During my eight years of high school ministry at Valley Covenant, I led several summer trips, including a mission trip to North Carolina with the Covenant’s “Merge Ministries” that focuses on connecting Covenant churches with ministry opportunities all over the country and world… a discipleship trip with two other youth groups to live on a houseboat in Arkansas for a week… and of course, several trips to the Covenant’s former triennial event called CHIC. But in all my years, the best trip I ever led was a “Community Live-in” in 2021, which was based on a ministry event I first put together ten years ago.
The original idea was hatched 10 years ago at the Covenant Church in Princeton, Illinois. The concept hinged on the reality that most of our students had a desire to grow in their faith alongside their peers, but in the grand scheme of things, we only spent an hour or two together per week… if that! So an idea came together where we would invite students to live together at the church for a week. Some thought it might be like an extended “Lock-in”, but we were intentional to not go that direction. The week was planned in a way where students had a rhythm to each day that emphasized Christian community. Each day we began and ended our time in small groups; learning and praying together. The students were also in service groups that had different tasks to do, from making certain meals, cleaning up after dinner, or even doing basic chores like vacuuming or taking out the trash. And it was all done with a spirit of service toward one another. The result of the week was nothing short of transformation for the group of high school students. The depth in conversation and the changes we saw in the relationships afterward could not be matched with any other program or event that we tried. It was incredible.
Moving forward the clock about eight years… the world changed in an instant and all of a sudden, students were left at home for months, some in relationally broken homes… and the community of our youth group at Valley Covenant was crumbling. Depression was skyrocketing. Some students loved the isolation, and others were desperate to have people around them again. Opportunities to pour into one another’s lives were limited and from a zoom screen. Additionally, all the plans we had for our youth ministry’s summer trip in 2020 (a mission trip to Alaska!) were cancelled. So as we began to come out of our homes and wonder what 2021 could be, an idea came to me. What if we brought back the Community Live-in, but this time, we get out of our town and go to another community to learn from them. Florida immediately came to mind, especially because I had a good relationship with the lead Pastor at the Covenant Church in Orlando, and I knew the types of community ministry programs they were doing. So in July 2021, we went. And I have to say, it was one of the most transformative, relational and life-giving discipleship trips I had ever led.
I wanted to share this history with you because this is where the plans for our upcoming high school trip came from. When I was being interviewed for this position, I was clear with the search team that my biggest strengths and passions in ministry center around building community through shared experiences, authentic relationships, and life-giving study of scripture. So the very first thing I thought of for our re-formed student ministry program was to plan an opportunity for our students to do all these things together for a week; To live together, serve together, and simply play and make memories together. And as I shared my idea of the Community Live-in with the students who began attending early on, it was clear that this is where God is guiding us for this summer.
Plans are coming together now, as we have seven students and three leaders signed up to attend the Community Live-in down in Orlando, Florida from July 5 -11. As we prepare, please pray for us. Many of the students and leaders have limited experience together, and we are asking them to trust one another as they live and serve alongside each other. Pray for safety in travel and on our service projects. Pray for wisdom for the leaders. Pray for the spirit to move in our conversations, as we dive into scripture to see what it has to teach us about community in the Kingdom of God. Pray for the finances to come together. We had a great start to fundraising with the Soup Sampler and Dessert Auction, but we have much more to raise to cover the cost of the transportation, food and housing for this trip. And above all else, pray for our students to grow closer together and deeper in faith; that they may be transformed individually and into the community that God desires us to be.
As always, if you have any questions about the Community Live-In this summer or any of our high school ministries, please come and see me!