Three or four years ago I was standing in front of our group giving a standard service/mission experience speech about the rules (“don’t do these dumb things and do make sure to do these awesome things while in an unfamiliar place”), when a heckler (a 15-year-old girl) from the crowd called out, “But what do YOU do all day while we are out working, serving and interacting? Just sit here on your butt and eat and nap and wait for us to come back just to tell us there’s no hot water for showers?”
There were many ways in which I wanted to respond to this sweet girl (heckler), but before I had much of a chance to think about it I said something I hadn’t put to words before: “I’m your tour guide.” By this I meant two things. First, I’m their tour guide in the most obvious, stereotypical sense. Over the years I’ve spent what’s accumulated to months of time in this particular neighborhood where we were at this moment and, like a good tour guide, could point out the basics: interesting views, landmarks, and the best places to get tacos.
However, my intent was not to insinuate that my role as their leader for this experience was to simply walk alongside them noting interesting facts, food tips, and historic locales. No, the second reason I used the term Tour Guide was to let them know that my role that week was to help them recognize, reflect on, and remember the experiences, thoughts, and conversations where God was alive to them.
By labeling myself as Tour Guide, I was pointing out that I wasn’t simply going to be the guy who taught from up front, or who would make sure everything was ready to go each morning, or who would bark orders at that group of ladies who. always. wait. ‘til. the. last. minute. to brush their teeth before lights out. Though I did do these things, and for good reason, I was also committing to leading this particular mission experience in a new way.
What does it look like to lead a mission/service experience as Tour Guide when working with young people?
It looks like pausing not just to point out the best place to get local food, but to highlight the God-filled, and perhaps wordless, conversation they just had with a new friend who doesn’t speak the same language.
It looks like making space to allow them to put down an ebenezer, a spiritual marker, and commit that experience to memory as being not simply significant, but proof that God was at work in this world and using them to participate in it.
It looks like literally stopping kids in their tracks and pointing out, over and over again, the ways they are actively being a part of bringing heaven to earth.
It looks like making space for students to write actual notes and say actual words, actually adjusting your schedules to help mark moments, conversations, interactions, thoughts, feelings, words, whispers, prayers, and desires, and allowing students to say with confidence that God is real.
One of the best parts of my job in youth ministry is getting to play Tour Guide. I expectantly wait for moments where I get to ask the questions that causes them reflect on and then verbalize what it’s like to touch and taste the kingdom of God in the midst of their adolescent struggles. I love getting to literally stop them and point at the things around them and say, “Don’t miss this! This is what you are capable of when you follow Jesus. This is what you get to be a part of when we realize God is up to stuff in our world. This is what all this Jesus-y stuff is all about! This, THIS, is what it means to follow a loving Savior and bring a bit of that love and saving to the world around you. And…isn’t it great?”
If you’re reading this it’s pretty likely you’ll find yourself with an opportunity to lead a 30 Hour Famine as Tour Guide in the near future. And if you read this blog regularly, which you should, it’s pretty likely you’ll find some real life examples and helpful tips on how to do just that.