FREE V.B.S. Graphics

We know the time is upon us to start preparing for Vacation Bible School. There are many wonderful VBS resources out there for purchase, but we know some congregations either can’t afford the packages or simply like to prepare their own materials. We here at SPU decided to help you out with some FREE graphics we created just for such an occasion.

We’ve included all the basic graphics you need to help promote your VBS such as PowerPoint Slides, name tags, graphics, and VistaPrint-ready customizable postcards. You’ll need a graphic editor such as Photoshop or Gimp to customize, but we’ve also included JPG and PDF forms for those who want a less custom feel. 

We chose the theme “Out of This World” for our graphics. You can use whatever Bible themes you’d like with this. We used this theme several years ago at a VBS and we did Out of This World Bible stories and chose some of the more amazing stories in the Bible, but there are many directions you could go. Once again this material is free to use and distribute as you see fit. All we ask is that you help us share it on social media! Enjoy the files and have a great VBS!

4 Must-Haves For Your Church Website

We live in a high-tech world. Love it or hate it, it’s the way of the world and the church has a responsibility to meet people where they are, even if that place is the world wide web. The problem is, so many congregations have failed to keep up with the times and while most congregations have a church website, some of them look like they are still awaiting Y2k. While there are certainly a number of things that your church website needs, here are some simple must-haves.

  1. Mobile Friendly Web Design– This is also known as a responsive website which is fancy talk for “it looks as good on your phone as it does on your computer”.  A HUGE population of people now are using their smart devices to access content (think 80%) which means if your site isn’t mobile ready, you are not reaching a major group of people who I assure you will not stay on your website.
  2. Clear Contact Information/Directions– This is probably one of two reasons people are coming to your site. They either want to contact you via email/phone or they want to know how to get to your building. Providing clear directions is extremely important and that often includes more than just listing an address. If you know that your location is somewhat difficult to find, then provide additional details that will help visitors find you easily.
  3. Worship/Bible Study Times- This is probably the second biggest reason people will visit your website. Make this clear and easy to find and understand.
  4. A link to Your Social Media Profiles- At a minimum, your congregation should have a Facebook page; if it doesn’t, do it now! Seriously, we’ll wait right here while you go and do it. It’s free and it opens up a whole new level of communication to your congregation and potential visitors. Your website should have a clear link to those social media profiles, where you regularly post.

If your congregation needs some help with a new website or a website makeover, get in touch with our design company, Parker and Marie Design Co.  Not only will you get a great looking website, but you’ll be helping support Stuff Preachers Use, as well.

 

5 Free or Cheap Design Resources for Churches

As you read in our article recently, we truly believe great design has an important place in ministry. We also know that most churches are on a tight budget, so we made a list of places to help. Here are five great free or cheap resources for churches.

 

  1. Creative Market – This one isn’t free, but it is inexpensive. You can find everything from fonts to flyer templates to WordPress themes. All of them are of great quality and professionally designed.
  2. Font Squirrel – Ridiculous name. Awesome Fonts. All the fonts on font squirrel are licensed for commercial use and FREE.
  3. Unsplash – This is a free, royalty free, image source with a focus on high quality images.
  4. VistaPrint – Vistaprint is a fast, affordable way to obtain professionally printed items at a very affordable rate. They also have professionally designed templates on nearly all their items, making your design time even less.
  5. Dribbble – This one doesn’t provide much in the way of downloads or templates, but it does provide a great source of inspiration. Dribbble is a community of amazing designers sharing their work. You can search for inspiration on logos, brochures, etc.

Have a favorite design source we left off? Let us know in the comments below.

Why Design Matters in Ministry

We get an occasional email or comment here at SPU from some folks who fuss at us for putting an emphasis on design in ministry. They say things like “the word of God doesn’t need to be fancy to be powerful” or “ministry isn’t about how good things look” and with those statements we wholeheartedly agree. However, that isn’t to say that good design in ministry isn’t important.

