This is not how I would do it.

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I am the best leader I know
One of the hardest things about being a leader is the burden of always being right. It seems that whatever group of people I am working with, I have the best ideas and know what should happen next. When I am the true leader of every part of something, like my student ministry, I get to fully live into my brilliance. But most of the time I am sharing leadership with others who, in their mind, is also the smartest person in the room.

In the church context, we have senior pastors who are leaders doing the best they can. As youth workers we love to sit back and judge what a poor job they are doing and share that with others so our friends know how brilliant we are, and dumb they are.

In a missions context, we share leadership with a local church or organization that has come up with a plan that makes total sense to them. Because it is missions it seems like our definitions of best and smart are quite different. Let's be honest, the plan they come up, pales compared to my brilliance. And because I am insecure I don't want those around me to think that their poor idea is mine. To make this clear, the easiest solution is to blow up their obvious incompetence with my friends and those I lead.

Lets be honest for a second. While we know that this is actually poor leadership and you have enjoyed judging my self-righteousness, the truth is every leader I know is tempted to put others down in order to prove their own abilities and brilliance. But proving our brilliance is not the task of leadership.

Being the smartest guy in the room is not good leadership
Providing for, and shaping experiences so students will encounter Christ and partner more fully in the work of God is our task. For this to happen we have to take ourselves out of the mix. We must discern the heart of God in every curve ball we are thrown and help our students live into that.

The picture at the top of this post is the awful construction work our students are doing. One by one, students are hauling block and bags of gravel a quarter mile up a road to the place where the actual construction is happening. 10's of thousands of pounds of materials, one by one.

In 5 seconds I had a dozen solutions to efficiently move the pile of materials from point A to point B. After 10 minutes if attempting to help the process, I realized it was going to be a no go. For four days we were going to move this pile from point A to point B.

My natural leadership ability is to walk alongside my students, roll my eyes, and patronize those dummies for making us do this all week. You see, I don't want them to know this is my idea. But good leadership is helping our students live into the larger story of what they are doing. There is no way a family could move all this material by themselves. How pig headed to assume that they even have access to a truck. We are to be a blessing to others, to bring God's mercy and grace. And I am pretty sure that doing this well has nothing to do with me and my teams perception of my brilliance.

May we all be shock absorbers and buffers of grace when those we lead with lead differently the us. When those around us, those we partner with, those whom we must serve under don't live up to our expectations, may we have grace and serve them well. Because the truth is, everyone we lead has the same judgements about our leadership.

I am sorry that my students are hiking materials for four day, but I am thankful that I caught myself in time and didn't down talk our ministry partners so that our students could fully love, serve, and enjoy every part of this trip. Pray that they would have the strength to finish well. (Last day!)

We are not as cutting edge as we think

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Our church leaders, my colleagues in ministry, and my circle of friends take ministry pretty seriously. We are always studying up, praying, and discerning in an continued effort to do the most effective, contextualized ministry that is aligned with the heart of God.

For the past few years those buzz words, I mean models, have been things like, missional, contextual, social justice, authenticity, and community. There is so much to be discussed, said, written on, and implemented surrounding these topics and values. I for one often think of myself as well read and on the early adopter side of ministry trends. So it is both refreshing and humbling to come to the hills of Guatemala and work alongside a church that is already doing all of this!

Here in Santa Apolonia we are partnered with Englesia del Belen (or something close to that) and this church, specifically the church leadership, embody many of the values and strategies that big wig church leaders and speakers are peddling as revolutionary at conferences like Thrive, Catalyst, Youth Workers, etc.

The head elder, a man named Julio, embodies who I want to be as a pastor, leader, and ministry leader in my context.

Hospitality:
Every day our entire team gets to eat at his home. He moved out beds and furniture from two of his rooms even, so we would all fit. He makes time to connect with our students and warmly embraces them. It his Julio's hospitality that has inspired our students to work hard and practice hospitality themselves.

Outreach:
Julio is attractional in his ministry style by providing big and fun events for the community and for our students to engage one another. We played a huge soccer game with our students against some of the students from the church and their friends. It was a great night and at the end, Julio gathered us all together to bless us and pray for us. We are also opening up the church to have a celebratory dinner with the church and our team on Friday. This all by itself is great, but the students and kids that we have connected with throughout the week are welcomed as well.

