the host communities, reducing the tendency to ignore the living conditions of the host.
  • Design interactions that allow community members to speak into and contribute to the lives of the mission teams that reverse a perception among the host that they are only recipients.
  • Create jobs that provide livable wages for host community members.
  • Improve the educational systems to help give children more chances for success.
  • Help host community members to own their own homes, so that they can create and pass down wealth to their children too.
  • Use the mission agency’s influence to engage their participants in an ongoing struggle against poverty and oppression that will continue after they leave your realm of influence.

Because every YouthWorks weeklong trip allows us to influence our participants for 71 waking hours (more than most pastors have in a year), we decided to focus on the latter option for now.

The 1K Challenge and REVERB Magazine

In the summer of 2007 we set out to try a few new things that we thought would help people go home and continue the mission.  We wanted to be clear about a value we all held, that the team should go home and “do” something beyond a once-a-year adventure.  We began writing into our programming the words, “Go home and do something,” integrated this message into our theme and programming elements, and asked our staff to say it out loud as well.

Follow-up is one of the weakest links of the short-term missions industry, and we knew we needed to try to give our participants something tangible to take home as an attempt at follow-up.  We published a post-trip magazine called Reverb, which our staff gave to every participant at the end of his or her service week. The magazine included games for the van, as well as a couple of articles written by YouthWorks staff about reentry and serving at home.  It also included two weeks of devotionals, a few ads and an entire page devoted to an idea called the 1K Challenge.

The 1K Challenge asked our participants to create a service opportunity geared toward the people in need in their own communities.  We asked them to put a plan together for that opportunity and submit it to YouthWorks as a grant proposal.  YouthWorks offered ten $1,000 grants to youth groups who best fit our 1K Challenge criteria.

Reverb went out and by September of year one (fall 2007) we received 45 applications and awarded ten grants for $1000 each.  In the second year (fall 2008) we received 36 applications and awarded nine grants for $1000 each.  The projects have included community cleaning, home repair, a drop-in center for single parents, and a laundry service for people who can’t make it to the Laundromat.

I realized something good was happening after hearing from a woman I had met at a conference in the spring of 2008.  When I mentioned that I worked for YouthWorks, she immediately began telling me about the youth from her congregation who had been on a trip with us the previous summer and how excited they were when they got back.  She explained how the group had created three different service crews and how she and her husband were each on a separate crew, and loved it.  This group had engaged their entire congregation in their project, not just the youth group, and it was having an impact.

The most interesting part of her report was how nervous the pastor had been about the amount of service they were involved in leading to a reduction in tithes to the church.  She told me that their church’s giving had actually gone up in the year since the group had returned from the trip.  I handed her a copy of the new Reverb magazine and pointed out her group in its pages, and left feeling amazed at the potential of missions if more congregations made space for groups who wanted to be different.

Many of the congregations who have received the 1K Challenge grant are still serving in one way or another in their community.  One of my top three favorite stories from the past five years at YouthWorks is the story about a group that didn’t come back for another trip with us.  After applying and being denied for a 1K grant, the youth of this congregation asked the most beautiful question a youth group could ask: “Do we need to do a missions trip next summer?  Can’t we just carry out the project we designed here at home?” The wise youth ministry leader answered, “Sure.”  This group truly got it.  They had work do in their own backyard and didn’t have to pay someone to do it elsewhere.  I hope more churches catch on to this realization.

What if more of the people who serve with us each year discovered they had missions taking place right outside their church every day?  What if we were excited about people not coming back for another mission trip in 12 months, but rather followed the Holy Spirit’s leading in their own community and in their own congregations to bind the broken hearted, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and were continuing the restoration work we all desperately need?  What if we took the role of the Good Samaritan to the next level, and truly banded together to love our neighbors?

On the one hand, we are called to play the “Good Samaritan” on life’s roadside; but this will only be an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole JerIrene Cho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.   1

What if short-term missions could inspire the church to look at and transform their own JerIrene Cho road, so that women, men, and children would no longer suffer the beatings that happen along that road?  I believe that those of us who influence the church could be a part of building a road suitable for all to walk on during our journey toward him.

Read more stories from churches who responded to the 1k Challenge on our Deep Justice Stories page.

Listen to an interview with Eric by Kara Powell.

  1. An excerpt from “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” Delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Concerned Clergy and Laity at Riverside Church in New York City

Journeying Together

Creating Walls of Support and Feedback for Students

Jul 06, 2009 Brad M. GriffinKara Powell

[Excerpted from Kara Powell and Brad Griffin, [intlink id=“4176” type=“page”]Deep Justice Journeys: 50 Activities to Move from Mission Trips to Missional Living[/intlink] (Grand   Rapids: Youth Specialties/Zondervan, 2009).]

I (Brad) once shared a short-term mission trip with 14-year-old Amanda from our church. Amanda stood out because she walked into our trip more obviously broken than most kids, and seemed more than a little hesitant about the cross-cultural realities we faced every day. To be honest, I was more than a little hesitant about her, and not long into the trip I heard another leader mention that Amanda seemed really disengaged.

But Amanda didn’t walk alone through her experience. Laura was there, too—an adult who had been Amanda’s small-group leader and was intentionally tracking with Amanda during this trip.

Our work was focused around teaching sustainable micro-gardening in our host community—not overtly spiritual stuff. I didn’t have great confidence in the transformative potential of this experience for Amanda. Yet the night before we packed up to head home, Amanda shared about a profound faith experience. The previous evening Amanda had talked with God. She’d lain awake for several hours praying and wrestling with God’s presence in all she’d seen and experienced—and then offered her life to God. She confessed to us that she was anxious about what that might mean for her back at home. Our team prayed with her, reminding her she was not alone in her faith journey.