The fact of the matter is, that people, whether we like it or not, do in fact, judge a book by its cover. And not just books; it’s flyers, logos, visual presentations, the whole package. In a world where so many things are begging for our attention, great design can be the difference between being seen and being ignored. I’m not suggesting that you can’t have a great ministry or  a great congregation if you don’t have amazing graphics or fancy flyers. I am suggesting that, for the most part, the church could benefit from paying more attention to how it presents information in our modern age.

Take the classic gospel meeting flyer, for example. Here’s what I’ve noticed is a pretty standard form for a flyer:

  1. White or brightly colored copy paper
  2. Black ink (mostly poor print quality)
  3. Name of the Church in plain serif font followed by the words “invites you to” in some form or another
  4. The word “Gospel Meeting”, “Revival”, or some other phase
  5. A picture of the speaker
  6. Topics
  7. Phone number/address of the building

 

Then we take those and hand them to hundreds of folks who probably don’t look twice at it because, frankly, it’s not worth looking at. I’m not saying the information is useless. I’m saying maybe if a little more effort went into what the flyer looked like folks would at least give it a glance. The greatest information in the world is useless unless people actually look at it.

Now, some of you are going to call me out and say that it’s the most economical way to do it. You might be right, but is it the best way? Isn’t the kingdom of God supposed to be our most important task on Earth? If we’re going to hand out a flyer, shouldn’t it be one that we think will at least get looked at? Besides, a nice looking handout isn’t as expensive as you might think. You can get 100 full-color, professionally printed postcards for under $15 from Vistaprint. They even have free professionally designed templates for you to use, so all you have to do is enter the information.

Furthermore, it’s not just flyers; it’s our websites, PowerPoints, bulletins, etc. If we’ve decided they’re worth doing, why not take some time to make sure they’re seen? Is great design going to drive the masses to your congregation or save a 100 million souls? Nope, but it might be the difference in just one and to me that’s worth its weight in gold.  

8 Books Every Minister Should Read

Guest Post By: Michael Whitworth  of Start2Finish Books

I’m an avid reader, and with the exception of a brief period during my college and post-collegiate years, I’ve always loved books. As an author, I know that my writing is only as good as my reading habits. For preachers and ministers, we need help with our creativity at times, and reading (both the Bible and other literature) helps keep the pump primed and well full. One of the worst feelings in the world is having a speaking assignment and not knowing what to say. Speaking only for myself, my avid reading habits help keep this feeling at bay.

This list is by no means exhaustive (I had to draw the line somewhere), nor is it scientific. I didn’t conduct nay polling or research. Instead, I tried to think of the eight books that have been most formative to me as a minister. The easiest one would be the Bible, of course. And it’s not listed here only because I think it’s a given. Your effectiveness as a minister is directly tied to how much time you devote personally to a study of the Word. Not for a sermon or lesson you are preparing, but for no more than your personal spiritual benefit. That said, I’d also commend these books to you:

1. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

This was the first book by Lewis I ever read (I somehow managed to graduate childhood without ever having read the Narnia series). I’m also a huge fan of satire and its ability to smuggle truth through the back door, slapping you in the face before you ever see what’s coming. In this book, Lewis exposes the tricks and schemes that Satan uses to destroy us spiritually. The apostle Paul would often remind his audience that he did not want them to be ignorant of Satan’s schemes, and books like The Screwtape Letters can help us think methodically through the traps often laid for us. You won’t agree with everything Lewis talks about (which could be said for every other book in this list), but this book will challenge you spiritually in any number of ways. In fact, it’s a book I enjoy reading every few years as a sort of diagnostic checkup on my soul.

2. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Christian bookstores are full of discipleship tomes that exhort us to be more like Jesus and to follow him at any cost. Few of those books, however, were written by someone forced to walk his talk. For those who don’t know, Bonhoeffer was a German pastor in Nazi Germany who was implicated and arrested in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was eventually executed by the Nazis, and while it’s still murky as to whether he was really out to kill Hitler, there’s no doubt at all that he was a vocal critic of the Fuehrer and how fascism had corrupted the German church. More so than any other book on the subject, Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship will challenge you with the uncomfortable implications of what it means to leave all behind and follow Jesus.

