I remember my first real road trip as a young man. It was with a group of fifty plus teenagers from Colorado Bible Church. Our destination was a camp in Hollywood, Florida...in July...on an overcrowded school bus with no air conditioning. Did I mention that our starting point was Denver, Colorado? Strange smells indeed. Let's just say that this particular summer camp didn't conclude with a baptism in the Atlantic Ocean. It started with one, just to scrub the stink off.
In spite of the odor challenges I will never forget that spiritually life-altering week. God used it to transform my young life. It was at this camp that I really began to catch a vision for what God could do through an army of fired up teenagers (there were 2,000 of them or so at this particular camp.) It was there that God moved my heart to make a difference with my life by investing in teenagers.
To be honest this change of perspective began before I ever got to Hollywood. It started on the bus ride. Driving from Denver to south Florida was a two day extravaganza and Kenny Sanchez, the bus driver and my youth pastor, asked me to stay up with him to talk as he drove into the late hours of the night. As teenagers snored and snoozed all around us we had a deep conversation about the power of the gospel and the difference that one teenager could make. Kenny believed in the power of the gospel and the potential of young people. Kenny believed in me. When I walked off that bus two days later I wasn't just soaked in sweat I was drenched in faith. I knew that God wanted to use me, and other teenagers, to make a difference
That road trip changed my life.
Youth ministry is like a road trip. It's full of twists and turns and lots of late night conversations. And it's on this road trip that youth leaders often encounter some big problems:
What's your flat tire? In other words what are your personal and ministry capacity challenges? Of course you could ride on the rims all the way to your destination but if you want to make it to your destination as safely and quickly as possible you probably want to fix that flat before you step on the accelerator.
Maybe that flat is a relational challenge that you have with another member of the youth staff. It could be a nagging sin in your personal life that is holding you back. Maybe you just need to pump up your prayer life by going on a spiritual retreat. Flat tires could range from physical challenges to spiritual hang ups to emotional break downs. Whatever is holding you back from driving that church van all the way to San Jose is your "flat tire." Fix it.
Youth leaders who are using a typical youth group curriculum may be unknowingly using a flawed map to get to where they really want to go. In a way publishing groups are determining the ultimate destination of many youth groups by default. Whatever the philosophy of the writer becomes the road map for the youth group and although I'm sure there are many good maps out there there are most likely some very flawed ones at well. My challenge to youth leaders is to refuse to delagate, abdicate or relegate the direction your youth ministry takes to some person whose theology/philosophy you are not sure of. Why? Because bad directions are a stinking waste of your time, your life and your youth ministry potential. Ask the hard questions. Evaluate youth ministry curriculum before you buy. Make whatever adjustments you need to make to their maps before you teach them to your teenagers. How? Evaluate whatever map you use by the compass of God's Word and make sure it is leading you to lead your young passengers in the right direction.
After all this talk of bad maps and lousy directions I have to tell you something that may surprise you. I believe that most youth ministries are headed in the right direction, they are just not going far enough! If we make our ultimate destination as a youth group "Survival City" (i.e. to the place where our teen don't bag their faith after high school) then we may have missed the better city just down the road (i.e. serious commitment to Christ!) And, although "Serious City" is a great destination, an even better one may be one more city down the road...The town called "Multiply." Not all the kids will make it there but some will. And those who do will do more than just survive they will thrive and spiritually multiply by making disciples who make disciples.
This is where Jesus drove his disciples. Although plenty of people got off his bus after they were converted, and some rung the bell for Jesus to pull over after they got filled up with loaves and fishes, he had a handful (eleven of the twelve disciples) who make it all the way to "Multiply."
What's the lesson for us here? Simple. If we don't have Multiply as our ultimate destination none of our kids will make it there. Most will likely hop off the bus before it ever rolls into town. But if we can get a handful the whole way then these road warriors will produce 30, 60 and a hundred fold (see Mark 4 and the Parable of the Sower for proof of this.)
Let's choose our ultimate destination, fix our flats and get driving. As we do let's make sure we are using the compass of God's Word to make sure our maps are leading us in the right direction.
Oh yeah, and don't forget the Red Bull.