Two months later, Amanda stood in front of our congregation and shared about God’s movement in her life before and since that trip, and was baptized as a public declaration of her faith in Christ. But Amanda didn’t make that declaration alone, either; Laura was there with her, participating in Amanda’s baptism. And we were there, too—adults and students who pledged to keep walking with Amanda.

Amanda’s story represents two fundamental pieces of the short-term missions puzzle: Support and feedback. Laura consistently offered Amanda a sounding board for her questions, and our team provided a safe place for her to be vulnerable about her stumble into faith. Back home, friends at church and our youth pastor added further pieces to the puzzle, voicing their encouragement and being patient with her struggles.

As we explain in the introduction to our curriculum, the model behind these deep justice journeys is the experiential education framework originally proposed by Laura Joplin, 1   and later modified and tested by Terry Linhart.  2    In the center of the model is a cycle (Joplin pictured it as a hurricane) of challenging experience paired with reflection.



Note that this cycle of experience and reflection does not exist in a vacuum. Surrounding experience and reflection are support and feedback, two parallel walls that hold up the process. Support provides safety for students to keep trying even when they flounder, and feedback helps students form appropriate judgments and offers new insights to their experiences along the way.

Here’s how it works: As kids are being purposefully stretched by their encounters on your justice journey, they are constantly assigning internal meaning to those experiences. The conversations in their heads never stop as their brains work overtime to process the often-disjointed perspectives of reality they tumble through each day. While the goals of reflection and debrief are to help decipher these messages and give them lasting meaning, support and feedback provide the backdrop for this whole drama. As it unfolds, trusted adults are somewhat like stage managers, giving cues and offering encouragement.

Setting Up Scaffolding

Lev Vygotsky (pronounced vuh-GOT-skee) was a developmental theorist who studied the social processes of development in children and adolescents. Vygotsky developed two interrelated concepts that help us think more deeply about support and feedback: Zone of proximal development and scaffolding3

The zone of proximal development refers to a range of tasks and concepts that are just beyond a student’s current field of mastery, for which they need some assistance from another person to learn. So in the case of a student on a justice journey, this zone could include anything from installing drywall to working with young children to sharing one’s faith in front of a group (and in the case of many justice journeys, all three challenges in the same week!). But rather than depending entirely on that student’s personal competence, intelligence, or grit to figure this stuff out, Vygotsky asserts that relationships are the key to building skills in this zone. It’s through relationships with adults that kids gain the support they need to safely explore and tackle tasks just beyond their mental, physical, or emotional reach.

Similarly, scaffolding serves as the safe structure around the emerging adolescent that supports growth and fosters co-learning with adults and other kids. Just as scaffolding on a building allows workers access to each part of the structure as it rises, adults become the steadying force that is carefully added (when kids are most in need of that support) and removed (when they need to be set free to try on their own).

Please don’t miss the imagery here: Just as scaffolding is made up of many interlocking pieces in order to balance the weight and surround the building, so no one adult can provide all the scaffolding in a kid’s life. To truly thrive, every adolescent needs an interlocking network of caring adults. In STM and justice encounters, this is especially true. In the midst of experiences that challenge and stretch them, kids need safe people and places to support the overwhelming amount of processing taking place.

Keeping this imagery in mind, below are a few tips for building webs of support under kids as they stretch their justice wings:

1. Maximize Support Channels.

One mistake we often make when creating support structures around students is failing to capture the potential available to us. Support can take many shapes and sizes, and part of our role as leaders is to maximize this network for our students before, during, and after the justice journey.

Support can come from other people sharing in the experience—other students on the team, adults, local hosts—or it can come via the church family back home. Support comes in multiple forms, including finances and prayer as well as verbal and emotional footings. Knowing that their community has invested money, trust, and prayer into the ministry of their team is an incredible witness of God’s faithfulness to kids in the midst of their justice work.

We also limit the support channels provided for students when we cling to a narrow perspective of who makes a “good” adult volunteer on a mission trip. As in other aspects of youth ministry, youth workers often look for only the youngest and hippest prospects to help lead justice experiences. But in following this strategy, we may miss out on folks who bring not only different life experiences, but also a different level of safety for students.

Grandparents are one example. It had never occurred to me to invite grandparents along on a student mission trip until Julie asked if hers could join us for two weeks in Costa Rica. In many ways Bob and Jean were the heroes of that trip. They offered an ultra-safe presence to kids and adults alike, and their years of wisdom steadied us without smothering us. Don’t be afraid to step outside the realm of “normal” when you begin to build a support team for your next justice-oriented trip—you might be surprised by who you find ready to journey alongside your students!

2. Create Opportunities for Risk.

Whole books have been written about learning through our failures, so we probably don’t need to convince you of that. But as leaders we sometimes forget to allow kids opportunities to risk failure as part of the learning process.

Our role as adults giving support and feedback includes creating space for risk. In order to be willing to step into a space of risk, kids have to feel safe. One of my early mentors in leading wilderness trips trained us to continually assess where participants fall on the OSV scale as a way to gauge our environment for healthy risk-taking. OSV stands for Oriented, Safe, and Valued. I encourage adult leaders to periodically ask (sometimes out loud, but often internally):

  1. Is each person oriented? Do they     understand where we are, where we’re headed, and what’s going on?
  2. Does each person feel safe? Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, have we pushed too far     beyond the bounds of comfort for anyone (or everyone)?
  3. Does each person feel valued? Have     we communicated in any way that anyone’s voice is not important or that     her safety doesn’t matter? Have we devalued the image of God in anyone by     our actions, words, or attitudes?