3. What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey

I discovered Yancey at a very difficult time in my life. I read “The Jesus I Never Knew” only two weeks after the unexpected death of my father, and less than four months later, I had read everything else I could find from Yancey’s pen. In his book on grace, Yancey explores the subject from nearly all angles and asks penetrating questions. Can God really forgive someone like me? Why is it that, when some think of grace, the last thing the think of is the church? and so on. Yancey is a journalist by trade, and so he writes in a very appealing, accessible manner. You’ll be drawn into the book as if you were drinking coffee with the author in his own living room–a style I prefer. I promise you that you won’t ever look at grace—or God—the same way after reading this book.

4. The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs

This isn’t a religious book by any means. In fact, you deserve disclaimer that there is some foul language at times, but for understandable reasons. This is a book about the relationships between U.S. presidents beginning with Hoover and Truman. I love this book because it not only gives a fascinating glimpse into our past leaders, but is excellent in its anecdotes concerning relationships and human behaviors. Washington D.C. has no monopoly on politics; such sadly exists in ministry and church. Perhaps one of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned is that it’s possible for someone to be a decent human being and I still disagree with them. There is no reason to castigate them as the devil in disguise. This book drove that message home as it explored unlikely friendships (Hoover-Truman, Eisenhower-LBJ, Bush-Clinton, Nixon-Clinton), as well as relationships that were pretty frigid (Eisenhower-Kennedy, Carter-Clinton, Clinton-Obama).

5. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

I first read this book in college and have loved it ever since. The fact that Peterson chose as the book’s title a famous phrase from Friedrich Nietzsche makes it even better. Using the 15 Songs of Ascent in the book of Psalms, Peterson discusses what it means to live the Christian life, especially as a pilgrimage. This is another of those books you will want to read every few years. It will help you feel closer to the generations of saints that have come before you.

6. Expository Commentaries by Alexander Maclaren

Of the writing of Bible commentaries, there is no end. There are many, many commentaries I could recommend to you, and not every commentary fills every need. But if there is such a thing as a commentary that I enjoy sitting down with and reading, cover to cover, its those by Alexander Maclaren. His prose is fantastic, his points hit hard and home, and he will leave you in awe of God, in horror of your sin, and in love with Jesus. Maclaren’s commentaries have been published in multiple volumes by some publishers, but they are also now in the public domain if I’m not mistaken, and thus available online in several places. I cannot recommend a commentary series enough if you want help in thinking through the application of Scripture while at the same time drinking deeply from the fountain of godliness.

7. The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs

This book is religious only in regards to its subject matter. But it’s a delight nonetheless. Jacobs, an editor for Esquire magazine, writes books chronicling his latest “experiments.” In one book, he set out to read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica, and in another, his quest was to become the healthiest person alive by pursuing any and all diet fads, nutritional supplements, exercise crazes, and the like. In this book, Jacobs (a Jew, but only by heritage) sets out to live out all 613 laws in the Old Testament…literally. It’s a comical story: my favorite anecdotes included his attempting to stone adulterers (he throws at a pebble at the foot of a man who confessed to being a philanderer) and to avoid sitting where a menstruating woman might have sat (he ends up carrying a camp stool everywhere he goes, even the subway, just to be on the safe side). The book is funny, but it also provides valuable insight into how non-WASPs think about God and the Bible. If we want to reach the world, we should probably get a handle on how they look at things. The year-long experience of trying to literally live out the Bible was helpful for Jacobs; he still doesn’t attend synagogue, but he sends his boys to a religious school because he sees the value of growing up with religious principles instilled in you. That, I guess, is a start.

