In recent years many churches have been backing away from sending teams of volunteers on short-term international mission trips. Some argue that such initiatives are ineffective, a waste of resources, and even hurtful to the advancement of the Gospel.
I on the other hand believe short-term mission trips still work. God used a project I went on right after my freshman year of college with an organization called the Navigators to Singapore and Indonesia to completely change my view of what God is doing in the world. I’ve had the opportunity to lead hundreds of people on more than 10 international projects throughout the years and I’ve seen first hand how projects like this can change the world, the world of the participant and the field. Here are 4 reasons why I believe short-term mission trips still work.
1. Spiritual Maturity
I’ve never met a pastor who didn’t want the people in their church to grow spiritually. Short-term mission trips are an engine for spiritual growth. People grow spiritually when they put themselves in a position to grow spiritually. While we as pastors can’t make people grow spiritually, short-term mission trips create the right environment for spiritual growth to take place.
2. Leadership Development
I’ve never met a pastor who didn’t think they need more leaders in their church. Short-term mission trips are an engine for leadership development. Leaders learn to lead by leading not in a classroom. Short-term mission trips provide an environment for developing leaders to experiment with their leadership gifts.
3. Outsider Focus
I’ve never met a pastor who didn’t want to see people outside of the faith meet Jesus. Short-term mission trips are an engine for building an outsider focused culture in your church. When people participate in a short-term mission trip, begin to personally wrestle with the contextualization of the Gospel in a different culture, and see people meet Jesus on the field; they are compelled to see people meet Jesus in their own workplace, neighborhood, and city.
4. Advance the Mission of the Field
I’ve never met a pastor who didn’t think that people all over the world need to know Jesus. When great partnerships take place between local stateside churches and the field, short-term mission trips can create an infusion of momentum and be catalytic to advancing the strategies of what missionaries on the field are doing to reach people with the Gospel in their context.
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In just a little over a month school will be out and my wife and I will be climbing onto a plane with our 6 and 7 year old daughters to take them on their first international mission trip to Guatemala! After spending time on mission trips together all over the world, Lisa and I are excited that we finally get to expose our children to something that has been such an important part of our lives, marriage, and ministry. We are thrilled about the opportunity to be working with some friends of ours (Lee & Angel Radford) who help run an orphanage in Guatemala and who have children at similar ages to ours. We’ve been waiting for this day, and below are 10 reasons why.
The mission of every Gospel centered church is the same right? Change the world. We don’t get to pick that one. Jesus did that for us. Remember those words in Acts 1:8, “…Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” But whose world are you trying to change?
When you take a team on a short-term mission trip, whose world are you trying to change? When you enlist, equip, and empower volunteers to do ministry in the church with guests, children, students, or small groups whose world are you trying to change?
Could it be that when you take that team on a short-term mission trip or release those volunteers that it’s not the world of the target-audience that’s changed the most but the world of the participant?
Don’t miss-hear me. I’m not saying that short-term mission trips and volunteers don’t make an impact on the world they’re trying to reach. What I am saying is that the world of the participant is changed far more than the world of the audience. Because…
“Volunteering is Discipleship”
The first time I volunteered as a Jr. High Sunday School Teacher my world was changed. The first time I went on a short-term international mission trip my world changed.
What would change if you began viewing volunteering at your church as a part of the discipleship pathway instead of roles to be filled? What would change if you began crafting the volunteer experience at your church for the volunteer instead of what you want the volunteer to do?
This past Sunday in the middle of almost 3,000 people from Cornerstone serving all over our community, my family made their way over to a hangar with about 500 other people to be a part of packing over 140,000 meals that are shipping to Haiti right now. We tossed Lincoln (our 2 year old) on my back in one of those hiking back deals for kids and Lisa, Kennedy, Mia, and I started cranking out the meals. The moment absolutely melted my heart as a dad, because it provided a brief snapshot of what could be. I mean just think, my kids might actually grow up thinking that it is normal to serve God and put other people first in life. That’s something I can get a little excited about.
If you’re a parent you know that teaching your children that life is not all about them and building a culture of servanthood in your family is no easy task. Kids naturally think that life is all about them, and by the way, most adults that I’ve met do too. This innate idea gets reinforced by the messages they receive in our culture through media, advertising, sports, and education among other things. Not to mention that most of us lead our families in a child centric fashion.
So in an effort to change the trajectory of our families, below are a handful of ideas and practical steps that we can take to integrate an attitude of service into our families. And who knows, we might be surprised by what could happen if we simply live an others oriented life and invite our children into that.
I can remember the first international mission trip that I ever went on. A young up and coming ministry leader with a parachurch organization called the Navigators invited me to spend some time in Singapore and Indonesia with him. My life and friendship with Jesus would never be the same.
Most people go on a trip like this hoping to change the world and the world that ends up getting changed is their own. And this is the greatest value in short term mission trips, discipleship. Short term mission trips have the potential to be one of the greatest catalysts of spiritual growth, leadership development and developing an outsider focused culture in your church.
The problem? More and more churches are dropping the role of mission pastors like hot potatoes.
Come & See Mentality
Instead of a go and tell approach to ministry many churches are adopting a come and see mentality. In more and more churches ministry is something that happens at the church not in community.
It’s easier to send Money than People
It’s a lot easier and safer to just sent money than it is to send people. Mobilizing a team of people to go requires time, energy and leadership.
They Keep Going instead of Sending
Often times people who feel called to “international missions” see more value in going than sending and as a result leave a leadership void in the local church. While there can be impact in going that impact can be magnified exponentially by sending.