These three simple guidelines help us assess whether we are creating safe and supportive environments for students to take healthy risks as they interact cross-culturally and make efforts to serve others.

3. Reflect Back What You See.

As kids dive into cross-cultural experiences or take on near-heroic tasks (“Let’s build a house in a week!”), they need accurate information about not only what they’re seeing but also what they’re doing. Sometimes the most important insights you can share with a student are your observations about how that person is working, interacting with others, or exhibiting particular character traits.

When reflecting, it is important to be as specific as possible. It’s more valuable to hear, “Tim, your encouraging comment to Sandy about the way she led games with the kids showed real selflessness, especially since you’d wanted to be the game leader,” than to hear, “Tim, you’re a really nice guy.”

4. Level the Playing Field.

Feedback is best received when there is what Joplin calls an “equalization of power” between the participant and the leader. This doesn’t mean we should negate our leadership in the midst of stretching experiences, but it might mean revisiting how we lead during those moments.

Kids will be more likely to hear and apply our feedback when we share power with them as much as possible. This might mean we bring a few students into the decision-making meetings about the work project at hand. It might also mean we spend as little time as possible during our trip doing “leader-type” things and way more time doing servant jobs. When kids see us digging the sewage drain, mixing the concrete, or washing the dishes after a meal, they gain a new perspective on what it means to lead. Such leveling of the playing field often renders students more likely to hear us when we offer the feedback they so desperately need in the midst of their work.

What Support is NOT

Recently a friend told me about a mom and son he’d seen at an airport. They were eating, and the son was being spoon-fed by his mother. But the boy was not an infant—he was an early adolescent, perfectly capable of feeding himself. His mom was feeding him because the young man was too busy playing a video game to stop and eat lunch. Seriously.

That mom needs some help with boundaries. And perhaps she needs help understanding the difference between support and, well, perpetuating immaturity. In other words support is not an escape hatch for reluctant young fledglings to duck back in the nest and hide, comfortably sucking on worms. It’s more like a safety net 10 branches down, carefully positioned to catch if necessary, but only after the little bird has actually jumped and stretched its wings a bit.

During your justice journey you (or other adults on your team) might find it tempting to bail kids out whenever they hit a challenging moment, a cultural wall, or the consequences of a bad decision. While there are certainly times we should bail out our students—especially if their or others’ safety is jeopardized—we must walk a fine line between being the safety net and being the spoon-feeding parent.

The Recovery Tent

If you’ve ever been part of a long-distance running race, you’re probably familiar with the “recovery tent.” Race planners with any kind of experience know that once runners hit the finish line, all kinds of (often painful) things can happen to their bodies and minds: cramping, nausea, disorientation, chills, and sometimes even more drastic experiences like heart failure. So the recovery tent was designed to supply post-race athletes with appropriate food, foil blankets, lots of water, and medical attention.

In a similar way, after a day—or a week, or three weeks—of serving cross-culturally, students need a recovery-tent environment to catch their breath, find some nourishment, and attend to their wounds. We have the responsibility to build a team of trusted adults who can create that type of recovery-tent environment around the students in our care. When we do, the Amandas on our teams will have opportunities to experience something significant in the recovery tent at the end of the day. Hopefully it will be one of the ways our kids will come face-to-face with God during their journeys.

  1. Laura Joplin, “On Defining Experiential Education” in K. Warren, M. Sakofs, and J. S. Hunt Jr. eds., The Theory of Experiential Education (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1995), 15-22.
  2. Terrence D. Linhart, “Planting Seeds: The Curricular Hope of Short Term Mission Experiences in Youth Ministry” Christian Education Journal (Series 3, 2005), 256-72. For the purposes of this curriculum, some of the terminology in the model has been modified.
  3. Vygotsky’s work is well-described and illustrated by Jack O. Balswick, Pamela E. King, and Kevin S. Reimer in The Reciprocating Self: Human Development In Theological Perspective (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 90-97.

Living More Than Mission Trip to Mission Trip

Leveraging Social Media to Multiply a Missional Team

Jun 01, 2009 Drew Sams

You’re back from the mission trip and after all the shared stories and pictures and some intentional debrief, you soon slide back into the busyness of life.

The liminal experience of being outside of your comfort zone and growing tremendously during your trip is all but forgotten and the rich soil of community that was cultivated among the team members on the trip has quickly dried up due to the scorching demands of the day once you return.

As the days turn into months, you talk less and less to the team members that had become like family. When you do run into each other, an exchange of memories and smiles occurs, but deep down you long that God was still doing amazing things through each of you, “like God did on that trip.” Over time, you resign yourself to the lie that only on mission trips do amazing things happen and you, like many others, start living mission trip to mission trip.

It doesn’t have to be like this. There’s more than just living mission trip to mission trip.

So, how do you transition from just going on mission trips to ongoing missional living?

By leveraging social media we can help students go from a one-time mission trip to a multiplying movement of missional living.

Adding upon the foundation that I laid out in Leveraging Social Media to Build a Mission Team, in this article I will outline necessary goals that can be taken after a mission trip to ensure ongoing transformation in the lives of your team, but more importantly, the continuation of the work that God has started in and through them.

With a proper theological and sociological mindset, social media can help you and your ministry accomplish these goals:

1.       Enable the team to remember their story

2.       Gather the team around their mission

3.       Provide a sea of communication

4.       Facilitate ongoing and collaborative learning

5.       Invite people to join what God is doing in and through the team

Though technology and social media is always evolving, today Facebook is the most popular social networking site among teens. For that reason, the practical applications within this article all occur within a Facebook Group.