8. A Survey of Israel’s History by Leon Wood

This is an odd book to throw in at the end like this, but hear me out. I found this book among my dad’s library several years after he had passed away. At first, I didn’t think it would be worth much as to the information it contained. But I was very wrong. I’ve since come to appreciate Wood’s scholarship and writing style. This book is what the title claims, a systematic survey of the history of Israel (i.e. the Old Testament). This book has been invaluable to me in terms of connecting the dots and piecing together information in the Bible that is often hard to collate. He also draws on what we know from secular history and how it influences the events of Scripture. Other historical surveys of the Old Testament period exist, but I think Wood’s is the best.

8 Tips for Better Visual Presentations

Let’s be honest: We’ve all used  seen some pretty awful PowerPoint presentations. You know what I’m talking about. With all the resources available to preachers and teachers today, don’t fall victim to terrible presentations. If you’re going to invest the time to do a visual presentation with your lesson, take the time to do it right. Here are some tips for better visual presentations:

  1. Don’t Just Read Your Slides Verbatim. If you’re using your PowerPoint as just a giant version of your outline, you’re doing it wrong. Seriously. Science has proven that you can’t actually comprehend what someone is saying and read the slide at the same time. People don’t want to be read something they can read faster than you can talk. If you want to make sure everyone has your outline, print it out and hand it out after your lesson.
  2. Don’t Crowd Your Slides. Trying to fit too much on a slide is a big no-no. Try to keep it under 10 words per slide. Don’t try to jam every word in, rather use the visual image to reinforce what you’re saying.
  3. Keep It Simple. The best presentations I have ever witnessed were also the simplest. There’s no need to go for fancy to make your presentation be effective. Forgo fancy transitions, fonts, and colors for a nice, clean, simple presentation. Your listeners will thank you.
  4. Use high-quality images. If you acquire your images by Google search only and they have watermarks, are bad quality, or cheesy, you need to look into better sources. There are many, many sources for acquiring free or cheap stock images that will make your presentation pop. This is a great source for high-res images: https://unsplash.com/
  5. Use No More than Three Fonts. Ideally you should use no more than 2, but if you must, add a third. Too many fonts only makes for confusion for your listeners and distracts from your presentation.
  6. Use Easy to Read Fonts.  Stick to poster fonts, simple serif and sans serif fonts that are easy to read and are legible. Please, for the sake of us all, don’t use Curlz, Comic Sans, or Papyrus. Try getting your fonts from here: https://www.fontsquirrel.com/
  7. Be cohesive. Make your slides look like they belong together and weren’t thrown together haphazardly. Choose a color scheme of 1-2 colors and stick with it. Don’t feel pressured to have an image on every slide and don’t be scared of white space.
  8. Don’t Let It Be a Crutch. Remember, visual presentations are supposed to reinforce your sermon, not be your sermon. If your lesson would be destroyed because PowerPoint failed, you might want to reevaluate how you are presenting sermons.

Visual presentations can be an awesome source for teachers and preachers when utilized properly. These simple tips can drastically improve the overall quality of your presentation. If you’re looking for some additional help, I highly recommend the book Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.

 

Why Your Congregation Should Use Facebook Ads

We live in a social media-dominated society. Love it or hate it, it’s the reality of our presence. It’s been my observation that, though churches have come leaps and bounds in their ability to actively use this to their advantage, many have not fully invested in such. If your congregation spends any money at all on advertising events, meetings, etc. consider spending some of that on Facebook ads. Before I tell you the benefits of doing this, I’m making an assumption that your congregation has a dedicated Facebook Page. If it doesn’t, stop reading this right now and go create one. Here are some benefits to paying for Facebook ads:

