Walking Down the Mountain
We’ve all been there. As summer draws to a close and we ramp up for another school year, already it seems like the camp and mission trips highs that our students experienced are beginning to dwindle and fade into another season of AP classes, travel sports, part-time jobs and full-time stress.
It’s a question we in youth ministry have been pondering since the dawn of our vocation. How do we help our students keep that spiritual closeness to Christ as the craziness of another school year begins? In other words, how do we help our youth walk down the mountain?
1. Expect a Difficult Return
As veteran youth workers, it shouldn’t shock us that our students will have a hard time transitioning back into the “real world.” We do them a disservice when we don’t acknowledge how challenging this transition is or provide any concrete guidance on how to take what they learned at camp and put it into action at home.
The first step is preparing our youth for a difficult return is to talk about it together as a group. Many teenagers already have difficulty articulating their thoughts and feelings. How can we expect them to share what was perhaps the most meaningful week of spiritual growth in their lives? Here’s what one of my high schoolers said last week when sharing about our Maine mission trip with our congregation, “It’s like seeing the latest movie and trying to describe it to someone that hasn’t seen it yet.” Only it’s a million times harder.
So, what do we do to help our youth? Give them the time and space to share how much camp meant to them. Encourage them to write down their thoughts and feelings as a way to process them. Tell them to think of a few especially meaningful moments or lessons they learned and help them express themselves so they have something articulate to share with their friends and family at home.
2. Hold onto Each Other
Inevitably, our students grew closer to one another over their mountaintop summer experience. Whether it was becoming cabin mates for a week or bathing together in the same frigid pond every day, friendships were deepened and outsiders became insiders.
I know this happened on my mission trip. I took two groups of high schoolers to Maine and brought home one group bonded together over two 14-hour car trips, dry-walling in a small library basement, leading VBS, cliff diving and so much more.
The second piece of advice I give my students is to hold onto each other. The friendships they made are real. The spiritual growth they shared is genuine. No one understands your struggle to walk down the mountain more than your fellow climbers. Plus, who doesn’t love the inside jokes?
The number of our Thursday night coed high school small group attendees doubled after our mission trip. The group has decided to have movie nights at someone’s house after small group is over. With my encouragement, they’ve reached out to include the high schoolers that didn’t attend our mission trip and also included the rising 9th graders that are joining their ranks.
3. Let Your Light Shine
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16
Summer mountaintop experiences change us for the better. We’re not quite as wrapped up in ourselves. We realize that we can survive a week without our cell phones (even if it means giving someone else your Snapchat info so you can continue your streak).
Summer trips tend to be about searching our hearts just as much as they are about serving others, sharing campfires, sleeping less and so much more.
What our youth need to hear more than anything else from us is that their mountaintop experience is just the beginning of the life that God has called them to live. I encourage my youth to surround themselves with Christian friends that can love them, challenge them and share the mountaintops and valleys together. This means finding the courage to ask someone to be your mentor or accountability partner. It means committing to reading the Bible together and then honestly sharing what you did or didn’t learn.
As we in youth ministry sometimes like to say, it’s doing life together.
Last Thursday, my high schoolers and I had a terrific conversation about how to make our Sunday night meetings more inviting to their non-Christian friends. I’ve always told them it’s our group, not mine, but it’s exciting to see them taking ownership, offering their input and leading with me walking alongside them for encouragement, support and a helping hand.
They’re letting their lights shine and we’re walking down the mountain together hand-in-hand.
So Walk Down this Mountain
Just as Moses’ face was radiant with light from being in presence of God (Exodus 34:29-30), so should we walk down this mountain with our students ready to let our lights shine before others so they can see our love, our unity and our God who offers all of us a taste of the meaning of this life.
“So walk down this mountain
With your heart held high
Follow in the footsteps of your maker
With this love that’s gone before you
And these people at your side
If you offer up your broken cup
You will taste the meaning of this life.” -Bebo Norman, Walk Down this Mountain
Bryan Lees is the Director of Youth Ministry at Hope Presbyterian Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia. A Master of Divinity Student at Reformed Theological Seminary Washington D.C., he’s spent the past ten years working with children and youth at various churches and summer camps. When he’s not cheering on his Green Bay Packers or buried in seminary books, he loves hanging out with kids teaching them about Jesus. Bryan infrequently BLOGS at and you can connect with him on FACEBOOK.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.