Fuller Youth Institute


Photo by Joebelle

We’ve all been there.

Ministry gets discouraging. We feel stuck. We’re not sure we have been doing the right things or investing our time in the right places. We would love to see more change, but we’re just not sure how to make it happen.

I remember one season when I thought our small group approach had grown stale. So I tried four different small group models in one year. Four! Leaders and students got so fatigued by the constant change that by the time I introduced the next plan, it was mostly met with blank stares. Defeated, I ducked my head and fell back into a rut that I knew wasn’t the best way to accomplish our goals. I couldn’t see a better way forward.

We’ve heard similar stories from leaders who wonder about implementing Sticky Faith in their contexts. They quickly nod their heads when we share what Sticky Faith is all about, or they tell us about their excitement after reading a Sticky Faith resource. But then they’re stuck figuring out what to do next. Or discouraged because they tried something and it failed.

Have you ever found yourself making one of the following statements?
I want to equip young people with lifelong faith, but I have no idea where to start.

In my first youth ministry job, I inherited a model high on fun and emotion but low on depth and long-term transformation. I had ideas about how our ministry could look different and what students could look like as thriving young adults. I just didn’t know how to get from where we were to where I hoped we could be.

My church is too small—or too big—to build an effective youth ministry.

Those of us with only a handful of students showing up in our ministry are worried that our efforts will have little impact, especially when families see “regular” attendance as “once every three weeks.” On the flip side, those of us overwhelmed with a crowd of kids every Wednesday night can hardly keep things under control. Deeper discipleship seems daunting in both scenarios, as does fostering “real” community.

I don’t think we have buy-in from parents on changing our youth ministry.

If we’ve heard this once, we’ve heard it ten thousand times. Leaders worry that parents are either too disengaged, too distracted to give enough energy to support a change, or so committed to youth-ministry-as-usual that they will shut down attempts at change out of fear. Sometimes these worries about parents are well-founded; other times leaders simply haven’t worked to cultivate enough trust among parents to secure their partnership in bringing about change.

I don’t think we have buy-in from our senior pastor to try new things.

Man, have I blown it on this one! Once I actually went directly around my pastor’s “no” to do what I thought was the best idea for our ministry. It didn’t go so well for me. More often, we hear from leaders who have pleasant, but distant, relationships with their senior pastors. They struggle to get enough attention to move ideas forward that require the whole church to respond or change.

Yeah, we tried implementing change. But it never really got off the ground.

Our big launch flopped. Our four-week series fizzled. How many times have you caught yourself saying some version of, “We tried that, but…”? I actually caught myself saying this last week about my own youth ministry! Sometimes we’re not very persistent. Other times we invest so much with such futile results that we give up. Change is hard, slow, and not for the faint of heart.

If you can relate to any (or all!) of these scenarios, we’ve got your back. In fact, we developed a resource just for you because leaders like you asked for it and we decided we couldn’t NOT do this to help.

In response, our team built a toolbox of resources called the Sticky Faith Launch Kit that not only addresses all of the scenarios above, but also drips with bonus products that are almost embarrassing to list because of how much we’re giving away along with the book:

  • Over 20 videos to use with your team or your whole church
  • Six months of volunteer training sessions to help deeply root the vision and practically apply the philosophy
  • Over six months of scripted email templates to use with parents to make your work easy and make you sound awesome
  • Seminar outlines and media to make you look awesome in front of parents and your entire church
And that’s only half of it.

The real heart of this resource is a step-by-step guide for forming a launch team and leveraging that team to effect deep culture change in your congregation. This is not a quick-fix resource. It’s a proven process for shifting your ministry and your own leadership toward more effectiveness.

We call the Launch Kit “Your next 180 days toward Sticky Faith” because it is truly a journey. We have spent the past handful of years walking with churches like yours through implementation issues related to team dynamics, leadership culture, organizational changes, and church structures. Taking the best of what we’ve learned from other leaders, we packaged it in one of the most practical resources FYI has ever developed. Plus a lot of our own heart, sweat, and tears. We published it ourselves, at a financial risk, without a cent of author royalties, because we believed in it that much.

Step one is to make sure you don’t start this journey alone. Get a team around you of people who care about young people. Then let us be part of your extended team. There’s no need to remain discouraged or stuck. Here’s help.


Order the Launch Kit today

“How long... to sing this song?”

