mountain top experience, debrief mission trip, student ministry, youth ministry

The Danger of the Mountain Top Experience

By Tristen Davis May 18, 2020

Understanding the Mountain Top

Soon enough it will be mission trip season, which is quickly followed by post-mission trip season! Not all of us are able to continue with our trip plans as usual, but for those of us that are, here’s some encouragement on furthering the students growth following the mission trip.

Mission trips are a time of great experiences and opportunities for growth, but they come with certain dangers, particularly the “Mountain Top Experience”.  As a youth worker, you already know exactly what this is. Your student went on a retreat, mission trip, LeaderTreks Trip, wilderness excursion, athletic weekend, etc. They come back from this trip, and they are literally on top of the world. They feel on fire for God, and they’re ready to take on the world!  They attend all the youth gatherings, help to lead discussions in their small groups. They say they are ready to jump into the Word everyday, and they tell you of all the big plans they have to serve the Lord. But pretty soon after the initial burst of energy, they come crashing down…often, pretty hard. You sit at the coffee shop waiting for them, and they don’t show. You text them about the plans they were talking about, and they give you a list of excuses. Just like that, you feel like they are right back where they started.

“We need to be careful to not be spiritual adrenaline junkies, where we jump from one spiritual high to the next.”

Think Firecrackers vs. Candles

The reality is all Christians deal with this in some way. We need to be careful to not be spiritual adrenaline junkies, where we jump from one spiritual high to the next. I like to think of it this way: we need to be sure that we’re teaching believers to be candles and not firecrackers.  Now, don’t get me wrong. I love blowing stuff up as much as the next guy, but consider the difference between the two. Firecrackers create an explosion and have a strong initial burst of energy, but it doesn’t last very long. A candle, on the other hand, continues to burn and lasts a great deal longer than the firecracker. Both shine light into the darkness, but only one gives off a light that lasts. And this should give us cause for concern following a mission trip. What can we do to be sure our students are candles instead of firecrackers?

Confront the Danger

First things first, don’t be afraid to talk openly about mountain top experiences with your students. Address it with all of them, and make them aware of the pros and cons of the mountain top. Think of those wonderfully cheesy G.I. Joe cartoons from the 80’s that said, “Knowing is half the battle!” Every mission trip or retreat that I lead, I always take time towards the end of the week to talk to my students about this and to begin to prepare them for what’s ahead.

The second way you can help your students is to help them think of small, bite-sized pieces to take on instead of trying to take down the whole burrito in one bite. If you have ever played a sport, an instrument, or tried out some type of artwork, you know that you shouldn’t start out with the big advanced stuff right away. You take small steps and move towards more advanced techniques later on. Otherwise you find yourself face-first in the water after attempting to jump with a wakeboard your first time up. It may feel like you’re “limiting” your students when you tell them to start smaller, but, in the long run, you are helping them. They will have big plans and fantastic ideas, and you and your adult leaders can help them think of small ways to build up to that point.

The third step is to be sure to follow-up with your students. This is something you should already be doing after the trip, regardless. Have your students pair up with someone on the trip to hold each other accountable, and encourage your adult leaders to do the same. Often times, the best way to follow up with a student is to join them in a particular action step. For example, if you and a student made a plan to get into the Word every day and you both decide to start with the Gospels, then you read with them in the sections you planned. You could also meet with them in person and read it together. Ultimately, just keep holding them accountable and giving them little reminders. If they are keeping with the smaller goals, then gradually add a little more challenge to encourage them to keep growing.

So in this post-mission trip season, don’t let you or your students come crashing down hard. Teach them to be a candle and keep a sustainable light shining in our world and not just a quick blast that will dissipate quickly.

This post was originally shared on Tristen’s blog at https://tristenchats.wordpress.com/

About the Author

Tristen Davis

Tristen Davis graduated from Taylor University studying Social Studies Education and Youth Ministry. For several years he’s worked as both a teacher and youth worker, giving him a unique perspective of how to serve students today. He is always excited to see how God uses him and loves the opportunity to share with others. You…  Read More