Mission Trips: The Problem With How I Did Them
For years, I took students on annual mission trips. Some were domestic (in the U.S.) and some were international (outside the U.S.). They were always great experiences. But one day I realized a few things that made me really uncomfortable with doing them anymore.
- I think we were guilty of “mission tourism.” We were jumping around on the map, choosing destinations with no reason other than it seemed exciting to us.
- I couldn’t give any good reasons for why were going on mission trips other than
- It was a great experience and.
- They need our help.
- It’s just what we do every summer.
- All the planning and fundraising was consuming my time, making it difficult for me to do our weekly ministries well.
So, with these realizations, I decided to quit organizing student mission trips until I
- Figured out a better plan for why and how we do missions
- Was able to establish on-going, long term, mutual relationships with another community.
- Was able to find a lay person (a volunteer) to lead our missions efforts.
It was five years before we did another trip.
Our Solution: How We Do Missions Now
We now have a pretty decent plan for student missions. Here’s what it looks like.
Our Student Global Outreach (GO!) Ministry is aligned with our Church’s Global Outreach Ministry. It is not a ministry of Student Life. The Church’s Global Outreach Team gives guidance to the student team in the development of ministry relationships with certain communities according to their discernment in prayer, denominational connection, and real-world personal relationships already established. However, the Student GO! Team does collaborate extensively with Student Life.
- Guide the Spiritual Formation of our Students . A short-term mission is an experience that helps students broaden their global perspective as well as their sensitivity to the need of others. Exposure to poverty, developmental and spiritual need as well as foreign cultures and lifestyles (inside and outside American borders) and other forms of social and spiritual expression of faith and community are all vital to the development of a well-rounded mature Christian.
- Fulfill the Role of the Church in the World . The Christian church has so much to offer the world both spiritually and materially. Following the example set out by Jesus himself, we must be proactive about our involvement in meeting the physical, social, and emotional needs of those around us. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the Christian church to carry the Gospel of Christ to all cultures, nations, and people groups.
- Develop Students into Future Partners and Leaders in Global Ministry. Short-term mission trips provide great opportunities for the development of leadership skills for future ministry leaders (lay volunteers, interns, etc.) and missionaries. We see these trips as opportunities to provide tangible experiences for the development of ministry skills and missionary passions. Therefore, each trip will be led or co-led by lay volunteers or ministry interns.
High School students don’t commit to a trip. They commit to the ongoing ministry of the team. They meet weekly to study servanthood, cross-cultural ministry, and the role of the Church in the world. They plan fundraisers. And discuss preparations needed for the next trip. Some students can’t go on the trip but remain committed to the team. They still go to the meetings, help with fundraisers, and promote the ministry. When they do go on trips, they already have a servant orientation and community built with each other as a team.
This ministry is led by a lay person who has a passion for missions and youth ministry. This person has two or three other adults who help her in various ways. But, it is, in fact, lay-led. Our staff will handle the financial accounting, assist with communications, and provide guidance in ministry. But everything else is lay-led, including the trips themselves.
We offer three levels of mission experiences. We no longer bring students on intense cross-cultural experiences without having some previous formational experience with missions and cross-cultural ministry. Students must participate in Level One and commit to the team in order to participate in Level Two and Three trips. Students must also participate in Level Two trips before they go on a Level Three trip.
Level One: State
This is an entry level, two-day experience in Minneapolis called M.O.V.E. (Mission Outreach Venture Experience) that is sponsored by our denominational conference (the Northwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church). Students engage in experiential learning as they discover urban ministry, racial righteousness, and Christ’s call on every Christian to be ministers in our communities. They spend half their time learning and half their time doing by serving in local urban ministries around Minneapolis.
Level Two: National
We have formed an ongoing relationship with Christ’s Outreach for the Blind in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky through the person who leads our team. Christ’s Outreach is a summer camp on 900 acres of beautiful Kentucky countryside stocked with all varieties of wild game, a challenge course, and horseback riding that serves over 600 visually impaired or physically disabled children and adults. While there, campers develop confidence and a strong sense of self-esteem as they learn to over-come their challenges, hunt, and fish. Our team assists with both labor projects and ministry to the campers.
Pre-Requisite: Committed Participation in the Student GO Team’s weekly meetings andparticipation in M.O.V.E. or some other entry level type mission or service experience.
Level Three: International
We have formed a new, on-going relationship with a local church in the Nicaraguan capital city of Managua through Merge Ministries, a ministry of our denomination. Our team assists with various health and community initiatives developed by the local church in the poorer areas of Managua.
Pre-Requisite: Committed Participation in the Student GO Team’s weekly meetings andparticipation both a Level One and a Level Two type experience.
Our students are now active in the world of missions again. Through the ministry of Global Outreach, we are guiding the spiritual formation of our students, fulfilling our role in the world, and developing future partners and leaders in global ministry. It took courage to stop doing something good so we could develop something great. And it is well worth the efforts.
Jim Murphy, is the NextGen Pastor at The Covenant Church in Bemidji, MN, where he supports the work and ministries of other staff and volunteers to kids, students, and young adults. He’s been in vocational ministry since 1992 and loves teaching kids, equipping leaders, and encouraging other youth pastors. When he isn’t working or spending time with Deanna, his wife of 20+ years, and his two daughters, Natalie and Greta, he tries to post what he’s up to in ministry on THENEXTGENBLOG.COM.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.