These lyrics from the 1983 song “40” animated the deepest groanings of a generation—or two!—through the music of the band U2.

I (Kara) have actually sung these lyrics live with Bono (well, along with the 40,000 other fans at the concert in the late '80s). The words resonate so deeply because they speak authentically about human experience.

Questioning God.
Questioning life.

The words are directly from Psalm 40, one of the many lament psalms that articulate these questions and cries in expressions that translate across centuries. But sometimes these words and phrases leave us even more confused.

Eugene Peterson describes reading the psalms as a 12-year-old boy and being utterly perplexed by the language.

But the more heread, the more he was introduced to the power of metaphor, until ultimately the psalms “showed me that imagination was a way to get inside the truth.” Pairing that imagination with Biblical scholarship, eventually Peterson rephrased the psalms—and then the rest of the Bible—into modern language through The Message translation.

The Message translation deeply moved Bono and U2 in the early 2000s, and when Peterson found out about this, his first response was, “Who’s Bono?”

This exclusive new short film released today by FULLER studio  tells the story of how these two imaginative human beings eventually corresponded, developed a friendship, and finally met.

Bono recently paid a visit to the Petersons’ home in Montana. David Taylor, Fuller’s Brehm Center director at our Texas campus, sat down for a chat with both of them in this rare and intimate interview.

They talk about raw emotion, cursing, Scripture, and violence. They wonder together what it looks like to respond to the real world authentically before God. Bono asserts, “The only way we can approach God is if we’re honest—through metaphor, through symbol.” Peterson follows, “Praying isn’t being nice before God . . . The psalms are not pretty; they’re not nice.”

This authenticity about life and prayer has fueled U2’s music across three-and-a-half decades.

Often what draws young people to music is its openness to releasing the full emotion of life. Or as Bono explains, “The truth can blow things apart.” We found in our own research that the vast majority of Christian teenagers have significant questions and doubts about God, but precious few talk to anyone about them. That’s tragic, because it’s not doubt that is toxic to faith, it's silence.

One of the best things we can offer to young people when they struggle is a relationship where they can be honest, raw, and lay everything on the table.

A lot like the psalms.

We’re grateful for these two leaders who help all of us crack open the potential of the psalms—for ourselves, and for young people.

You’ll find the full 20-minute film and a boatload of helpful resources at Fuller’s all-new FULLER studio site.

Watch Film Now

Fuller Seminary announces the launch of FULLER studio—an online site of formation resources for the Christian church and all who seek deeply informed and embodied spiritual lives. FULLER studio offers fresh videos, podcasts, reflections, stories, and other materials drawn from our world-class faculty and extended global community.

We are honored to host the world premiere of a short film with Bono (U2), Eugene Peterson (The Message), and theologian W. David O. Taylor reflecting together on the Psalms, produced by Brehm Texas and Fourth Line Films.

Photo by Kahori Yagi

Every Friday night we made magic in that Mexican town.

American teenagers defied gravity, sliding up palm trees and zigzagging after-Christmas sale lights across the church courtyard. Mexican youth retreated briefly to the kitchen, performing an ancient alchemy on trays of tostadas, each one laced with a deadly kiss of salsa.

Rodolfo emerged from his laboratory with a playlist that left us all entranced. One pinch of Ice Ice Baby, a dash of Camisa Negra, a hint of I Like to Move it. Sparks flew. One more musical chair was removed. Laughter enraptured us as the limbo stick tripped up the last remaining gringo.

Perhaps most significantly, differences would dissolve between two groups of people who, less than a week before, had been strangers to one another. Our dance parties were enchanted. Live embers from heaven burned in our hearts. Like John’s vision on Patmos, we saw the first heaven and earth disappear—all of the pain of poverty, the injustice, the spools of razor wire scarring the desert—everything that separated us was gone. The holy city seemed to descend out of heaven, making its home in the church courtyard, the incandescent orbs of light like throngs of angels, the pulsating music like anthems from every nation. If only for the briefest of moments, the world was made new.

There was no “them”, there was only “us”.

As a youth worker you may have felt something like this before. You’ve seen it in the Instagram pics of the girl in your youth group with a swarm of dark-skinned children around her. These photos can provoke a mixture of reactions within us. On the one hand, they feel so helplessly cliché, like mission trips are nothing more than a rite of passage for white kids, passing off a long “savior” tradition to a new generation.