  1. They’re budget friendly. As as small business owner, this factor was the most important to me when I first began my business. You set what you want to spend; anywhere from $5-$5000+ can get you started on an ad.
  2. They’re target specific. This, perhaps, is the most beautiful aspect of Facebook ads for churches. The targeting demographics you can use are nearly limitless. For example, say you’re having a Ladies event coming up that you’d like your county and other surrounding counties to know about. With Facebook ads, you can create an ad targeted towards females age X-X, in the location(s) of your choosing, and who are interested in Christianity, Christian Values, etc. It’s an unbelievably effective way to reach exactly who you want to reach!
  3. They’re far reaching. I can tell you from experience with my business that you get an unbelievable value from a small investment as people begin sharing and commenting on your ad. Recently, one of my businesses ran a targeted ad for $100 over the course of 7 days and reached 60,000 customers, all with vested interest in our product.
  4. They’re easy to create. Seriously, a nice ad is easily created without any fuss, or even moving from your computer. A well written header, a nice picture, and a few clicks selecting your audience and it’s done.

At this point, I’m sure some of you are asking why you would pay for advertising when you can post to Facebook for free. You are correct about this, you can post to Facebook for free and rely on others to share it. The problem is that with Facebook’s algorithm, (how they determine who sees what) even the people who like your page might not see it. Is this deliberately designed to make you use Facebook ads to get your stuff seen? Of course! Don’t forget that Facebook is a business first and foremost. They WANT to make money, it’s their job. I realize this rubs some groups the wrong way, but don’t let it bother you; take advantage of it! You’re missing out on a huge reach opportunity if you only use the free aspect.

Here are some ways you can use Facebook ads for you congregations:

  • Make a fun video promoting VBS
  • Advertise your gospel meeting
  • Gather questions that you can answer at a later date
  • Promote a service event in your community
  • Promote your page to gain more followers and interaction
  • Promote your website and guide users to specific areas of your website
  • Promote correspondence courses

The possibilities of how it can be used are endless!

Before you use your first ad let me give you a couple tips:

  1. Not every post needs an ad.  As I’ve said, Facebook ads are great, but don’t feel pressure to use them every time you post something. Use them when you’re trying to reach a greater audience than normal or have a specific group you’d like reach.
  2. Be Prepared For Comments. Everybody on the internet has an opinion and sometimes those opinions are nasty. It comes with the territory of using social media. Stay on top and respond to all of the comments that you can. Don’t allow arguments or negativity to take over your comments post! Don’t be afraid to delete comments that are hostile, inflammatory, or abusive. Also, don’t delete a comment just because it’s negative, rather offer to discuss the issue privately in person or through your pages messenger app.

 

Facebook ads are a fantastic, effective way to reach people in our modern world! If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot.

 

 

 

 

Planning Your Preaching

When I was first drafted into a full-time pulpit I was a youth minister asked to serve as interim preacher. I recall my wife asking if I was worried or nervous about taking on this task. I told her my one worry was, “I just don’t know if I can come up with that many lessons each week!”

Talking with other preachers over the years, I have found that I am not the only one to ever think along those lines. Having to come up with anywhere from 3 to 6 lessons a week, plus devotionals and articles can be a daunting task for any preacher. Many know that anxiety that comes round each Monday because they have no idea what they are going to preach about next Sunday.

Those first years of full-time preaching were a tremendous learning experience. My delivery improved, as well as other areas of my ministry, but I felt like that the hodgepodge manner in which I continued to throw lessons together was far from acceptable. So, although I am not a “planner” by nature, I decided to plan my preaching a year in advance. Now, almost a decade later I am still making these yearly plans.

While I am neither the most experienced nor the most accomplished preacher out there, I do appreciate the opportunity to share my two cents. I recommend that every preacher make out a sketch of his year in preaching. He will discover, as I have, planning ahead removes stress and provides the satisfaction of having a clear view of where you are leading the congregation. It will assist you in faithfully proclaiming the whole counsel of God and add depth to your Bible study.

1. Put in the Time – Like anything worthwhile, sermon planning takes time (this is probably why many preachers never attempt it). I would argue that never having to scramble and find a sermon to preach is time well spent. Preachers approach this process in different ways. Some I know of start this process around September, another says he makes use of Thanksgiving holiday, and another says he usually does this planning on summer vacation with his family. Personally prefer to begin my initial planning in August. I have found this allows me to already have a preaching direction in mind by the time I go to Polishing the Pulpit. This provides me with an opportunity to look for materials and books that will assist me all year. The point is set aside time and start planning. If you wait too long in the year the effort becomes the stressful scramble you are trying to avoid.

