student leadership, youth ministry, developing student leaders, coaching student leaders, leadership laboratories, student mission trips

Maximizing Your Summer Mission Trip as a Leadership Lab

By Andy Lawrenson February 28, 2017

In 2015, we took our first overseas mission trip to the island of Eleuthera. Our students willingly did everything that we asked them to do, and we considered the trip to be a great success. Soon afterward, I picked up the idea of leadership laboratories at a LeaderTreks Refuel Retreat. I learned that our mission trip, similar to a LeaderTreks Trip, could be more than an opportunity for students to serve; it could become a greenhouse of student leadership development.

I began to think about ways that I turn our 2016 trip into a leadership laboratory, and I chose to have students plan various aspects of our park outreach ministry. The students made decisions about which games to play, what food to serve, and what crafts and stories to share. And I coached our adult volunteers to step back, give occasional advice, and resist taking over the plans our students were creating.

Before long, the trip was underway and we were unloading the bus for our first day of ministry. Our students immediately started playing ball and making connections with the kids, and I sat on the bleachers and watched. Time began to pass, and one of my adult volunteers asked me, “Isn’t it time for them to start?” I nodded and reminded her that giving students real responsibility required that we let students make and learn from their mistakes.

Not too long after, one of my students came up to me and asked, “Why haven’t we started?” I looked at the student and replied, “Why haven’t you started?” The light bulb came on, and that student quickly stepped up to get the outreach event rolling.

That night we spent time debriefing as a team. My students identified areas that needed improvement, my adults gave additional insights, and together we put a plan in place to make Day 2 more successful.

The next afternoon, our students took the lead the moment they stepped off the bus. They did a phenomenal job gathering the children and getting the event started. I watched as each team jumped in and did their part, and I saw my students pitching in to help their teammates. The plan had worked, and my students were growing!

We leave this June for a third trip to Eleuthera, and it’s shaping up to be another great leadership laboratory. Once again my students are planning our outreach times at the park, and based on their experiences this last year, they are already excited to make changes and adjustments to their plan.

This leadership laboratory may even birth another leadership laboratory in our ministry. In May we have a new park opening in our community, and I’m going to plant the seed in our students’ minds to take what they’ve learned overseas and apply it to a new park outreach program in our own backyard.

What leadership laboratories are currently lying dormant in your youth ministry? Look for (1) students who are ready for responsibility, (2) adults volunteers interested in coaching student leaders, and (3) environments where students can take ownership. Like me, you’ll find that watching your students lead will be the highlight of your ministry year.

About the Author

Andy Lawrenson

Andy Lawrenson has been in student ministry for 26 years both as a volunteer and paid staff member.  Andy and his wife, Misha, have been married for 28 years and have three children: a son in middle school and twin eight-year-olds, a boy and girl. Andy loves getting together with other youth pastors to talk about…  Read More