But on the other hand, there’s something about these experiences that feels so right that we struggle to write them off entirely. There’s something about those photos that feels like God’s kingdom come. It’s like our mission trip photos are icons of heaven—of God’s future breaking into the present.   

Seriously, why are we going a mission trip again?

Many of us realize that simultaneously there is something both so good about what our young people see and experience on mission trips, but also so fundamentally broken. If we’d turn the tables and 30 kids from Mexico would show up at our church doorstep wanting to share the gospel in our neighborhoods (through translators) and paint our houses, we might smirk at their earnest intentions. But we’d also marvel at the naiveté of believing it could be so simple to share the gospel cross-culturally without any relationship, or that any teenager is somehow qualified to come anywhere close to a roller and paint brush.

Many of us have accepted that maybe youth mission trips aren’t really suited to fulfill the Great Commission in 7 days or less, and as far as relieving the physical poverty of others goes, our activities are no more than Band-Aid solutions, sometimes actually stripping away what little dignity that people in poverty already feel.[1] So what are we to do with mission trips? Ignore the problems? Quit doing them altogether?

Neither of those options seems to be the answer. If there’s ever been a time that we’ve needed shared spaces where the rich and the poor, Mexicans and Americans, whites and blacks, Muslims and Christians can come together and see each others’ humanity, that time is now. Our broken world needs places where young people can have face-to-face encounters with those they’ve been taught they should fear or never trust. We need opportunities to look into the others’ eyes and to encounter the child of God in them—children who have the same dreams, hopes, and anxieties and fears that we do. And when we do this, to recognize that there are dark forces that work to keep us separated, to elevate some and oppress others, to make us think that some lives matter more than others. We need formational learning experiences like these to teach youth that reconciliation is not a distraction from the gospel, but is at the very heart of God’s kingdom.

So maybe we don’t need to abandon mission trips altogether, but we do need to thoughtfully reframe them.

The real value of a mission trip

Mission trips do something that not even our best-crafted four week studies ever could. They capture young people’s imaginations with all of their senses. We could talk about God’s heart for the poor until they all fall asleep, but the problem is that’s not how youth or any of us learn. Descartes told us, “I think, therefore I am,” and ever since we’ve had this false belief in Western understanding that if we think rightly, we’ll act rightly. This has been our primary mode of approaching discipleship with young people.

But Augustine believed that at our core, humans are not fundamentally thinkers but rather lovers. And for anyone who’s ever worked with young people, we already know this to be true. For better or for worse, they obey the desires of their hearts before those of their minds.[2] Teaching kids to love those who our world considers unimportant doesn’t come about by giving youth rules or ideas about how we should treat people with equality and fairness. It comes about by playing Red Rover with a kid in the public housing complex. It comes about when they’re making homemade tortillas with a woman whose husband reluctantly waded the Rio Grande to earn a decent wage. It comes about over a cup of tea in a Bedouin tent.

What if this was the real value of a mission trip? Six months after a trip, teenagers are going to forget what the VBS was about and they’re going to forget that insightful morning devotional you prepared. But they’re not going to forget the solidarity, the connectedness, and the communion they felt with someone so totally “other” than them. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” What if the real value of a mission trip then isn’t teaching young how to share their faith, how to work as a team, or how to lay a concrete block? Perhaps the real value is to cultivate in young people a yearning to bridge the vast and endless sea of poverty and privilege that alienate us from one another. It’s a longing to be reconciled, to find communion with brothers and sisters from whom they’ve been long estranged.

On earth as it is in the Trinity

But why does this matter? Why would we want to cultivate a yearning for solidarity with the other? What’s the point of merely building relationships across cultural divides? Why is this worthy of the thousands of dollars our church invests in mission trips?

It matters because it cuts to the very heart of who God is and what it means for us to be image bearers of God. When young people long for this kind of connection, when they hunger and thirst for justice, what they’re really longing for is to participate in the very life of God’s communion. They yearn to know the kind of life-giving relationships of giving and receiving that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit experience with one another. Because at the heart of the Trinity there is no hierarchy. There is no pecking order. The Father is not greater than the Son, nor is the Son greater than the Holy Spirit. They are distinct, but they are one.