Goal #1: Enable the team to remember their story

The Hebrew word for remember is found 233 times in the Old Testament. 1   The ability to remember is a critical attribute in our relationship with God, especially as we become bombarded more and more with distracting messages and anti-Gospel stories daily. In the same way that the Israelites constructed monuments to remember what God had done in a particular place, social media provides the materials to construct an ongoing memorial to what God did during your mission trip. Photos, videos, and discussions of the trip can be constantly added, creating a living, breathing memorial that enables the team members to remember their story.

Social media is the perfect environment for this as research shows that many adolescents first started using social media in order to capture, modify, and share personal photos and videos. 2

Practical Application:

  • Set a goal to comment on 5 posted pictures from the trip each week. This will create a culture that remembers.
  • Create a discussion thread entitled, “Remember when…” and let the fun begin.

Goal #2: Gather the team around the mission

The idea of “gathering” might seem strange to some if it does not occur at a specific physical location and time. However, social media has redefined the concept of “gathering.” In fact, some research has shown that the lack of physical proximity can actually help rather than hurt the team. 3   A paraphrase of the old adage, “absence makes the team grow stronger,” is more than a trite cliché. When understood and harnessed, it can be extremely powerful because “gathering” can occur with great frequency and consistency when it doesn’t rely on the ability to line up the schedules of all team members. 3

By changing the mindset from the “mission trip” to the “mission of God” as the center around which the team revolves, you will enable kids to transition from just going on mission trips to ongoing missional living. There needs to be a transition in focus on what God did on the mission trip to what God is currently doing through your lives now.

Practical Application:

  • Create a new group that students can join that focuses on ongoing missional activity rather than just the trip they went on. Specifically, the name of the new group should not be the location of the mission trip but rather a vision of missional living. (For example: Mexico 2009 becomes Loving Others 24/7)
  • Post a short video or written devotional each week that recalibrates the team around the mission of God. Encourage dialogue around it.

Goal #3: Provide a sea of communication

While the internet has been often called a “sea of information,” social media has enabled it to become a “sea of communication” as well. Much different than a pipeline, a sea has neither a single starting point nor a unidirectional flow. It is vast, dynamic, and much more powerful than a pipeline. Letters, phone calls, and text messages are all one-way pipelines of information. Social media enables everyone to be the catalyst for communication, thus opening up a dynamic and powerful dialogue that is as vast as the sea.

This concept can actually allow small groups of people who communicate through social media to produce more results than large corporations who communicate through top down communication pipelines because social media allows groups to work faster, smarter, more creatively, and more flexibly.  5   Your role, as leader, is to create the sea. As Seth Godin says in his influential book Tribes, “Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate. They establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow them.” 6

Practical Application:

  • Provide weekly discussion questions that revolve around living missionally.
  • Enable students to be able to post their own questions and discussion topics. (Within a Facebook Group this would mean making each student an Officer rather than a Member.

Goal #4: Facilitate ongoing and collaborative learning

It has been said that “leaders are learners,” so this curve has to begin with you. It is essential that you create an environment and culture that values ongoing learning. The emerging generation that has grown up with the Internet is arguably better primed to be lifelong learners because of the imme­diacy and breadth of information the Internet offers. 7   A sea of knowledge is capable of being explored without having to leave home. Research has shown that this has dramatically “lowered barriers to self-directed learning.” 8   Take advantage of it.

The key, however, is being a facilitator rather than an authoritarian teacher. Through facilitating ongoing and collaborative learning, students will learn much more than information, they will learn how to lead. Research has revealed that “online groups provide an opportunity for youth to exercise adult-like agency and leadership that is not otherwise available to them.” 8

Practical Application:

  • Post free excerpts from some of the great curriculum resources from Fuller Youth Institute (One Life Curriculum will give you a year’s worth of material) or the action/advocacy resources from International Justice Mission (Prayer Guide for the Abolition of Slavery could be a 5 day prayer opportunity).
  • Create a discussion thread entitled “What I’ve Been Learning” and publicly encourage students whenever they share what they are learning.

Goal #5: Invite people to join in what God is doing in and through you

What happened in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas. If you partnered with a local church in Sin City and served alongside them for a weekend, it shouldn’t remain a mere moment in time. There’s a huge difference between a moment and a movement. Movements occur when people talk about what happened, when ideas spread within the community, and when others join in. All of a sudden, something bigger and more powerful than your mission trip begins to multiply and spread. On the internet, this is described as “going viral.” When something goes viral, it spreads like an epidemic. Let what God did on the trip and is continuing to do through you go viral.

Practical Application:

  • Make your ongoing missional group open and invite others to join the movement. (Because you are most likely working with minors, use discretion in creating an open group. While there are great benefits in helping students value being part of a community that is open, it must be tempered with the need to protect students emotionally as they are vulnerable in their online sharing. You can still keep the original mission trip group private as I suggested in a previous article in order to protect the potentially sensitive material that the students posted.)
  • Regularly share with the entire youth group (or even better: the entire church) what your team has been doing locally since you’ve returned from the mission trip.
  • Allow the movement to become bigger than the mission trip and bigger than you.

Great Facebook Groups that are already doing this:

Often, it helps to see what’s working and what’s not before diving right in and leveraging social media for a specific purpose. Explore these sites, make observations, and contact the administrators if you have any questions or comments. Learn from other people’s journeys and remember that you have much to offer as well. We need your voice and your perspective to contribute to the ongoing discussion of how we can better serve God in each of our specific ministry contexts.

