As someone radically influenced by a missions trip as a teenager, you would think I would have had a deeper awareness of the value of missions trips for my youth group. To add to my personal experience, I serve in a church that is in many ways a Grand Central station for missions. I am ashamed at how long our youth group went without an official Youth Missions trip.
There may be several factors I am overlooking in why we waited so long without taking our teens to the missions field. Here are some of the ones that I can easily think of and am willing to admit.
- I thought it would just happen. I thought we would go “next summer” but never “dreamed, discovered, and declared” it would happen.
- I was intimated by the workload needed to make it possible. This could take up an entire blog or blog series but having people work with me in youth ministry that are gifted in a different manner than I am is a huge blessing. In my case and in the case of most Student Pastors I need people with organizational skills on my team.
- I was afraid of being small. It was not just the fear of not being able to take a large group but the fear of the feeling of being small when we did. Don’t act you don’t know what I am talking about.
- I undervalued of the worthiness of the trip in comparison to how much our teens would have to work. I knew our teens would have to work hard to raise the money. Having just returned from the trip my vision is much more clear, and I see that their sacrifice was minuscule in comparison to what they received by going.
My wife and I spent nine days in Arequipa, Peru at the end of July. When my friends ask me my opinion on where they should go on a missions trip I always have the same response. Where you go should be the third question you should ask. It is always third in importance, in my opinion.
Who will you be taking on the trip? Knowing the people who will go on your trip helps you know what limitations you have in choosing where you should go. Knowing the missions IQ of the youth workers who will attend with you is also a factor. Not all missions trips are equal in difficulty.
What missionary and ministry will you be seeing? Who you will see is more important than where you go. I know they are connected. You can’t ask a missionary from China to meet you in South Sudan. Just know the landscape takes a far backseat in importance to the ministry you will see. If you take your group to a missionary who has a defeatist attitude they will pick it up. Your teenagers will look at the life of the missionaries and answer some questions. Do they enjoy what they are doing? Could I do this? Is what they are doing making a difference that is worth the sacrifice? Choose the wrong missionary and they will come home with the wrong answers to these questions.
Where will you be going on your missions trip? This question has to be decided before you can set a budget. You should strive to visit the places in the world that are already significant to your church. In our case it was self-evident we wanted to visit the city our pastor had spent nearly 20 years of his life. Our teenagers have heard many stories about how God has worked in Arequipa. It was with great joy that me and another brother in the church, John Pearson, got to be tour guides of showing them places and people where God has worked mightily.
There are many lessons learned that I do not know how they could learn outside of the experience received on a missions trip. If I have the responsibility to help equip these teenagers for a life of ministry then, the mission field is one of the best environments to help them understand the ministry.
- It helps provide a better definition to the terms we are trying to teach them. We talk about discipleship. We talk about the importance of inviting your friends to church. When you get to sit in a church building or living room and hear story after story of people whose life has been changed the Gospel you want to be involved. Yes, we can and should do this back home but unless you have been on a missions trip then you don’t know how there is something extra special about hearing these stories through a translator in a different environment.
- You give the teenagers an opportunity and a desire to talk about what they see God is doing in this world. Yes, we can do this here but after a day full of activity and testimonies our teenagers would meet on the rooftop of the hotel. They couldn’t wait to share what God was doing in their heart. Many of these teens had never shared in testimony time before and not like this.
- Our students had to step up in their willingness to help share the responsibilities of our team. We made the students order their tickets, figure out how to pack and have several pre-trip meetings. The process was just as important to us as the product/trip. I am going to ask my friend to write more on this later and explain why we wouldn’t ever want just to hand them a trip on a platter.
- The saw what I would call the universal principles of ministry. Yes the food, language, and backdrop was different. There were certain things about life and ministry that don’t change. Our students seemed to be just as amazed as the comparison as they did the contrast.
- We had some students with us I didn’t know very well. There were other students I had never really had the heart to heart with that I had hoped to have. A good mission trip will certainly remedy that. The first Sunday back I was standing in a circle with 5 of the people from our trip, and we all laughed about how this group would never be meeting in a circle after church before this trip. It helps the relationship dynamic of the youth ministry.
- This subject deserves its ownblog article but it allowed our teenagers to develop some good friendship with adults. We believe this is extremely important in the fight against the post-high school attrition rate. Knowing our teens would spend more time with the adults on our trip than they ever had we knew it was important to have the right, Jesus, mission loving people on the trip. Which means being willing to say no to someone if it was necessary.
I can’t wait to get back on the mission field with another group of teenagers from our church. Those who attended this trip with us are already talking about their next trip. We pray they will be life long mission trip takers, better yet mission trip leaders, bet yet they may be host missionaries of mission trips! Wherever they land in the work, we just want to make it hard for them to ignore their global responsibilities and the great need. Nothing does this better than a well planned mission trip.
I am not an expert in anything and definitely not in youth ministry or missions trips. I would, however, be more than willing to share my thoughts with you if you would like to talk about this subject. Send me an email (Trent@visionbaptist.com) with your phone number and I will contact you.