In short, the Trinitarian community is everything that the disappointing social lives of young people are not. On mission trips, when young people experience solidarity with others instead of division, when they exchange fear for trust, when they feel a tug to serve others rather than to jockey for power, when they experience embrace rather than exclusion, it’s not merely a human connection that young people are making. Rather, it is a taste of the very life of God’s communion. It is God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

What we often overlook is that to be image bearers of God is to be made in the image of a Trinitarian community. The Trinity offers a pattern for personal and social life. Youth know in their bones that people are wired for love, for community, for giving, and for equality. But their experience of the world is often one of love only for those just like them, of competition, of using others for their own ends, and of accepting the inevitability of a world where some will always be winners and some always losers.

Sometimes on a mission trip, magic happens and that logic is turned on its head. Young people get a sense of how poverty, racism, and inequality steal, kill, and destroy this self-giving community for which people are made. The acts of solidarity they perform on a mission trip—playing games with kids, sharing a meal in someone’s home, laughing out on a soccer field—become protests to the world’s logic. These seemingly insignificant acts are not a distraction from mission, but the very essence of it. It’s the work of God to bring a fragmented, stratified humanity back into participation in the life of the Trinity. It’s a reordering of human relationships to more properly image God in the world. They are icons of heaven, of God’s future breaking into the present.

But does this mean that in the end mission trips are really just self-serving? Do we forget about the real needs of people in communities we visit by reframing the purpose of mission trips in this way? In the short term, these acts of solidarity aren’t going to eliminate hunger and homelessness, nor should we shy away from providing immediate relief by offering food or housing. But issues like these are too complex to be solved by acts of charity on a mission trip. Hunger, homelessness, and extreme inequalities aren’t unfortunate accidents. They are the predictable results of unjust policies and economic practices that have gone on for centuries. Poverty and privilege are bound up with one another.

In the long term, pockets of injustice are rooted out by people with a God-breathed imagination who set out to build a different kind of social order and a different kind of economy where everyone can participate. Our students can be those kinds of people. But it means that perhaps the most dramatic change that needs to take place isn’t the character or work ethic of the poor, but the imagination of a new generation of young people who will occupy positions of power and make decisions that can make life look either more or less like life in the Trinity.

It begins when their imaginations are hooked by a glimpse of heaven on earth.

What might this all mean for you in thinking about your next mission trip or whether or not to do one at all?

  • Reframe your reasons for doing a mission trip in the first place. You’re more than likely not bringing the gospel to a place where no one has heard the name of Jesus, and even though your relief work might take the edge off of poverty, it isn’t going to eliminate it. Create a mission statement for your trip with leaders, parents, and youth. If they come to easy, church-y answers, complicate them by raising questions like the ones in this article to challenge deeper reflection.
  • Make magic. Keep your schedule open enough for these unscripted moments for youth to make positive connections with people in the community you’re visiting. These connections can upend stereotypes they might hold. Communicate to your hosts that “success” includes seeing life from their shoes and communing with locals. 
  • Don’t attempt to make a big impact. At least not in the community you’re visiting. I know, everyone else has told you that the only reason you should go is to make a big impact. But this attitude reinforces the idea that you are the heroes and they are helpless ones in distress, and it undermines the faithful work of churches and community leaders who have been there long before you arrived and will be there long afterwards. Focus on learning how you can be advocates, not on accomplishing some project that they could do themselves if they had the resources. That said, make sure your work does have a big impact in shaping your students’ imaginations for a world made right. Ultimately, this can have an even bigger impact in your partner community. 

In part 2 of this series we’ll explore how short-term missions are not only icons of heaven, but sometimes can be icons of hell. On short-term trips we might witness the devastating effects of what happens when people reject their obligations to care for the most vulnerable. We see hell on earth. These traumatic experiences of poverty and inequality can awaken young people and give them the spiritual energy to build a more just world that looks more like life in the Trinity. 


[1] For more on maintaining the dignity of partner communities in short-term mission, check out Toxic Charity and Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions.

[2] See James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom for a more expansive discussion on how desire plays into identity.  

Photo by dejah greene

This guest post is from Dr. Dave Zovak. A Fuller grad, Dave is a Christian leadership coach and educator in Asia, helping leaders and educators bring their best to their missions. He’s also the father of a college student and a high school student.

“Where are you going to college?” is one of the most frequent and emotionally-loaded questions faced by high school seniors during second semester. For Christian students, it may be their first big “discerning God’s will” decision. So many expectations (from parents, teachers, friends, themselves) are attached to the answer of that question that it can be completely overwhelming. Especially for those who are fortunate enough to have options among which to choose.

It’s no wonder many students just shrug and try to change the subject.