Mission Year - A yearlong urban ministry program focused on Christian service and discipleship.

I Am Second - A movement that started in Texas that revolves around the premise that “I am second” and “God is first.”

Heart Support - User submitted content to encourage conversation, help, and education on the subjects of addiction, depression, eating disorders, self injury and suicide.

Action Steps:

1.       What have been some of the greatest hindrances in helping students live beyond just mission trip to mission trip?

2.       Of the 5 goals listed above, which one resonates the most with you?

3.       Of all the practical applications suggested, which do you believe would be the most effective in your specific ministry context?

  1. Strong’s Concordance.
  2. Mizuko, et. al. Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. 2008
  3. Majchrzak et. al, Can Absence Make the Team Grow Stronger? Harvard Business Review. 2004.
  4. Majchrzak et. al, Can Absence Make the Team Grow Stronger? Harvard Business Review. 2004.
  5. Majchrzak et. al. Can Absence Make the Team Grow Stronger? Harvard Business Review. 2004.
  6. Seth Godin, Tribes (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 23.
  7. Mizuko, et. al. Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. 2008.
  8. Mizuko, et. al. Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. 2008.
  9. Mizuko, et. al. Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. 2008.

Parents: More Than Checkbooks and Chauffeurs

May 18, 2009 Brad M. GriffinKara Powell

This curriculum sample is taken from Deep Justice Journeys: 50 Activities to Move from Mission Trips to Missional Living, co-authored by Kara Powell and Brad Griffin and released May 2009 through Youth Specialties.

If you’re like most of us in youth ministry, where do you turn when you need money to fund your service events? Your students’ parents.

Who do you assume will transport your students to and from your justice work? Their parents.

While it’s great to have the financial backing of your students’ families, and we all love those families that let us borrow their big SUVs for service events, deeper justice will come only when we view parents as more than just checkbooks and chauffeurs.

One of the best ways to partner with parents in deeper justice is to empower them through good communication. Let’s take some time to think about how we can most effectively engage with parents BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER a mission experience…

Before: The Pre-service Parent Meeting

We encourage you to schedule a 90-minute meeting with students and their parents near the very start of your pre-service events and training meetings. Make sure you set a warm and friendly tone by arranging your chairs in a circle and offering adult snacks (meaning more than a bag of crushed tortilla chips and some stale M&Ms).

There will invariably be students whose parents cannot (or don’t want to) come. Please let these students know they are welcome to invite another adult, and if that doesn’t work out, you can play the part of their parent for the evening.

At some point in this meeting, make sure you provide a thorough description of your work’s logistics, including:

  • Why you chose     this place for your service
  • Your partners     (any agencies or churches with whom you’re working)
  • What you’ll     actually be doing during your justice work
  • Food and     lodging arrangements
  • Funding     needed and the amount each student/family is expected to contribute
  • Fundraising     strategies and how students and families are expected to participate
  • Transportation
  • Safety     precautions
  • Medical     release forms and insurance (health or otherwise) needed
  • What students     need to bring with them
  • A schedule of     additional meetings both before and after your service

Here are some other ideas to incorporate in your BEFORE meeting with parents:

1. Share Dreams

Before the meeting begins, hang four large pieces of poster paper along the walls of your meeting space. Write one of the following four headers on each piece of paper:  Kids’ Dreams for Themselves, Parents’ Dreams for Themselves, Our Dreams for Those We Serve, and Our Dreams for Our Family and Our Church Family.  Then as part of your meeting, incorporate an exercise where parents and kids both get to write on the sheets of paper.  Close by sharing and praying about those dreams, and keep the papers for your post-trip meeting.

2. Covenant Together

Create a parent covenant handout that includes some of the following categories.  Ask parents to support your team by brainstorming ways they would be willing to provide:

  • PRAYER SUPPORT (e.g., committing to     pray daily for my student’s justice journey; inviting others to pray on     their own or join with me for particular prayer times)
  • LOGISTICAL SUPPORT (e.g., driving my     kid to meetings; trying to avoid schedule conflicts with meetings)
  • FINANCIAL SUPPORT (e.g., give a certain     amount of money before, during, or after my student’s service work)
  • COMMUNICATION SUPPORT (e.g., staying on     top of communication from the youth ministry; sharing my own thoughts and     concerns directly with youth ministry leadership)
  • POST-SERVICE SUPPORT (e.g., helping my     teenager figure out how to be involved in justice work at home; engaging     in justice work as a family)

During: Simple but Strategic Ideas That Engage Parents

While your energy during your actual service will be focused on your kids and the locals you’re serving, don’t make the all-too-common mistake of neglecting parents. Here are a few simple but strategic ideas to engage parents during your service work:

  1. Encourage     parents to gather together to serve in your community while your team is     serving elsewhere. Then be intentional to have parents and students share     about their experiences afterward.
  2. During your     service experience, invite parents to meet together at your church or a     home to pray for your group regularly-maybe even daily.
  3. Create a     voice mail account with an outgoing message that you (or a student) change     with daily updates and highlights.
  4. Depending on     the technology you have available, provide a forum in which students can     send e-mail to parents and vice versa. Or designate a contact parent who     will receive e-mails and pass them on.
  5. If you have     video-conference technology available, invite parents to come together and     “call” your group so families can reunite through video.
  6. Consider     inviting some parents to come along as leaders (check with their kids     first to gauge how comfortable they are with this).
  7. Create a team     blog or [intlink id=“7688” type=“post”]video channel[/intlink] in which you load daily photos and reflections, and     parents can comment with prayers and encouragement.