Authentic and Deep:
The ministry at the church is also built around home groups. Just like you and I have small groups, they have those as well. It is these small groups that carry out ministry and care for each other and for the community. Tonight our kids get to go to 7 or 8 of these small groups and join the study, worship, and prayer.

Missional:
What this church, through the leadership of Julio, does that is the most impressive to me is that they are fully involved in their community. They are members who are involved in politics, even the mayor, who see their role as ambassadors for Jesus and to attempt to model their lives and government around the values of Jesus. They are also being a blessing to their community by caring for the least of these in their town.

The little village up the hill is one of the poorest in Guatemala, and this church has taken it upon themselves to plant a church their, to upgrade the houses, bathrooms, and kitchens of those homes, and care for the elderly. They use their own recourses to do this, and when we came rolling in with our big, American dollars to spend, they funneled it to work projects in this little community.

Always Learning:
I am pretty sure that Julio hasn't been to seminar, been to a major conference, or even aware of some really inspiring podcasts. He is simply a man who knows and loves Jesus, who has decided to follow him for his entire life, to use his influence for the expansion of the kingdom and is modeling ministry that beats closely to the heart of Jesus.

Not bad for a grandpa!

I am glad that I get another picture of how church is done, of what godly women and men look like, and how we can continue to serve Jesus long after our early 20's. Julio is an amazing man, and it is an honor to partner with him and his church. His example is significant for me and for our students!

Please keep praying for us:
Please continue to pray our students and for me as we finish up another great day of ministry. And please pray for Englasia del Belen, Julio, and the ministry they are doing in Santa Apolonia and the little village on the hill.

How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!

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Psalm 133

1 How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

With most of the first day under our belt, I found myself reflecting on Psalm 133. This is one of my favorite verses of all time, and truly the prayer of my heart.

The truth be told, I am actually pretty impressed that I have managed to be reflecting on a verse at all today. The first day of every trip, specifically a mission trip, is a complete 3 ring circus. There is such an incredibly steep learning curve that happens when 50 people have to learn to work and live together and the missions team that is facilitating our trip as to figure us out and what we are capable of. And do all this with cultural and language barriers.

Our students are barely running on 5 hours of sleep and are doing incredibly well considering every 5 minutes someone is telling them something different to be doing. With the lack of sleep combined with some fits and starts to our day, we are doing quite well!!

Even for someone who is OCD about efficiency, I have found enormous success with what our students have accomplished and their attitudes in it. Our students dug a foundation, moved thousands of pounds of construction supplies, and even crafted some rebar for foundations.

Now every team is off to connect with students and kids in the community. Our college students are teaching english today in three different schools, and our high school students will be pulling off 2 different VBS' to cap off our afternoon.

But our day will not be over. After a little down time and a chance to change, we will be competing against the people of the church we are staying with in a somewhat friendly game of soccer. After being full from a full portion of humble pie, it will be time for a little team time and then off to bed!

Like I said at the beginning of this post, in all of it I have Psalm 133 running on repeat in my mind and my heart!

There is something truly amazing when God's peeps live together in unity.
I could not have brought a more diverse team to a context that is more "other" then the hills of Guatemala. And in all of it we are living in unity. This unity is extended among our team, between our team and our Merge team, and between our team and the people of the church.

As we live in unity there is a stirring in my soul that that forces me to pray a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude. Imagine how great it is when you and your closest friends are doing something deep and significant together. You are united as one, you are partnering in the movement of God, you are modeling the unity of the Trinity. When this happens among our closest friends it is amazing! When it happens with a group like this and a context like this it is pretty close to a miracle.

Even though I have absolutely no cultural touch points of how rad it would be to pour oil all over my head and have it drip down through my beard, I imagine that it is supposed to be pretty amazing and quite a celebration!

That is how I feel, overwhelmed with God's goodness and grace. I am sitting back watching our students work so hard to bless everyone they come in contact with, and soaking up the oil through my beard. And my prayer of thanksgiving is that of David's;

1 How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,

Amen!

From leader to facilitator

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With all the hiccups that happen when traveling with 50 people, and most of them minors, we are finally all together getting dialed in for our arrival into Guatemala.