At a time in life when these young people are just beginning to discover who they are, they are presented with the challenge to make a decision that seems to carry the weight of the rest of their lives. While adults know that college choice does not determine a young person’s fate, our questions and expectations can sure add to that feeling. So as parents, youth leaders, and adult friends, we have the opportunity to encourage students to approach this challenge with grace, faith, and wisdom. Here are some suggestions that may help you point them toward God as they wrestle with this big decision.

Frame it as a stewardship decision

Stewardship isn’t just about money; it’s about seeing our whole lives as resources to be directed toward God’s purposes and priorities. Students need to ask themselves, “What has God specifically entrusted to me?” The answer will include their strengths, passions, bodies, minds, family backgrounds, weaknesses, and limitations. The better they know themselves, the better they will be able to be effective stewards of their lives. Similarly, they might ask, “What values does God want me to live by?”

Once young people begin to discern this big-picture stewardship, we can encourage them to ask God how he wants them to invest their time, energy, and resources in the next season of life. This includes where they go to college and what major they choose.

It also includes financial stewardship, which is a major consideration for most college students today. Hopefully, students and parents have already talked and developed a plan for paying for college. However, the details of financial aid and scholarships are frequently not known until the last stages of the application process, so families need to revisit this critical dimension in college selection. Student debt impacts graduates in significant ways, creating financial stress and limiting life choice options as “paying off school debt” becomes a ever-present reality.[1] For most students, financing college without incurring crippling debt will require making some difficult and uncomfortable choices. However, wrestling through these challenges offer students (and parents) real-life opportunities to seek God’s guidance, provision, and wisdom. 

The good news is that God is generous with his stewardship and we’re all invited to share in what’s been entrusted to us.

Help young people learn to exercise wisdom

Wisdom is knowledge applied rightly. In this era of abundant information, wisdom remains of great value, because too much information can be just as limiting as having too little information. So what wisdom is most critical to college-bound seniors and their families?

  1. Make “learning to learn” the goal. It’s been estimated that more than half of the jobs and knowledge required for employment in four years hasn’t even been discovered or invented yet.[2] Gone are the days of learning a single trade and staying in that role for decades. Becoming an effective learner is the best preparation for present and future success. This includes identifying one’s preferred learning styles and leveraging them well.
  2. Develop self-control. Research has shown that those who learn to delay gratification (i.e., deny a momentary pleasure for a long-term gain) are significantly more successful, happy, and healthy.[3] This is developed by exercising one’s body, mind, and spirit. Saying “yes” to health and “no” to excess is a skill nearly everyone needs strengthening.
  3. Explore new realms. For most, the college experience is about expanding horizons and discovering potential. Students grow by taking risks, stretching themselves, and learning from the struggle of integrating new information with established beliefs. Therefore, making friends with people who are different serves to both expand their worldviews as well as solidify their own convictions. Additionally, finding “safe people” with whom to process is critical for healthy identity development. God created each person to grow and mature, so when choosing a college, students should look for one that will help them explore diversity in a supportive environment.

Remember to Rest in God

Lastly, encourage students to remember that as they seek to honor God with their decision about college (and all the other decisions that follow), they have a Father in heaven who loves them and wants good for them. Their identity as a beloved child of God is secure, and God is eager to lead them forward into the odyssey of adulthood.


[1] Student Loan Debt: The Best and Worst Debt to Have, Robert Farrington, Forbes, April 21, 2014. Life Delayed: The Impact of Student Debt on the Daily Lives of Young Americans, http://www.asa.org/site/assets/files/3793/life_delayed.pdf

[2] “By one estimate, 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet.” Cathy N. Davidson, Now You See It: How Technology and the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, p. 18.

[3] Jonah Lehrer, “Don’t! The secret of self-control,” The New Yorker, Dept. of Science, May 18, 2009.

Photo by Hanna Emmilyn

Brandon Hendriks is a 13-year youth ministry veteran currently serving as the Student Ministries Pastor at Pacific Coast Church in San Clemente, California with his wife and three sons.

There was a time when I led mission trips. I don’t any more.

Here’s why.

Mission trips are often a subtle (or not-so-subtle) way of saying that we have something you need. When we roll into town, people can finally hear about Jesus, get their needs met, and see how ministry is meant to be done. As a young youth pastor with something to prove, I led missions trips like that. That bums me out now. A lot.

