I've been around a lot of church youth groups for a number of years. I, myself, was once a member of a youth group - back in the day. Later I was a student leader in that group. Several years after that, I served as a youth pastor. Every church I have led for the past 38 years has had a youth group or student ministry of some type or size. But what I am seeing lately among several student ministries has put all of these previous groups to shame.
The difference is missions.
Instead of the "what have you done for us lately?" mindset of so many youth groups of the past, I am noticing a major change in the direction of student ministry - and I like it!
Over the past five years our youth group at Westmoreland Baptist has become involved in mission work. It began with a week at Mission Lab at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary the summer before Katrina, and followed up with a mission trip to New Orleans, the year after the storm. Our group has also has made mission trips to Chattanooga, TN; and Buffalo, NY. They have also done mission work as part of their experience at M-Fuge Camps in Philadelphia, PA and Charleston, SC. I also appreciate the fact that they also have done local work at the Huntington City Mission, and other projects in Wayne County.
This mission emphasis is not being grown in Westmoreland alone. All across the state and nation, Christian kids are not just being taught about missions, they are doing it. While they are still doing all the traditional youth activities, with parties, fifth quarters, lock-ins, camping trips and other outings, they are learning to get their hands dirty in the name of Jesus. Hundreds of kids came to Huntington, WV last month as part of World Changers, and these numbers were multiplied in World Changer projects all across America. Many churches are taking kids and adults on overseas mission trips as well. I thank God for visionary pastors and youth pastors who are modeling Jesus' commission to "Go".
Our older son, Jay, is pastor of First Baptist Church of Westwego (in the metro New Orleans area). His church building was severely damaged by the winds and rain of Hurricane Katrina. Since the storm, FBC Westwego has been the recipient of benefits from mission teams from all over the country. Even though their church plant is now complete, they have made the decision to house other mission groups that come to New Orleans for the ongoing reclamation work in the Crescent City.
This week, FBC Westwego has sent out it's first youth mission team. Student Pastor, Bryan Scholl has chosen Huntington, WV as the are where the Westwego kids would minister. This is appropriate, as Bryan first visited Huntington around 7 years ago as a participant with World Changers, and Huntington has sent several mission groups to minister in their home on the bayou.
The kids from Westwego have teamed up with Westmoreland's youth group (who just got back from M-Fuge) to take on several projects in the Huntington, WV/Ashland, KY area. They started yesterday with a painting project at Westmoreland Baptist Church. This morning, half the group will finish the painting project, while the other half will begin a two day Back Yard Bible Club at Adams Landing Apartment complex. Other work planned for the week involves some light construction projects for a couple of senior ladies, canvassing and witnessing in several apartment complexes and neighborhoods, and yard work for a widow. The kids will have multiple opportunities to show the love of Jesus and witness for Him while serving others.
Last night Linda and I hosted the joint group (and their adult leaders) at a cookout at our house. I am so impressed with these young people and their dedication to the Lord. I am also proud that they are learning the importance of being on mission. We are quickly losing an entire generation of people who were mission minded. How wonderful it is that this younger group of believers are learning missions first hand. May God continue to grow this passion in each of them.