The road trip is one of the greatest things about student ministry. Adventure. Memories. Laughs…God-awful smells from the back of the van. This is the first post in a 6 part series on the things you should know before you get in the van with a bunch of students and go somewhere. These are insights that I have picked up mostly from getting my tail kicked by experience. The better prepared you are to handle life on the road, the better chance you have to provide an experience that your students will never forget!
1. Expect the unexpected
This may be one of the top ten rules of student ministry over all. Its the honest truth. Go anywhere with a group of teenagers and leaders for any extended amount of time, and you NEVER know what can happen. Just be ready.
“You tried to open the van door on the interstate… SERIOUSLY?!?!”
Lost money. Spent money. Didn’t bring money in the first place.
Middle schoolers cussing out people in restaurants.
Interns giving your cell number to the person that just got cussed at.
Fights & pranks that go too far.
Traffic and blown schedules.
Sunburns and explosive diarrhea.
All of these and more… road experiences from trips I’ve taken with students. Expect the unexpected.
2. Prepare as much as possible, but be ready for anything – be flexible
You can have your schedule and itinerary – and someone will be massively late. You can have your trip rules – and students and leaders will push the limits of them. You can have your hotel reservations – and they will get mixed up somehow. You can have the van serviced before you leave – and still something will go haywire. When things happen that are unexpected – just roll with the punches. Be flexible. Your leadership and patience WILL be stretched – but remember this: the amount of flexibility you as the leader react to the situation with, will affect the amount of flexibility your group reacts to the situation with.
Go ahead and stretch yourself out and get flexible… because road trips will stretch you!
3. Set the standards in the pre-trip meeting
Set the bar high. Lay out your expectations to students and parents. Lay out the consequences. Make sure everyone knows where you stand. I’ve always set this standard up front – respect people around you, respect property, respect places we visit. I’ve also made it very clear that as soon as problems with a student arise, Mom and Dad WILL get involved via phone call.
4. Never show your entire hand to a group of teens
Teens can smell fear. They can also smell a completed rooming list from a mile away. One thing that I do to avoid a whole lot of unnecessary trip drama is to not reveal the rooming list until the last minute possible. This has eliminated so many questions and requests and has also kept the student to student drama down. I’ll usually break out the room list when we arrive at the hotel and make sure they know that its final.
What they don’t know is that I’ve been working behind the scenes putting the rooms together: What students mix well with others, and what leaders mix well with what students.
Not EVERYONE needs to know EVERY DETAIL of the trip ALL the TIME.
5. Be careful with discipline and who you empower to discipline
Make sure your leaders are trained on handling issues with students on the trip. Its scary to think that you could be one leader loosing it away from severely damaging your ministry.
Take note of which leaders are and are not able to handle issues that arise with students
Let your leaders know that you are OK with playing “bad-cop” – let them off the hook
Encourage them to dispel and handle minor issues and refer the major ones to you
Build some leader down-time into your trip. Allow them to refresh – people who are agitated and annoyed for an extended amount of time can do some crazy things!