I’ve since learned that “ministry partnerships” are so much more fulfilling, effective, and culturally affirming than “mission trips.” Books such as Deep Justice in a Broken World and When Helping Hurts shed light on a reality that I’d felt but hadn’t been able to fully articulate. The way we were doing missions was broken and even damaging to the very people we were trying to minister to. The key there is “to” instead of “with.” When we go to minister to people, we can be shortsighted and even oppressive. When we minister with people we become long-term ministry partners.

A few weeks ago I took a few students and volunteers down to Mexico with me to meet with the pastor and youth leaders of the church we partner with during our Spring Break trip. We sat in a room together as partners and equals as we prayed together, dreamed, and planned out some of the things we could do together while we’re there. I emphasized, as I have for years now, that we are there as co-laborers with them (after all, they are the experts on ministering in that area and culture), and that they could use our team in whatever way benefits the ministry of their church the most.

They shared that they had some new things they wanted to do that week to bring people to Christ—things we’d never done before, and frankly, a schedule I would not have planned. Now we are putting those plans into action as we start training our students this weekend to prepare for the trip. The church in Mexico is also starting to train their teens to prepare for that week of ministry. The group from our church is half of the team, and the group from their church is the other half. Only once we come together will the ministry team be whole.

Sure, we still call them mission trips. That’s how the students know them. But these are very different from the trips of my early years. This is a picture of the Body of Christ as it exists beyond culture and nation. The people that I’ve been blessed to partner with in Mexico are not only my brothers and sisters in Christ, they have become beloved friends—friends that I get to do Kingdom work with, and that’s the best kind.

How have you tried to move from simply taking mission trips to forming ministry partnerships?

Photo by laurenmarek

Just in time for your spring break service trips, The Sticky Faith Service Guide offers practical and field-tested exercises on how to translate short-term work into long-term change. Whether it’s a half-day local service project or a two-week trip overseas this summer, this resource will benefit both your students and the communities you serve. 

 “Do no harm.”

We at the Fuller Youth Institute wish that mantra was a reality in short-term mission trips.

We are well-intentioned. We want to do good. But often without realizing it, we sabotage our short-term mission trips by not thinking through how our work affects the locals hosting us.

Consider this haunting account from a leader in a Latin American country:

The indigenous staff in my organization lead weekly Bible studies with children to low-income communities … After a short-term team conducts a Bible study in one of these communities, the children stop attending the Bible studies of my organization. Our indigenous staff tell me that the children stop coming because we do not have all the fancy materials and crafts that the short-term teams have, and we do not give away things like these teams do. The children have also come to believe that our staff are not as interesting or as creative as the Americans that come on these teams.[1]


I have been that leader passing out candy, clothes, and soccer balls. I have been with students as people in Mexico and Guatemala crowded around our vans, eager for anything we had to give away.

Rarely did I think about what our giveaways were doing to the local leaders. The leaders who will be there not 7 days a year like us, but all 365.

Is it possible that we are well intentioned, but actually hindering God’s work globally because we don’t think about the locals affected by our work?

Having studied the research and had conversations with global leaders, my unfortunate answer is: Sometimes.

That’s why I am so inspired by a Texas youth leader whose church has decided to view their work through the lens of this question: How does this affect the locals? When this church was building a handful of houses in the Dominican Republic, they realized that some of the locals who work construction would not be working that week because they as Americans were working. So they figured out the wages of the construction workers and paid them for the time they lost.

That. Gives. Me. Chills.

On your next short-term mission trip, ask these questions:

  1. What locals could we partner with (and listen to ahead of time!) to make sure the work we do sets up the local church to win year-round?
  2. Who is being positively affected by our work?
  3. Who is being negatively affected by our work? As in the example above, it could be construction laborers, or food service providers, childcare workers, or teachers (to name a few).
  4. What can we do to compensate (whether it be financially or through another means) those who are negatively affected?

What else do you do to make sure that your short-term mission work “does no harm?”


[1] Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, When Helping Hurts (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 169.

Anyone who serves teenagers today knows that more and more young people are eager to make a difference in the world. When students participate in short-term missions, service, and justice causes, parents and youth leaders hope these experiences will lead to real transformation. But research shows that our efforts don’t always stick.

