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Two Questions To Ask Before You Plan A Mission Trip

Youth Specialties
October 7th, 2014

We are so fortunate to know youth workers like Coby Cagle that are doing great work in youth ministry and are willing to share guest blog posts like the one below.  


Original photo by Natalie Maynor.

School has started, fall programming has launched, and you’re basking in the warmth of a summer of youth ministry that was well done. Congratulations—now it’s time to rest, right? While I do believe we must schedule in seasons of rest for our minds and souls, the beginning of fall is not one of those seasons. It is already time to start planning for next summer’s mission trip.

I’ll address some practical mission trip planning tips in a future post. First, we need to set a good foundation for a healthy approach to mission trips. The following two questions are intended to make you did deep into your mission trip theology. At the end of the day, you want to make sure your good intentions do not hurt your students or the people you are serving.

What is my purpose?

Once I was on a mission trip to build houses in Mexico with 80 middle school students. I’ll never forget this one, painful conversation that I observed. We were building a house for a woman and her family. The woman brought out a plate of tamales that she had made from scratch for our crew. The crew chief walked over to her and said, “No, no, no. We are here to serve you. We don’t need anything from you.”

The crew chief has a great heart and he had nothing but good intentions. But imagine how demeaning that entire process was for the woman we were trying to serve? We arrogantly believed that we had nothing to learn from the people were we serving. It is a dangerously wrong missiological approach that is present in most short-term missions projects.

Short-term mission trips can be a powerful experience for your group. However, if we aren’t careful, our good intentions may actually do the Gospel disservice by demeaning the community and damaging the culture.

Mission trips that I lead have four main purposes:

– Expose students to injustices locally and globally.

– Equip students with tools for a Gospel-driven response to the injustices.

– Pour resources into local ministries that are working to fight the injustices.

– Create intentional gatherings for my students to build relationships.

What is my posture?

My friend Corey Greaves is a Native American who runs a youth ministry on the Yakama Reservation in Washington. Through his friendship and through his short-term missions program, S.L.A.M. Trips, Corey has taught me the importance of going on mission trips as servant-hearted learners. While God may use your group to do good things on the trip, your kids have much to learn from the people they are serving. Go as servants who listen.

After thinking through these questions, we decided to start calling our trips “service and learning trips.” The new name accurately describes the philosophy behind the trips. Make sure your leaders, your students, and parents of your students understand your purpose and posture. This process will help ensure you’re approaching your trip in a way that enhances the lives of your students and the people you are trying to help.


Coby Cagle lives with his wife and two kids in Seattle, WA. He is the Youth Pastor at Quest Church and you can follow his meanderings on faith, family, and life at caglejourney.blogspot.com/.

Youth Specialties

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.

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