 2. Get out Your Calendar – The first place to start is to make note of specific dates. These would include:

  • Days you will not be speaking. Vacation days, days you will be gone for meetings, dates when guest speakers will be speaking, etc. Remember to talk to your Elders about any guest speakers they may not have shared with you, like visiting missionaries.
  • Congregational dates. Vacation Bible School, Gospel Meetings, Friends and Family Days, etc. These may not only affect the immediate dates, but may affect your preaching leading up to these events.
  • Secular holidays (Mother’s day, etc), Historic dates (12/7, 9/11, etc), and Religious days (Yom Kippur, Passover, etc). I do not believe we always have to preach Mother’s Day sermons and the like, but these dates often do provide unique opportunities for preaching.

3.    Think about a Theme – Many congregations have yearly themes, but members in those same congregations rarely know the theme after January. A theme can serve as a tool in sermon planning; a way of tying the year together.

  • Pick a theme that doesn’t back you in a corner. A friend of mine lamented the fact that his elders had picked Psalm 133, a three-verse psalm, as their theme. By the fall of the year he was hard pressed to find another sermon to preach from that text.
  • Pick a theme that you are excited about. It is hard to preach boldly an idea you haven’t fully bought into.
  • Think outside the box. I started out preaching our yearly theme at the beginning of each month, like I had seen other preachers do. That made twelve lessons in my yearly plan. Then I began to see the theme as a springboard for all my lessons that year. So the theme of “If I be lifted up” (John 12:32) became a challenge to really lift up Christ before the congregation that entire year. It turned into a plan where almost every sermon and class revolved around Jesus’ life, character, example, and teaching. The congregation loved the focus and the continuity.

4.    Brainstorm – Get out your pencil and paper and write down every sermon and class idea that comes into your head. Think expository, topical, textual, and narrative. Think doctrinal, inspirational, devotional, and practical. Think about books you’ve read, books of the Bible you are excited about, the needs of the congregation, and things that have not been preached on in a while. Think about Christian evidences, word studies, favorite passages, and commonly misunderstood passages. As you brainstorm you will find you will have too many ideas for just one year of preaching!  One activity I enjoy is reading titles. Much inspiration can be found in titles alone. Survey bookstore catalogs, lectureship books, book chapter headings, and magazine articles and make note of ideas that will preach. Keep a brainstorming file and whenever you find a good title or sermon thought put it in the file for next year’s planning session.

5.    Strive for BalanceBalance is always the goal when it comes to preaching. Balance is sacrificed when no thought is given to sermon planning. A yearly plan gives a bird’s eye view of your preaching and reveals what is being over emphasized and what is being neglected. It reveals patterns and enables you to give the congregation a more balanced diet. Look at you plan and ask questions like:

  • How often do I preach out of the Old Testament? New Testament?
  • Have I been riding a hobby horse lately?
  • Am I preaching enough first principles?
  • Do I tend to be more topical or expository?

 6.    Utilize Series – Don’t just do a series to fill in slots. Be purposeful. Make sure each series compliments your plan. A good series of lessons can be a way to build excitement throughout the year. Don’t let a series feel blah. Come up with a good title, then create an ad for the bulletin, .PPT announcements, website, and Facebook. Use your series to create buzz at different points throughout the year.

7.    Involve Others – Don’t try to do it alone.

  • Involve God. James teaches that wisdom comes from above and that we must pray for wisdom. Let us not forget to pray for wisdom in our preaching and planning.
  • Involve Elders. They have valuable insights into the congregation and may be aware of needs of which the preacher has no knowledge.
  • Involve Deacons. Certain ministries may call for certain sermons.
  • Involve members. Survey the congregation to solicit questions and topics.