If we truly want short-term work to translate into long-term change, leaders and students must spend more time before, during, and after service projects preparing for and processing their experiences. The sessions in this Guide will help you create experiences that stick—both for the students you take and the communities you serve. This guidebook offers a host of practical and field-tested exercises for each phase of your experience, whether it’s a half-day local service project or a two-week trip overseas.

Participants will engage in hands-on experiences to gain new insights about themselves, their relationship with God, their teammates, and the world we’re called to love and serve. Each of these steps is a catalyst in helping students apply what they have learned in the field to their own lives back at home. Also included are ideas to help get parents and the whole church engaged in service together. A companion Student Journal is also available to boost the potential for personal application throughout the journey.

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This post is part of a series celebrating our newest parent resource, Right Click. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. What’s your #rightclick?

“Someday, someday soon, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn to have a conversation.”[1]

This is just one of a number of eye-opening statements made by high school and college-aged students in the new book by renowned MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Turkle provides a sprawling and insightful analysis of how digital media are reshaping our lives as individuals, in relationships, and as a broader society. But unlike other commentators who have explored these same trends, Turkle builds a compelling case for what really seems to be at stake: as we lose conversation, we lose community.

Turkle addresses this crucial connection between conversation and community by describing how “We have moved from being in community to having a sense of community.” A digital “sense” of connectedness is replacing or impeding our ways of “being” incarnate (“in the flesh”) with one another.[2]

The result adds up to something we might call phantom community.

Like the phenomenon known as a phantom limb, Turkle describes digital media as producing a sensation of attachment and connection that dully feels like the real thing but is not. It is something that persists as a person acclimates his or herself to living without what had once been taken for granted as always available.

For adults, digital media has disruptively demanded our attention away, like a stubborn toddler tugging at a sleeve and crying, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” But what is fascinating about Turkle’s latest research is how she sees this adult distractedness having an increasingly noxious effect on today’s young people. Whereas digital media seems to have damaged the way adults interact with one another, it is now making it seemingly impossible for young people to learn how to have relationships in the first place.

Perhaps most importantly, Turkle argues, we are in the midst of a “crisis of empathy.” Middle schools are now adapting their curricula to try to teach emotional intelligence at a very basic level. As one teacher describes it, “[student] friendships seem based on what students think someone else can do for them … kids have a sense that friendships are one-sided. It is a place for them to broadcast. It is not a place for them to listen. And there isn’t an emotional level.”[3]

Similarly, Turkle describes a study that found “a 40 percent drop in empathy among college students in the past twenty years … a decline its authors suggested was due to students having less direct face-to-face contact with each other.”[4]

This is important because—as scientific research, the arts, and philosophy all agree—empathy functions as the fundamental distinction between a group of people and a community. We form into communities not by means of proximity or mere connectedness but rather because we know each other and care about one another. We have done the self-reflective work of deciding that we belong and are invested in the lives of a particular group of others. Riding on a public transit bus is belonging to a group of people; riding in a bus on the way to a church youth group retreat is belonging to a community.

Reclaiming Conversation presents us with both an invitation and a challenge as Christians who place special value on the importance of community and communion with one another. The type of phantom community described throughout the book is an alluring but ultimately unsatisfying (not to mention unhealthy) substitute for the kind of table fellowship we find in scripture—and that so many of us have experienced and enjoyed together. Turkle’s research and reflections challenge us to consider how we might safeguard our church communities from weakening or decaying like so many other facets of life addressed by the book, including education, work, romance, and even family relationships. That is our challenge.

Our invitation comes from the many young people interviewed as part of Turkle’s research. Summarizing these conversations, she writes: “Recently I see an encouraging sign: young people’s discontent.”[5]

As staples like authentic community and invigorating conversation seem to become more and more elusive, young people are beginning to crave, if not covet, these remnants from a pre-digital world. One 2015 study on young people’s digital media usage found that just 36 percent of teens enjoy using social media “a lot,” which was significantly lower than listening to music or watching television.[6] There is an increasingly noticeable disconnect between how much young people are using digital media and how much they actually enjoy using digital media. 

So often our approach in churches, particularly in youth ministry, is to grasp at the latest trends in an attempt to be relevant. But what seems abundantly clear in Reclaiming Conversation is that today’s young people are searching and yearning for something radically countercultural against their world of phantom community. They want to feel and experience true community for themselves.