What hiccups you might ask?
Good question. In just the few short hours we have been traveling together, we have managed to get stopped in security for a student who "forgot" about a knife he had in his possession, a lost boarding pass, and two separate incidents of bags left behind. (You know, when you go to the food court, bathroom, or currency exchange and leave your bag behind.) Thankfully, God's grace has been overwhelming and so far these little hiccups just make us adults smile. :)

But with these opportunities for grace behind us, we are now trying to make best use of this time so we are honing our craft skills, doing some team bonding, and praying together. And as our students meet up in their teams, I have come to the realization that my role is already transitioning from team leader to facilitating team.

What I mean by this, is that for the past few months I have been herding cats, wrangling paperwork, lessons, crafts, songs, games, and more paperwork from my students. I have been the person in the front with a clipboard moving students from point A to point B. Now that we are quickly approaching point B, I am handing the reigns over to my student leaders. This is now their car to drive!

I could not be more proud of my three sets of student leaders. They are keeping tabs on their people, managing the group dynamic, and leading their team into deeper dependance on God. It is so fun watching these students get after it.

As a facilitator, my job is now to meet regularly with these student leaders, communicate well, clarify expectations, and ooze non-stop, specific affirmation. It is incredibly intimidating leading high school students, it is exponentially more intimidating leading high school students when they are your peers. And this is the role that these leaders are living into!

I am so aware and thankful of all the prayers and support of our church and my friends and family. Now that we are one more plane flight to actually being in Guatemala, putting into practice what we have been learning over these past few months, I would ask that you pray specifically for my student leaders.

These students, Tommy, Samantha, Bix, Sarah, Jessica, and Tristan are amazing and carrying a huge burden this trip. Pray for God's grace, wisdom, discernment, and guts. Pray that God would empower them and that they would live into the people that God so clearly has made them to be! And pray that they would love their team well, love them selflessly, with a servants heart, and find joy in empowering their peers for ministry!

It is an honor to be a part of this team, and a joy to fade into the background as our student leaders step up and step out!

Next stop Santa Apolonia.

PS: Please pray that God multiplies our rest as well. We arrive around 11:30 pm, and our day begins at 7:00 am on Monday! YES PLEASE!! #sleepwhenwearedead Thank you again for your support and prayers for this trip.

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go

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With my final count of passports under my belt and the last email sent to parents, all that is left to do is wait until my alarm rings at 3:00 am tomorrow morning to get this show on the road!

In less than 24 hours, I will be leading a team of incredible students and adults on a mission trip to Guatemala. This week we will be doing some construction projects, vacation bible school, and teaching english during the days and partnering with our host church in the evenings for all sorts of ministry, food, fun, and our annual soccer game. (They usually smoke us!)

It has been a long time since I have been this excited for a mission trip. For many reasons this has been one of the hardest trips to prepare for. The logistics were off the charts, the financial cost was quite high, and some of the personalities quite strong. Because of these factors I found it quite difficult to get my head and heart around this trip. I spent the last month having crazy dreams, and anxiety induced sessions at local buffets.

Truth be told, I was a little concerned that I was simply going to spend the trip spinning out of control about things I am trying to control, but know I can't. I lowered my expectations to the absolute bottom as I simply wanted to return with every student I brought. (This is still one of my expectations by the way)

As I reflected on this, I had the awful feeling that maybe I am rounding the corner into the final stretch of my student ministry career. I mean why would I lead a trip of this sort to simply countdown the time for it to be over? And then this realization got to be one more thing to freak out about. But what I have found, is that as we continue to walk with Jesus we never stay in the place we find ourselves right now in this moment! This truth became a reality for me!

By continually wrestling with Jesus, I have died to my anxiety (most of it) and am anticipating God to move in huge ways in and through our group!

I am so thankful to God and his faithfulness and graciousness towards me. The preparation for this trip has again proven all the more how much I am in need of God in every area of my life! Because of God's grace and because of the incredible people who have partnered with me, specifically Amanda, my right arm in ministry, we are ready to go!

But even more than being logistically prepared to go, I am finally spiritually prepared to go. My fear of having such low expectations for this trip has been exchanged for incredibly high expectations for God to show up in huge and awesome ways! I am counting on Him rocking our worlds, blowing our minds, and grabbing a hold of our hearts. I have a renewed passion for my students and for my call as a youth worker.