8.    Finalize a Master Schedule – Once you have written a rough draft in your calendar, take it a step further and create a spreadsheet of the year with all the dates and lessons. This is far more practical than having to flip through an actual calendar. It also that serves as a master record of your plan, which is easy to print and edit. Throughout the year I continually edit this document to reflect any changes to my plan.

 9.    Be Flexible – Issues and needs will arise that are not in your plan. There will be national news, congregational crises, and unexpected events that arise and need to be addressed from the pulpit. Sometimes it’s just that the topic you had planned isn’t appropriate at the moment. Be flexible and be creative. Often you can make these unexpected adjustments fit a plan or a theme with just a little creativity.

 10.     Share your plan – I do not suggest that you hand out the entire plan, but it is good practice to let the congregation know what is coming up. Provide a monthly sketch on the first Sunday of each month, list “Next Sunday’s Sermons” in the bulletin, or advertise next week’s sermon titles on the church sign outside. Sharing your preaching vision lets people see the thought and effort you put into your preaching.

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Josh AllenJosh Allen is the minister for the Main Street Church of Christ in Pikeville, Kentucky.

8 Tips For A Great Mission Trip

I went on my first short-term mission trip when I was 7 years old. Since then I’ve been on roughly 25 campaigns in several countries. I lived in the country of Panama for three years. To say that I’ve seen a thing or two in the mission field would be fair. There is NO substitute for experience and I’ve got that part down. But this article is not about me, it’s about you. If you are considering going on your first mission trip, or are duct tapping your passport together from overuse, here are 8 things that you need to remember for any mission trip.

Spend less time trying to learn the language and more time trying to learn how conduct a Bible study. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Our group has been taking language classes for the past 6 months!” To be honest, it makes me cringe inside (just a little). I know there is a great desire to be able to communicate in a foreign country. But what use is it to be able to order pancakes in 5 different languages if you can effectively teach the plan of salvation in one language? It should be the goal of EVERY team member to conduct at least one Bible study while on a campaign. Even if it is short… Even if you need help to get through it… Use this opportunity to stretch your skills. You’re already out of your comfort zone anyway!!! It will not be in vain. The bible says in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Bring less candy/toys and bring more hugs. 

For some reason we think that we have to bribe kids to come play with us. I have met very few children who would rather have a toy than have the attention of an adult that cares about them. Realize that kids are the same no matter if they are from Nicaragua or Nebraska, from Peru or Paris, TN, Costa Rica or California. If you love kids, then love them. Your ability to love them has NOTHING to do with how much you can give them. We think it will bring us together because we are giving them things that they could never get on their own. And it comes from a good place. We all want to share our nice things. But it doesn’t work. Why? Because at the root of it is materialism. If we think we can make them better or happier by giving them things that they can not afford, we create division. There is a silent lesson being taught. “I have ‘things’ and these ‘things’ make me better and happier. You do not have as many ‘things,’ therefore, you can only get better and happier if you get more ‘things.’ AND if I give my ‘things’ to you it makes me an even better person because I have ‘things’ AND I’m compassionate. I feel good about me.”

Control your need to know everything (especially those of you who feel the need to know everything BEFORE everyone else). 

Things don’t work the same in foreign countries. They do things differently. That difference is not good or bad, just different. Your need to know and understand everything will only frustrate you. Besides, what difference does to make what hotel you are staying at? Even if you could find it on the internet, they will have doctored the pictures to make you believe you are staying in a resort hotel. Get used to the unknown, because things will happen that no one would be able to anticipate.

Share good ideas, constructive criticism and complaints ONLY with the team leader. 

There is a scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan when they are talking about the validity of their mission. Why risk the lives of all these men to save the life of one man? When they ask the Captain his opinion of the mission, he reaffirms his commitment to the mission. He says that even if he did disagree with the mission he would never tell his subordinates because complaints go UP the chain of command. Always up, never down! Stress can be a great motivator or a great distraction. Zeal can ALSO be a great motivator or a great distraction. Sharing both your Zeal and your Stress with the team is the best way to focus that energy into a positive outcome.

