10 things mission trip staffers need from adult leaders

Worried first-time mission trip adult leaders often ask me, “What can I do to be a good adult leader?”

As someone who is not only a youth worker and a parent but also a former mission trip staffer, I have a unique perspective on this. I still remember the best adult leaders from the summer I spent working for YouthWorks! seventeen years ago. They served during two different weeks, attended two different churches, and yet shared many of the same qualities. With their example in mind, here's what mission trips staffers need from adult leaders to make your mission trip a success.

1. Trust. Mission trip staffers are typically young (college-aged students), yet they've been living in their community and know it better than you do. So trust them. Trust their decisions. Trust their guidance. Trust their leadership.

2. Leadership. Even though mission trip staffers want you to trust their leadership, they also need you to lead. Take responsibility for your team. Ensure they get where they need to be at the right time. Handle crowd control, dress, and behavioral issues so that staff don't have to. Lead your work crew well so that when staff can't be at a service site during the day, they can trust that all is going well.

3. A willingness to NOT be the expert. You may have more experience in a particular area than your mission trip staffers but even so, it's not your job to show them how to do something better or more efficiently. If you come from a business background, you probably can do something better or more efficiently than them, but you may not be able to do so with the budget and supply constraints they have. Chances are good, they're the experts in working in the particular situation they find themselves in. What's more, efficiency is not actually the goal of a mission trip. Building relationships, serving God, and growing in your faith is.

4. Questions. This may seem like a strange thing to cite, but one thing mission trip staffers need from you are questions. Rather than contradicting them or teaching your teens to do something in a different way, if something doesn't make sense, if you feel like you're lacking supplies, or if you have a suggestion for a different way of doing something, ask a question. Doing so gives staffers a chance to lead, save face, and make something more clear for EVERYONE. Asking a question and deferring to the staff person's answer also allows staffers to grow in their leadership skills.

5. A relationship. Take time to get to know your mission trip staffers. Ask them questions about their lives, how they ended up working for the mission trip organization you're serving with, and about the community where you're serving. Doing so cares for your staffers, something they'll deeply appreciate during a long summer.

6. A partnership. Well-trained mission trip staffers recognize their limited role in the life of your kids. They know that YOU are the person who will continue to lead your teens after your mission trip is done and for that reason, they will usually (rightly) defer to you. Having said that, your week will go much better if you view your mission trip staff as partners in ministry. Although their impact will be limited on your teens, it can still be important. People I took on mission trips as teens ten years ago can still name their mission staffers and often talk about the impact they had on their faith. 

7. Affirmation. Serving with a mission trip organization is simultaneously one of the best and hardest things I've ever done. It will be for your staff as well. Knowing that, look for ways to affirm your staffers in what they're doing.

8. Honest conversations. Any good mission trip organization will ask you for an evaluation once you're through serving with them. However, don't surprise your staff workers with criticism on that evaluation. That's not fair to them (or the team you're serving with!) If you have a concern about something during the week, talk to your staff workers about it. Better yet, first talk to your trip leader and see if you can troubleshoot the issue yourself. If not, then go together to talk to the staff about it. No matter how serious the problem is, approach the conversation with love and grace.

9. Presence. Mission trip staffers know how difficult it is to be away from home. They've been doing it all summer! Even so, they depend on you to be fully present during your time together. So, leave your cell phone at home. Or if you bring a cell phone, limit its usage. Rather than scrolling aimlessly through Facebook, engage your staff in conversations or better yet, talk to the teens on your team. Participate fully in whatever it is your team is doing.

10. Participation. During my summer as a mission trip staffer, I often encountered adults who knew they were expected to participate when they were on site somewhere serving, but who seemed to think that once they returned to our housing site, they were off duty. That's not the case! Mission trip staffers depend on you to participate and lead throughout the day – whether that's during meals, service projects, evening activities, or worship. Teens mimic what they see their leaders doing, so if you participate, they will too.

Doing these ten things will help ensure you have a great mission trip week, something that will not only benefit you, but the community you're serving and your entire mission trip team.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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