When we just get from point A to point B we only get to point B. No matter what, in a week this trip will be over and we will be home and accomplished our building projects, vbs, and english classes. But I am convinced that the real ministry that we are to do and the real work that God wants to do in our lives in not at point B, but is all along the journey to point B.

Today, I am looking forward to being present, to keep an open mind and heart, so see what God is up to in the individual lives of our students and my friends in Guatemala. I am looking forward to being sensitive to the subtle movements of God in all the individual moments that will make up this trip!

Please pray that I will practice the ministry of presence this week. I am convinced that getting to point B is not the purpose of this trip. It is the unknown ministry that will happen on the way there that is going to rock our wolds! Pray I don't steam roll those moments in my knee-jerk effort to simply get to the end!

Time to pack!

bk

We are taking a little detour . . .

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Dear faithful readers of this blog (i.e. mom),

In just under a week I am taking a team of students and leaders on a mission trip to Guatemala.  For the past few months we have been managing mountains of paperwork and endless logistics combined with team trainings and meetings.  And now, in just under a week we are hitting the road and going to do some incredible ministry alongside an amazing church in the little town of Santa Apolonia.

In an attempt to embrace this new world we live in where access to information and technology is no longer an option, but a way of life, I am coming up with an entirely new social media strategy for this trip.  I am going to intentionally use Facebook and Twitter to share pictures and updates throughout the day.  On top of those updates, I am planning on  using this blog to post a daily summary so that our church (and parents) can be encouraged by all that God is doing in and through our group.  My hope is that our church community would be able to pray specifically for what is going on within our group and in our village, and for me to reflect daily on the places where God is showing up.

For many of you who are younger youth workers, I know you are probably laughing and shaking your head with how slow I am on the uptake with these initiatives.  But for me, who cut my mission trip teeth on CB communication and mixed tapes, I am pretty proud of my progress. :)

All this is to say, that for the next week or so this blog space is becoming an arm of the student ministry of Marin Covenant Church.  So, if you were expecting some sassy blog post about the inner workings of youth ministry, have no fear, those will come back online on the 24th of June.  In the que are posts about over sharing, preaching like Francis Chan, loneliness in student ministry, and a couple of book reviews. Who knows, I may even re-post my epic blog on bikinis.

If you are a parent who is sending your child with me to Guatemala, this is the place for all the latest and greatest regarding the trip.  (Also, don't forget to check out my Facebook or subscribe to my twitter.)

I could really use some extra love and prayers this week as we put together the final details and I find myself wrestling through my heightened anxiety regarding every and all things about this trip.  I do not want to get lost in the details or spin out about what's next.  I long to be present with my students and my friends in the village of Santa Apolonia, and mostly to be present in my walk with God.  God is at work, and I don't want to miss it!

Thank you in advance for your prayers and support!

See you in GUAT!

bk

10 Lessons leaders learn from leading a Youth Mission Trip

Earlier this week I posted a blog about some of the potential dangers of short term missions.  This post has generated some really fun and interesting conversation among my friends, colleagues, and my little social network.  In the course of these conversations Carrie Dotson, who blogs at summernannyjobs.com,  pointed me to her blog post about some of the benefits leaders get when leading a student ministry missions experience.  She brings up some great points and wanted to share them with you.  I love how there are so many voices that speak into student ministry and always gain fresh perspective when I engage them.  I hope you are encouraged!  (Thanks Carrie) SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Leading a mission trip provides church leaders and involved adults with an opportunity to help the young people in your group learn about the power of helping others while spreading the message of Christ. On the surface, it’s more of a learning opportunity for the youth involved than an experience that teaches leadership skills, but there are a variety of lessons that even the adults on a youth mission trip are positioned to learn. If you’re receptive to the experience and approach leading a youth mission trip with an open mind, these are only a sampling of the lessons you can learn along the way.