After: The Post-Service Parent Meeting

When meetings for parents are held after a service experience, many youth workers find that few parents attend-and those who do come are usually the parents who are already committed to the type of conversations you’re hoping to facilitate. (In other words, they’re the ones who least need such a meeting.)

Given that, it’s tempting to give up trying to engage with parents after the service. Please resist that temptation.

Consider the following ideas for engaging parents after the activity:

  • Give     some time for students to write letters to parents during your initial     debrief and mail those letters to the parents with an accompanying letter     from you that celebrates all the Lord (and the kids!) did.
  • Invite     parents to some, or all, of your ongoing transformation activities after     your justice work.
  • Schedule     a local parent/student service activity in which your students and their     families can serve side-by-side.
  • Give     each parent a copy of any media presentations (e.g., videos, slide shows,    PowerPoint presentations) you make.
  • Plan a     one-hour post-service parent meeting.     If you followed the pre-service parent meeting suggestions, you     saved the four sheets of poster paper full of students’, parents’, and     families’/church family dreams.     Have students and parents find their writing/drawings from before     the trip and comment on how those dreams matched, or didn’t match, what     really happened.  You could also     have families share these reflections together.

Want to share more ideas about engaging families in justice and learn from others who are doing the same?  Check out [intlink id=“182” type=“post”]this article[/intlink] on the FYI site,  join the discussion on the FYI Facebook Group discussion board, or leave a comment below!

Leveraging Social Media to Build A Missional Team

May 18, 2009 Drew Sams

You’re leading an upcoming mission trip, but this time it’s different…you’ve come prepared.

You’ve mapped out excellent training sessions, you have plans for each meeting with resources to carry them out, and you want to maximize every moment when your team of students and leaders come together. You carefully cover team building, spiritual formation, cultural understanding, testimonies, logistics, and even a theology of missions during the months leading up to your trip.

However, when the training sessions are completed and as you step into the car, van, or plane on your way to your mission destination, a nagging thought arises in the back of your mind: “did we do everything we could have done to build a healthy team?”

If you maximized the time when your team was face to face and when they were apart, then the answer is yes.

But chances are you, like many of us in youth ministry, put 100% of your time and energy only into a handful of face to face training sessions.

How is it possible to maximize training when your team is apart?

This is where the power of social media, when understood theologically and sociologically, can be leveraged in order to build a healthy missional team.

Marshall McLuhan, a sociologist from the 20th century, defined media as “an extension of our humanity.” 1   Shane Hipps, a successful advertising executive-turned-pastor and author expands upon this and writes, “All forms of media (i.e., any human invention or technology) extend or amplify some part of ourselves. They either extend a part of our body, one or more of our senses, some function of our mental processes, or some social process. “ 2   In practical terms this means that eyeglasses extend the ability of the eye to focus, telephones amplify and extend our voice and ears, and Facebook and MySpace extend our ability to interact on a social level.

In many ways, this helps us understand one of the newest media inventions available to us: social media.

Wikipedia, a form of social media that relies upon input from millions of users to build the largest encyclopedia in the world, defines social media as “activities that integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction.” 3

Social media has dramatically changed the cultural landscape through its ability to extend almost all of our senses. We can see, hear, and talk with people on the other side of the globe through social media. Organizations have picked up on this and are now leveraging social media to sell their products. Universities have recognized the power of social media and have created entire degree programs that can be completed from the comfort and convenience of your home computer. As we travel farther and farther into the 21st century, social media is becoming an integral part of everyday life.

However, it is essential that we have a proper sociological and theological understanding of social media before we jump right in. Hipps warns, “Understanding media as extensions of ourselves is crucial in understanding media, period. When we fail to see media this way, we become overly enamored, giving them the power to make us slaves to our own creations.” 4

With a proper sociological and theological understanding, we can extend and enhance our ability to train a team for an upcoming mission trip through the use of social media.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, “some 93% of teens use the internet, and more of them than ever are treating it as a venue for social interaction - a place where they can share creations, tell stories, and interact with others.” 5

With a large majority of teenagers also using social media, extensive research is being done from many angles. The MacArthur Foundation launched a five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative in 2006 to help determine how digital media are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.  Within this project, a three-year collaborative ethnographic work entitled the “Digital Youth Project” has gained much attention.

After interviewing 800 youth and young adults and conducting over 5,000 hours of online observation, one of the most significant findings is that “When teens are involved in friendship-driven practices, online and offline are not separate worlds - they are simply different settings in which to gather with friends and peers. Conversations may begin in one environment, but they move seamlessly across media so long as the people remain the same. Social media mirror, magnify, and extend everyday social worlds.” 6

Furthermore, despite the adult perception that teenage online activity is a waste of time, researchers argue that, “new media forms have altered how youth socialize and learn, and raise a new set of issues that educators, parents, and policymakers should consider.” 7   Instead of dismissing online activity entirely, adults have the opportunity to explore new ways of teaching that promote peer to peer learning and self-directed exploration. Youth not only need us to be present in their learning but they welcome it as research shows that “adults can still have tremendous influence in setting learning goals.” 7


In Kara Powell and Brad Griffin’s new resource Deep Justice Journeys, they provide a holistic method for taking students through a transformational journey before, during, and after a mission trip. Before the team departs for their trip, there is an essential stage called Framing. It is during this stage where a student’s emotional, mental, spiritual, and relational capacities are formed.