As a group of fourteen-year-old girls explains: “memories don’t happen when you get a text. It’s the stories you can tell … the best stuff is friends making mistakes together. That’s how people bond. … It’s not like everything is made to be perfect. It’s like you should make mistakes and you should—well, with friends, it’s good to see their faces.”[7]

[2] p. 173

[3] p. 8

[4] p. 171 (See also: Sara Konrath, Edward H. O’Brien, and Courtney Hsing, “Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students over Time: A Meta-Analysis,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 15, no. 2 (May 1, 2011): 180-98, doi:10.1177/1088868310377395.)

[5] p. 110

[7] p. 174

Photo by blindbeth67

I’m a hard-core goal setter. Perhaps to a fault. Note that I don’t necessarily accomplish all my goals, but I do relish in setting them.

So Dave and I huddle together with our kids on January 1st every year (often during the handful of hours after the Rose Bowl Parade and before the football game) and set family goals. Some missionary friends staying at our house over the holidays wondered more about our family goal setting process so I thought I’d explain what works best for us.

We provide treats for our kids. This year it was Starbucks. Sometimes I make brownies. The youth leader in me finds that treats create a more positive environment. As our kids have become teenagers, they sometimes groan at our attempts at family intentionality. Sugar helps.

We review last year’s goals. Which is adorable. My favorite from 2015 was fourth grade Jessica’s desire to “stop creasing my papers at school.” You’ll be glad to know that goal was accomplished.

We talk about why we set goals. That it helps us be more thoughtful. And mindful. And prayerful. And support each other.

We spend a few minutes thinking individually about our goals. A few of our family members are introverts. They need time.

We each write or draw our goals on a sheet of paper. Dave’s a drawer. I’m a writer but use colorful crayons. The kids vacillate. But markers and crayons let each of us personalize our own sheets of paper.

We each share our goals, explaining why we chose those goals. I think it’s especially valuable for our kids to hear Dave and me explain why we’re choosing to read the Bible, work less, or work out more.

We close in prayer.

Afterward, we make copies of the goals so I keep a copy in my prayer journal, and each person gets a copy of their own goals. To be honest, the kids often misplace their own copies of the goals. I often lose sight of them also. One of my hopes (maybe it’s a goal) this year is to take a few minutes every few months to review our goals together.

There are other flaws in the process, or areas we’d like to improve. Perhaps one year we’ll set collective goals as a family, instead of only individual goals for each family member. Maybe 12 months is too long for our kids and we should think in terms of smaller chunks.

But in the meantime, it’s a new year ritual that we dig. And it’s not too late in 2016 to try this with your own family!

This post is part of a series celebrating our newest parent resource, Right Click. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. What’s your #rightclick?

If your families are anything like ours, the first few weeks of January can be a brutal awakening. Kids are heading back to school, parents are back at work. And while it was great to let your kids indulge in some extra hours watching movies, playing games, and poking around on devices over the holidays, the game changes quickly.

This post-holiday season can be a little disorienting and headache-inducing, but don’t worry. We have a few free tools and ideas you can put to use this month to help get your family rebalanced and back on track for the new year. Here are five quick resources you can access right now:

1. Set screentime boundaries … together. Families everywhere are wondering, “How do I know how much time to allow my kids to be on their devices when they’re at home?” The new year is a great time to establish (or re-establish) healthy family media practices. We’ve created a free handy downloadable tool you can use to have a fresh conversation with your family this week.

2. Learn how to review apps. Or better yet, require your kids to complete this handy Request for App form and give you at least 24 hours to make a decision before they download anything. This brief form pushes them to do a little research on things like privacy, sharing, and personal information the app will collect. If you don’t like forms, the questions themselves can help guide a less formal conversation with your teenager.

3. Don’t let gaming game you. Wringing your hands about the new games your kids acquired this Christmas—or about how much time they’re sinking into playing? Here are ten things every parent should know about gaming to give you a leg up in this game.

4. Draw the age line. Have a kid under 13 asking to use social media? Here’s an easy way to say no: the law. Read more about why, plus a handful of other tips on making age determinations.

5. Have a good answer to the retort, “That’s not fair!” Not all kids are ready for the same things at the same time, and that’s doubly true with technology. As your kids are using new technology in this post-holiday season, you might find that one takes care of their device while another is careless, or one makes good choices while another struggles. Here are some tips for navigating this dilemma.

Finally, if you’d like to learn more about the insights and strategies we’ve shared in Right Click, go ahead and download a free chapter now. We’d love to help!

What tips have you found helpful to navigate the post-holiday digital tech hangover?