  1. The Importance of Your Own Influence – Whether it’s helping the young members of your team make a difference in the lives of others while witnessing for Jesus or seeing the changes you help to effect in the lives of others, leading your first mission trip will help you see just how important you are and how much of an impact your efforts truly make.
  2. The Broadening of Your Cultural Horizons – Traveling to Africa or South America to share Christ’s love through service helps you learn more about other cultures, but so does a trip across the country. Removing yourself from the comfort zone you’re used to forces the broadening of your horizons, a valuable lesson regardless of where you learn it.
  3. Crisis Management Skills – There’s no such thing as a group travel expedition that doesn’t include at least one minor crisis, something you’re certain to learn on your mission trip. There’s also a very real difference between crisis management in theory and the practical handling of an unforeseen difficulty.
  4. Conflict Management Skills – Even the closest friends can have a few conflicts when they’re in close quarters on unfamiliar territory, especially when the parties in question are in the throes of adolescence. Leading a mission trip will teach you plenty about how to diffuse a conflict before it gets out of hand.
  5. How to Serve While Leading – Few experiences blend the responsibilities of service with the duties of leadership as completely as leading a youth mission trip. You’ll be responsible for the well-being and safety of your group members, the management of daily tasks and making sure that you do your part to make an impact while you’re visiting.
  6. How to Be a Better Leader – When you’re removed from the familiar areas of your leadership experience and thrust into the role while navigating a strange place, you’ll experience a very real change in the way that you lead your youth group. The hardships of a mission trip will force your strongest qualities to the forefront and help you reevaluate the way you’re leading at home.
  7. The Scope of Others’ Need – Until you witness real poverty or devastation first-hand, it’s difficult to grasp the depth of other peoples’ need. Seeing the way that people in third world countries or even poverty-stricken areas of the United States live will change your perspective on need altogether.
  8. How to Set and Reach Realistic Goals – When your end goal is so large, the only way to reach it is to break it down into a series of smaller, more realistic ones. Managing and leading a mission trip is a great exercise in goal management.
  9. The Power of a Team Effort – Regardless of how strong a leader you may be, the real difference comes when the efforts and strengths of an entire group come together with one common goal in mind. Witnessing the power of a dedicated group of young people will help you learn just how powerful a crowd can be, especially when they’re committed to making a positive change.
  10. The Depth of Your Good Fortune – Seeing just how difficult the circumstances of some lives are can give you a new humbleness and appreciation for how fortunate you really are. Even if you think you’re aware of how good your life truly is, seeing the joy that far less fortunate people take in little victories and everyday triumphs can put your own life into clearer perspective.

Leading a mission trip not only allows you to make a physical difference in the lives of those you witness to, but also gives you the opportunity to offer spiritual guidance as well. While you’re making such a strong effort to improve the living conditions of those you’ve come to help, make sure you keep sight of your primary goal: sharing the message of Christ.

How to make fundraise $10,000 in 3 hours

I hate fundraisers!  And the thought of a bake sale, car wash, auction, rummage sale, flamingo thing, whatever, all make me want to puke.  Hours and hours of work on my end for a few hundred bucks that has to be spread around to a group of kids who did hardly any work anyway has got to be the most disheartening thing in this job.  Well, no more! I came across the silver bullet in student ministry fund raising.  I wish I knew who gave me this idea, because they deserve all the credit and a kick back.  But until I figure that out, I will share it like it is my own :)

Have a Car Wash-A-Thon!

Here is the deal.  At a typical car wash you spend 4-6 hours washing cars for $5-$10 a pop.  If you were really smart you had students pre-sell tickets for $10.  After 6 hours, if you kill it, you walk away with $400 to spread between your 20 students who want to go on the next mission trip.  Nice work, your time and effort reduced the trip by $20 a kid.

NO MORE!!

A car wash-a-thon takes the same car wash and instead of saving $20 a kid, you can save each kid close to $500.  Here is how it works.

1) Every kid gets sponsors from friends and family per car washed.

2) Set up a time and date and do a car wash

3) Make it totally free to those who pass by, wash your car, your students car, anybody's car.  Just wash as many cars as possible.  We washed 52 cards in 2 1/2 hours.

4) Send students out to collect the cash.

If you have your 20 students commit to get $10 a car sponsored, then every car is now worth $500 instead of $5 or $10.  And those 50+ cars just brought in $10,000. YES PLEASE!!

A sidebar: This only works if everyone gets sponsors.  So what I have done is made the students entirely responsible for the cost of the trip.  This one fundraiser, if they choose to use it wipes away almost the entire cost.  If they don't use it, then their folks cut a check, but that is on them, not on me.  And everyone participates whether they need it or not.  Good Luck!