“This mission trip to Mexico, justify the cost to the long term benefit for the students?” I sat in my senior pastor’s office not ready to answer his question. A year earlier I’d been to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. On that mission trip I saw first hand its impact on a group of students from another church and wanted to see the same happen with our senior high youth group.
What a difficult question to answer. That was 1985, just one year into being a youth pastor at a large church in Tennessee. I mistakenly viewed this question as a roadblock. I prefer this question from church leadership now as opposed to the kind of leadership that Susan Scott refers to in her book, Fierce Conversations.
No matter how sincerely and graciously you invite people to share their views, some decline the invitation. Yet, because of their position and power in the organization, until they are on board they stand squarely in the way of progress, like the tree that a drunk driver swerves into; “It kills you just by standing there.”
I prefer a question like this from leadership as opposed to silence.
Some days, honestly, my answer depends on my mood. If I have recently traveled to a slum in South Africa my answer is quick, insulting but not as compelling. That’s another article about “Money As our Lord, Hiding Behind the term Stewardship.”
Today I’m on a plane to visit a church mission committee. This question often comes up in those meetings. We live in a time where the cost of things is considered deeply. And here is how I approach the answer.
First of all, the question posed to me in 1985 assumes something good. Here are a few bullet points of what the question pre-supposes:
1. That there are the possibilities of benefits.
2. That those benefits outweigh the costs.
3. Not so obvious is that the pastor’s kids may be paying.
Point 3 is a stretch but I’ll explain, just hang with me.
I recently went to a real estate convention with my wife in Austin. I paid $95.00 for a seminar on network marketing for realtors. I’m not a realtor, but it was worth what was promised for the two-hour talk. I was not disappointed. Even though the seminar was targeted for one people group, I was able to take what I heard and apply it to Mission Discovery’s work in getting you to read this article. Education is beneficial. Mission trips in their simplest forms are educational.
My daughter’s mission trip when she was 11 has had lasting impact on how she treats people as an influential employee at the United State’s largest hospital corporation. Even though she continued to serve every summer through her college years, it was that trip at age 11 that she said had the most impact when she met a very poor girl named Judy in Mexico.
You see, my senior pastor assumed correctly. If our work is to help mobilize the church to Acts 1:8-f, a short-term mission trip is the best possible first experience. It is never a bad idea to ask your leadership if they have a better idea than recommended in that first chapter of Acts?
You must know, as a youth pastor, you are searching for those in your group who will consider long-term missions as a career. Mission Discovery finds story after story of middle school and high school students who chose career paths because of their short term mission experience. Whether it is the story of Rebecca, now a missionary in Saudi Arabia, or Jenni and Amanda who became medical doctors for the sake of the poor, those careers found its fuel in a one-week trip to Mexico.
David Sprouse, a volunteer youth worker at my church, walked in my office before group one night, sat down and said, “You must have a long-term view of these kids in group?” I was clueless and wanted to know what he meant. “I would just imagine,” he said, “you seeing them walk back in your office at age 35 saying, ‘Thank you Maury, I don’t remember much of what you taught, but I do remember what we experienced together,’ it must keep you going.”
Facebook and Twitter has allowed me to experienced just what David meant when he said that in 1986!
Secondly, my senior pastor assumed that the benefits outweighed the costs. Actually, you are probably thinking the opposite, but I’m a “partly clear vs. partly cloudy” kind of person.
Here’s the short list of the benefits of a short-term mission trip;
-Students learn teamwork
-Student’s gifts surface under pressure
-Students learn differences between right, wrong and different
-Students lay God’s Word alongside the experience of working in deep poverty and ask deep questions
-Students act on what has been encouraged and taught from the pulpit in a practical, hands-on, memorable experience.
-Students experience the spiritual gifts of fellow students and leaders through servant hood
-Students prior to a trip learn to share their faith cross-culturally. This is not just a skill learned for the trip. It’s a skill that is taken into life!
-Students who must raise financial support from family and friends experience God’s provision in miraculous ways!
-Students learn that they have not taken God to the poor, instead that He was already there, working and they joined Him.
Off the top of my head, if I were a parent looking at a $30,000 a year education the private school was providing vs. your $500 mission trip? You have just sold me! I’m a buyer. In fact, I’ll pay double.
Jimmy Rivera received a call at our office from a pastor in Tampa whose daughter and youth group had just returned from a Mission Discovery trip to Mexico. He said, “Are you Jimmy Rivera?” “Yes sir.” “I have one question,” he said in a stern voice, “What have you done to my youth group? Startled, Jimmy said, “Pastor I don’t know what you mean?” “They have returned to my church on fire for serving the poor, took over the morning service last Sunday, had our body in tears, and now our adults want to go! I just called to say thank you!"
Keep in mind that church leadership looks for how the things you do, fit into a biblical plan of discipleship. Everything must have in mind an end goal.
Finally, Bob Hayes of African Christian Training Institute sites values of short term mission trips
1. Most career missionaries encourage short-term mission trips to fields where they labor.
2. There is great encouragement to missionaries and the believers they serve to have other believers come and join them in labor for the Lord.
3. Those who spend time on a mission field become much more aware of the needs of the career missionary and the mission work and this results in increased giving, praying, writing encouraging letters, and other expressions of love and support.
4. Short-term teams provide good fellowship for the career missionaries and their families who are subject to experience loneliness and isolation.
5. When career missionaries and the groups with whom they work, start preparing for the work of short-term teams, it provides a renewed focus of their own efforts. We all do better work when we know a peer will see what we are doing.
6. Mission agencies invest a significant amount of money in placing career missionaries on the field. Those who go as career missionaries after having first gone on a short-term team have a much higher longevity rate than those who have not.
7. A study of the missionary activity of the Apostle Paul reveals that he was in fact involved in a series of short-term missions.
8. Churches from which short-term teams are sent benefit as mission work is no longer a theological concept or sermon illustration, but the visible effort of that church. It becomes a work in which their pastor and/or other members have actually participated.
Check out a church that has sent short-term teams to the mission field and you will find a church that has increased its own effectiveness at home. A vision for touching the world will impact your vision for touching your own community.
When looking at the eight reasons above, you will see that effective short-term mission teams do not detract from career missions, but reasons two through six in fact help protect and enhance the dollars spent on career missions.
Lastly, imagine that the pastor’s children will be on your trip. This helps you frame all you say as if you are speaking to a parent, who desperately wants his child to hear God’s voice. He knows that there are many influences coming at his children and he wants you to give him hope. He’s not particularly looking for the quick fix, but more interested in how a mission’s trip fits into your overall plan to influence the youth group, his children for Jesus sake. He wants his children to live, really live.