Typically, this happens during the traditional training sessions when the team building, spiritual formation, cultural understanding, testimonies, logistics, and theology of missions are covered. However, we will explore how social media can be leveraged in order to enhance these four areas of formation during the Framing stage leading up to a mission trip.

Emotional Formation

Michael Bischof, the founder and executive director of Souleader Resources, describes emotional formation as “a process that begins with bringing the emotional parts of one’s being into conscious awareness and focus.” 9   Emotional formation is easily missed because it is an “inside-out” process of formation rather than an “outside-in.”

Jesus understood that what “forms” a person is not always an external influence that works from the “outside-in.” We get a glimpse of this in his interaction with the scribes and Pharisees as recorded in Mark 7:20 when Jesus says, “What comes out of a person is what makes them ‘unclean.’” The Apostle Paul also recognized the role of the Holy Spirit in this “inside-out” transformation of Godly character by using the metaphor of fruit growing from out of a plant for everyone to see in Galatians 5:22-23.

Like a gardener that cultivates a plant’s environment for its fruit to spring forth, it is essential that we cultivate an environment where emotions on the inside can come out in healthy ways. However, during face to face training sessions, there is not enough time for true emotional formation to occur. In fact, the larger the group, the harder it is to facilitate an environment in which each student’s emotions can be shared and addressed in person.

Yet in the midst of the limitations of group gatherings, social media can be leveraged to facilitate emotional formation through the use of private groups on social networking sites such as Facebook. 10

Practical Application:

Facilitate dialogue through a private discussion board on topics that will evoke emotional responses such as:

  • What are you most excited about regarding this mission trip and why?
  • What are you most nervous about regarding this mission trip and why?
  • What are some emotions that come to mind when you picture yourself on this mission trip?

Mental Formation

According to the research cited above, youth are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults through the process of self-directed exploration. For some, this may be an uncomfortable departure from the style of mental formation that occurs through formal learning institutions such as high school and university that focus on goal-directed learning. We, along with formal educators, will have to shift our focus from being “dispensers” of knowledge to being “guides” in the search for knowledge. Acting as guides that provide formative input as well, we can help navigate youth as they learn from their peers and their own exploration.

Paul reminds us in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As leaders, we have a limited amount of face to face time to influence mental formation. However, as we have seen above, social media not only extends the amount of time available for mental formation, it magnifies the content of mental formation through the network of peer-based learning.

Practical Application:

  • Choose a book such as Deep Justice in a Broken World by Chap Clark & Kara Powell or Submerge by John Hayes and have the team read a chapter a week and post their favorite quotes and why.
  • Ask students to research the country or people group they will be serving during their mission trip and have them share and discuss their findings with each other online.

Spiritual Formation

If media is an extension of our humanity, then it can be argued that media is an extension of our spirituality. As we saw above, “online and offline are not separate worlds media mirror, magnify, and extend everyday social worlds.” 11   In the same way teenagers can interact with friends online and offline, they can interact with God online and offline as well.

Paul reminds us that, unlike Moses who had to wear a veil to hide the fading radiance on his face after experiencing God’s glory, “We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 12   Spiritual formation is an ongoing process, and to assume that it can only occur during face to face training sessions is to view training sessions in the same way the Israelites viewed Mt.  Sinai: THE location where transformation occurs. However, because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, transformation can occur in ANY environment.

When done right thoughtfully, social media can be leveraged to facilitate spiritual formation.

Practical Application:

  • Have students share passages from Scripture that they have been wrestling with and why through the discussion board. As a leader, this can be a great venue to facilitate and guide their spiritual growth.
  • Have students work through a different spiritual discipline each week and have them post and interact with their experiences through the discussion board.

Relational Formation

Recent research has found that loneliness is as harmful to your health as cigarette smoking and obesity. 13

We were created for community.

While we understand there to be a God-shaped void in humanity, there is also a human-shaped void that God chooses not to fill. This is apparent throughout the whole of Scripture but most notably in Genesis 2:18 when God says in reference to Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Stanley Grenz writes, “Community…is central to the message of the Bible.” 14

Because face to face interaction does not equate to a true sense of healthy community, relational formation has to be intentional and it must extend beyond the face to face training sessions in order to be effective. Social media is extremely powerful in this regard because, at its core, it is an extension of social interaction.

Practical Application:

  • Post students’ testimonies (video or written) and ask students to read and interact with another student’s testimony each week.
  • Allow students to post prayer requests and praise reports
  • Facilitate a relational formation exercise online through a live blog or chat room

Some Unexpected Results

Having navigated through the process of leveraging social media for intentional purposes over the last couple of years in youth ministry, I have learned some unexpected things along the way. My understanding of incarnational ministry has been broadened as I’ve entered into the lives of youth not just on their campuses but also wherever they login to Facebook and other social networks. I’ve been surprised by the level of vulnerability that youth go to when they are online because of the inherent anonymity that they are afforded while typing away alone at their computer. In a sense, the glass bottom of my boat has been enlarged, allowing me to see more of the “world beneath” that Chap Clark describes as the adolescent world that few adults are allowed to see. Finally, quiet students that wouldn’t open up in person have communicated openly with me online. As social media continues to morph, I will have to adapt as well in order to lead and shepherd effectively.

I want to close with a post from one of our high school students who will be traveling with us for the first time to Kenya and Uganda for a mission trip. As leaders, we now see him with new eyes as he has revealed the depth of understanding and compassion that we had overlooked in person because of his shy nature.