Make “Yes” your favorite. 

Warning, another movie quote coming up…
In the movie Elf (a holiday classic if there ever was one), Buddy gets a job (sort of) at the department store, Gimbel’s.

Buddy: Wow, what’s this?
Gimbel’s Manager: This is the North Pole.
Buddy: No, it’s not.
Gimbel’s Manager: Yes, it is.
Buddy: No, it’s not.
Gimbel’s Manager: Yes, it is.
Buddy: No, it isn’t.
Gimbel’s Manager: Yes, it is.
Buddy: No, it’s not. Where’s the snow? [smiles]
Gimbel’s Manager: Why are you smiling like that?
Buddy: I just like smiling; smiling’s my favorite.
Gimbel’s Manager: [pause] Make work your favorite, okay? Work is your new favorite.

I encourage as much smiling on a campaign as possible. However, the best thing to do on a campaign is to be willing to say “Yes!” If a team leader comes to you to ask you to do a task or step into a needed roll, it’s because he believes you can do it. Do it without complaining for bonus points!!!

Stay with the group.

Even if you’ve been to 100 different countries and speak 7 languages, ALWAYS STAY WITH THE GROUP!!!!! Your team leader is responsible for your whole group. The quickest way to add stress to an already stressful job, is for you to go unaccounted for. It is not a matter of your ability to move around in a foreign country, it is a matter of accountability. Your leader is accountable for your health and safety. Don’t make that job harder than it already is.

Learn the difference between trying something new and doing something stupid. 

Being in a foreign country brings a certain amount of adventure. New foods, new activities, new people, new world. It is part of the draw of mission work. Don’t let your excitement over a new experience cloud your judgement. You will NOT have access to the care and services that you are accustomed to if you are injured, sick, or arrested! Things that might be ok in one country might be illegal in others. Don’t let the adventure interfere with the purpose of your trip, saving souls.

Don’t lose your passport. 

Just don’t! It’s a REALLY big hassle and it will cost you a small fortune.

BONUS: Don’t be a missionary hypocrite.

If you are willing to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to go to a foreign or domestic mission site to share the gospel, do it at home, too!!! If you are willing to dedicate your time and energy to the cause of Christ 1000’s of miles away from home, do the same on your own block where you live. I challenge you, at the very minimum, spend as much time and money sharing the gospel in your own home town as you do going on a mission trip! If you can do it there, you better do it here!

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johnfarberJohn Farber is a missionary for Latin American Missions.

App of the Month: Genius Scan

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If you are like me, you use your smart phone everyday. I believe most people in ministry do, as well. That’s why we’re introducing a new monthly post for a feature app we love! Here is November’s.

I’m on the go a lot and often have to deal with documents or write something down or need to show something to someone else. The problem is that I usually don’t have access to a scanner when I’m on the road. Even if I do have access to a scanner, I have yet to invest the money into a fancy scanner that auto-feeds the papers for me, so the process is arduous to say the least. Then along came Genius Scan.

The concept is super simple: take a picture of what you want to scan and Genius Scan saves it to your phone. You’re probably wondering how this is different from using the regular camera app already on the phone. Genius Scan will generally detect and properly crop the document, leaving only the document and no background. It can also turn the document to black & white or keep it in full color. What really sets this app apart is the ability to take the picture you took and turn it into a .pdf document that you can then share on Dropbox, Evernote, email, etc with ease. You can easily add more scans to the .pdf document or make a new document for each scan.

I use this app at least once a week, sometimes much more. I use it for receipts, business cards, and even some more heavy-duty scanning in my very slow venture to eventually go paperless. Occasionally, I will use Genius Scan to scan a page from a book I am using for a class so that I can combine it with my notes into a single .pdf.  It’s a really neat, functional app that’s available in the app store. Purchase the free version or an upgraded version for $2.99.