Summers fly by. And if life is going to indeed be that busy, we need to switch to thinking about how we are investing our time. It’s no longer about looking for something to fill our time. It’s now about which of these things are going to make the most impact in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Because of my experience as a teenager, I have always been a big proponent for committing to blocking off time for summer mission trips, church camps, worship and student ministry and letting all the small things in life (sports, jobs, etc) fit around that. My humble opinion is shaped by the personal experience I had serving in missions and student ministry as a high school student. It literally shaped my faith and life in indescribable ways.
A summer job for a student can be great. Part-time jobs as a teenager can teach us work ethic, discipline, getting along with others and great skills and experiences. Sports and other activities can also boost confidence, build friendships and keep students in good shape.
HOWEVER, there are only so many years of middle school and high school. The movies make summers feel lazy, but I’ve noticed that student are busier than ever! Squeezing in drivers ed and other summer school classes, lessons, summer leagues, vacations, jobs, and more.
As I mentioned before, I don’t take work lightly. As a high school student, I mowed about 20 yards each week every summer and for a while cleaned a daycare every day. But praise the Lord, I was encouraged and modeled by others to arrange my schedule to participate in the church and ministry in general. As a result, I still to this day remember the times I had with our youth group traveling to Hawaii to sing and serve (and have fun!), traveling to Canada and Maine, and mission trips to Red Bird Mission and beyond. I still have the experience in my heart of helping to build a church in Monterrey, Mexico, and volunteering for a week in a San Fransico homeless shelter. I can’t fathom having traded those crucial life-forming times for 16-20 hours of work that week back home.
Maybe this verse can help put some perspective on this topic: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8
Here are some thought on summer experiences for students, parents and church leaders:
DETERMINE TO PARTICIPATE: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but typically, if you want to do something with the student ministry, your family will do their best to make it happen. Pray that God will give you wisdom about what you do this summer. Determine to make the most of your time in high school by including amazing faith-building opportunities.
GET THE DATES EARLY: Get the date for the mission trip and or the week of summer camp, write that down on your calendar in ink, then work around that for the summer. It really is that simple.
TAKE JOBS THAT GIVE YOU FREEDOM: Make sure when you are getting a summer job that you look for ones that will give you the freedom to arrange your schedule around the most important things in life. Some examples may be lawnmowing, babysitting, or your own other entrepreneurial operations. Other times, as you work in fast-food or other retail, you can let your manager know well in advance – maybe before even taking the job – that you have other firm obligations for these two or three weeks (or for Sunday mornings or whenever). The best bosses will fully understand the life of a teen and the importance to experience lots of different things, not just work.
You will most likely be working the rest of your life – your summers are available now. There is some truth to the fact that you won’t have free time like this for the rest of your life. Now is a great time to participate in student ministry. You can only attend youth mission trips and camps now. Of course, you can go in college or as an adult, but you’re more likely to do that if you’ve had the opportunity as a teen.
STEP OUT IN FAITH: Trust that God will begin planting seeds in your life as you commit to serving and being invested in this way. It’s often through mission trip experiences and/or preaching at summer church camp that students’ hearts are awakened to the unique ways God is calling them. Do your best to be present and available. I’ve heard it said that it’s in worship that we give to God and it’s in mission that we receive from God. Too often, we have this backward.
SET A STANDARD: Students in your home participate in these things. Do your best to help your student get into the mindset of investing their summer and committing to the awesome opportunities to do something of eternal value.
THINK IN TERMS OF INVESTMENT: Help your student set their priorities during the summer. There are so many options, so what is the best way for them to invest their gifts and grow.
HELP FIND THE RIGHT JOB: As I mentioned, jobs are wonderful and teach invaluable experience. But take the time to help your student find the right job – the kind where they are still able to be flexible. As the time this is posted, students have their pick of places of employment!
LIVE OUT FAITH AT HOME: Part of students being faithfully committed to making mission trips, summer camps, and worship a priority is the family making it a priority. Model weekly worship as a family (don’t instill in them the idea that Sunday worship is for those weeks when you’re not busy). It should be an anchor in your home. It’s one of the reasons we will often attend corporate worship even when we’re on summer vacation.
PRAY FOR THE HEART OF YOUR STUDENT: Pray for a heart of faith in Christ for your teen. The battle for the heart of the next generation is real and strong. Keep praying for your students!
FOR CHURCH LEADERS
ADVANCE NOTICE: Student ministry leaders must do the hard work of giving plenty of notice to families for the summer schedule. In most workplaces, vacation weeks must be planned long before many camp and mission trip dates are set in concrete. Get them in early.
REMOVE FINANCIAL BARRIERS: Remove as many financial barriers as possible. As a church, do your best to help fund opportunities for students to attend camps and mission trips in the summer. As you build in these systems, you will be surprised of the number of people willing to help fund these things, who believe in their importance. It’s still good for students and families to invest money in the trips, so they are committed but do your best to keep it cost-effective and open to all.
CREATE TRADITIONS: One of the best ways to keep students and families committed to summer camps, mission trips and student ministry events is to create great traditions. For sure tell the stories and show the photos afterward. Make sure the t-shirt only goes to those who attended. Don’t allow younger students to attend until they are exactly right age/grade. These things will help build a desire in the younger kids around the church who want to grow and take part.
MINISTER TO THOSE WHO RESPOND: In the end, busy students are still your flock. Don’t get upset with families, celebrate when they are there. Don’t cancel a trip or event because there are only a few kids – do it anyway. Get the ball rolling. Minister to those who respond. Don’t forget to recruit, ask, invite and keep hyping it up – but in the end, each student, regardless of their level of commitment is in your fold and you keep planning, praying, calling, serving, and leading them.