The Pharisees and leaders during Jesus’ life thought very highly of themselves. They were in tune to the rules that God had set forth for them so much that they skipped over one of the most important ones: loving the poor and oppressed. The common story of the Good Samaritan shows this in a very bold way. The leaders of Israel deemed the poor as less important than whatever their task or objective was. As a result, the rich minority prospered while the poor struggled to get by. It seems that we are seeing much of the same thing in America. We as a people have forgotten those struggling with poverty in our very own nation. The poor are neglected and the materially wealthy, including me, hoard our wealth and spend carelessly.

We will not be able to build salvation communities amongst us if we look to build from the top down. We must build and care for the bottom first as they are first in God’s eyes. I know that I have not done this in my life. I have not cared for others as I should…especially the poor. I praise God for the opportunity to serve on this group with the rest of you and I hope to be stretched so that I can make a difference that is lasting and as I do this I hope to see change in myself. - Garrett, Age 15


1.      What resonates the most with you as you read this article?

2.      What forms of social media do you and your students currently use on a regular basis?  Which of them could be used to expand your team formation opportunities?

3.      What other forms of peer based learning have you experienced that would thrive through the use of social media?

4.      Which spiritual disciplines would be enhanced by the nature of social media? Which spiritual disciplines might be limited?

  1. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1st MIT Press ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press), 1994.
  2. Shane Hipps, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 35.  See “Technology Matters” for more about Shane’s work.
  3. Social media (2009, March 13) In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:17, March 13, 2009, from
  4. Shane Hipps, 35.
  5. Lenhart, et. al, Teens and Social Media, Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2.
  6. Danah Boyd, Lead Author, “Friendship.”: Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, Forthcoming).
  7. Mizuko, et. al. Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. 2008.
  8. Mizuko, et. al. Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. 2008.
  9. Michael Bischof, Holistic Formation (Part 3): Emotional Formation - The Most Neglected Area of Growth. Souleader Resources, 2006, 1.
  10. While I have chosen to share practical examples using Facebook because this is the most popular social networking site today among adolescents, there are many other forms of social media that can accomplish the same things as Facebook. However, for those who choose to use Facebook, I believe it is essential to maintain a safe and controlled learning environment, especially as we work with minors. To do this, create a closed group within Facebook and invite leaders and students on your team to join. It is within this closed group that tremendous formation can occur in between face to face training sessions without any unwanted watching.
  11. Danah Boyd, “Friendship.”
  12. 2 Corinthians 3:18, TNIV.
  13. John T. Cacioppo, William Patrick, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection (New York: Norton & Company, 2008), 93.
  14. Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 23-24

Churches Before-During-and-After Missions

More Than Just "Isn't That Sweet...?"

Apr 28, 2009 Brad M. GriffinKara Powell

This curriculum sample is taken from Deep Justice Journeys: 50 Activities to Move from Mission Trips to Missional Living, co-authored by Kara Powell and Brad Griffin and released May 2009 through Youth Specialties.

For many youth ministries, the sum total of the church’s support of your justice journey is to patiently listen to a few student testimonies and then murmur, “Isn’t that sweet…?” Moving beyond this shallow (and somewhat patronizing) level of church engagement takes thought, perseverance, and a bit of diplomacy on your part. While we realize that your church’s exposure to your justice work is somewhat beyond your control (we don’t know too many churches in which the youth pastor calls the shots), here are some ideas to catapult you and your students into a deeper relationship with your congregation.




  • Meet with your church’s missions committee     so its members understand the goals of your service. You may want to     invite a few students to attend the meeting with you.
  • Ask your senior pastor if you can     invite the church to pray for you and your students. Provide a list of     specific prayer requests and pictures of your students in your church     bulletin.
  • Find out about any missionaries or     leaders your church already supports in the region you’re serving so you     can connect with them before and during your justice work.


  • Figure out creative ways to invite the     congregation to support your trip financially. Some churches have started     selling $25 or $50 “shares” congregation members can buy as a way to     invest in students’ transformation.
  • Ask the pastor who works most closely     with the children in your church if your students can pair up with one or     more children and ask those children to pray for them. Make sure your high     school students bring a small gift back for those children.
  • Meet with your senior adult ministry     and do the same thing.
  • Invite a pastor from the community in     which you’re serving to come to your church and give a five-minute     profile, or even an entire sermon, on their community.
  • Ask your church or specific Sunday     school classes to volunteer to mentor your students.




  • Any Sunday you’re gone, give some sort     of report at church services through phone calls, video conference calls,    [intlink id=“7688” type=“post”]update videos[/intlink], or e-mails (depending on the technology available).
  • Ask adult classes and small groups to     spend a few minutes praying for your justice ministry. (When you get back,    be sure to let them know how God answered their prayers!)
  • At any church gatherings or services     while you’re gone, see if the parents of one or two of your students can     lead your congregation in prayer.
  • Find out any prayer gatherings occurring     during your service experience and ask the leaders to pray specifically     for your students.



  • Make sure you report the work God did     in and through your students to the entire church. When you share, be sure     to highlight what you learned from the people in the community where you     served.
  • Teach your church any worship songs you     learned from the locals.
  • Invite the locals you served to share     (in person or by video) how God is working in their community and how your     group participated in God’s work.
  • Give the locals cameras and ask them to     take pictures of the impact of your service work and share those with your     entire congregation.
  • Invite adults who can help your     students become justice advocates back home to meet with your students.    There might be a city council member or community leader in your church;    if not, someone in your church is likely to know that type of leader.
  • Set up a meeting in which the students     and adults who participated in the trip can discuss the experience with     your church missions committee. Make sure the agenda includes discussing     next steps for the church’s participation in this or other justice work.