I have this sneaking suspicion that right about now you are gearing up for your annual summer mission trips. These trips are a highlight for me, as they allow me to get out of my normal routine, out of my comfort zone and into the real world to meet the needs of the poor and hurting who are far away from me. My week in Mexico each summer is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding weeks of the whole year.

The biggest challenge for me and many other youth pastors is knowing what to do when we get home. Each of us has felt the twinge of guilt as we just as quickly return to our normal routines. We don’t want to ignore the poor back home; and in the first few days back, we’re motivated to find practical ways locally for our students to serve. Pretty soon, the demands of the school year ahead of us take over, and we realize we just can’t do it all.

I share this not to make anyone wallow in shame, but to hold a mirror up to what I see as a weakness for many ministries. Even though we ask students as they return to their communities: “How are you going to bring this desire to serve back home with you?” we often don’t make it easy for them to make this happen. If we don’t have an easily accessible, ongoing ministry opportunity for these students back home, we communicate to them that ministry to the poor and hurting is only something we need to do one week a year.

For years, that was my struggle. I am grateful to report that recently we found a way to bring this heart for service home and to provide these weekly opportunities to serve the other 51 weeks.

Focusing on Service
How do we make this happen? I think the most important thing is to be willing personally to spend as much time and effort as necessary in order to provide these service opportunities. Providing opportunities needs to become a top priority.

This endeavor can be challenging and time-consuming and often doesn’t happen. An opportunity springs up briefly, but then slowly passes away. We have to be willing to shepherd these endeavors in the same way we shepherd summer trips.

This doesn’t mean we have to attend the service opportunities every week; but in most cases, we the youth leaders have to take charge and perhaps spend more time than we’d like trying to research it and make it happen.

For years, I would see different serving opportunities come and go for our students, passively hoping someone else would take them and run with them. Recently when one of my leaders who had pioneered a weekly ministry to children at a local homeless shelter had to bow out, I stepped up and took the lead.

The timing was inconvenient, and the ministry itself was one that probably would be very hard and not always rewarding; but not everything in ministry always will be convenient and rewarding. This opportunity, like many others, was to minister to the poor—often difficult and sometimes discouraging. However, we minister because we want to follow God’s heart, not because we want easy encouragement.

I realized that I had to be the champion if I really wanted it to happen. It took a while for this particular ministry to gain steam, but once it did, I actually had to find another serving opportunity in order to meet the demand because so many students were participating.

Some of you might not be geographically located in areas where this kind of ministry is easily done. Perhaps there are other venues where yours and your kids’ help would be valuable. The key is to find opportunities that require students to connect with a different segment of the population that requires them to go outside of themselves.

Start investigating service opportunities now so that when you come home from your summer trips, the transition is an easy one. Take the time. Overcome the inertia. Ministry to others can be difficult and inconvenient, but it’s worth it.

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About The Author

Syler Thomas is a native Texan who has worked as a pastor at Christ Church Lake Forest in Illinois since 1998. He writes a column for Youthworker Journal, has had articles published in Leadership Journal and the Chicago Tribune, and enjoys acting in the occasional play. He believes with all of his heart that the Cubs will one day win the World Series, and he and his wife Heidi have four kids.

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