Using Short-Term Mission Trips as a Springboard to Missional Living

Short-term mission trips can get a bad rap, often called useless and a waste of time and money. Even worse they can be detrimental to those trying to be reached and to the long-term missionary hosting teams of short-sighted teens. While this may be true in some cases, it is my experience that there are many benefits to short-term mission trips for students, especially when it comes to helping them develop a missional mindset.

I want to explore three benefits of short-term mission trips and how they can influence everyday, missional living.

1. Short-term mission trips give students an opportunity to own something.

When students are provided an opportunity to own something, to be an integral part of its failure or success, it changes their perspective and provides them a glimpse into the possibility of being self-starters and culture-changers. At this point in their development, teens are testing boundaries and their own limits.

In ministry, when you allow students to own something, it is always going to be a gamble. Are they going to show up? Will they remember what they are supposed to do? Are they going to embarrass me in public? Are they going to cut off their own fingers even though they are only using safety scissors? Whatever the outcome, students are longing to be trusted. Longing to be given responsibility. Longing to have something expected of them. More often than not, student will rise to whatever expectations we place on them.

Students prepping the floor of a church for concrete in Thomassique, Haiti

Short-term mission trips are these amazing petri-dishes of experience where students are expected to do things that they might never have the opportunity to do at home. “You want me to demolish this wall?” “You want me to share my faith with that person?” There is expectation to own something. To be responsible. To be a part of a mission, however small it might be.

2. Short-term mission trips give students an opportunity to step out of their comfort zone.

Often, the lives of student are these carefully curated set of experiences. On a school day, they wake up at home moving through their normal morning routine. Drive to school in their climate-controlled car while listening to their personalized Spotify playlists. They get into class and almost robotically move through the day, walking the same exact steps, talking to the same exact people usually conversing about the same exact things.

While consistency and routine are not always a bad thing, we should never allow ourselves to fall into the same spiritual rut. Students might not share their faith with someone at school, because they have never done it before. Students might not invite their friends to church, because that’s not part of the routine. However, when we step out in faith into something that is a little difficult, a little uncomfortable, God shows up in big ways.

This is evident in short term mission trips. They are usually uncomfortable and often students are forced to rely on God in ways that they never have to in their typical day to day.

3. Short-term mission trips give students and opportunity to see the world from a different perspective.

Many students get little exposure to other cultures, even those within their own town or city. This lack of perspective can cause students to put their faith in a box or worse to put God in a box. A box from which we can only see those people in our own locale or those people who look and act like us.
God does not fit in a box, nor does his mission. Our God is on mission to reconcile the whole world back to himself, not just our little corner of America.

God does not fit in a box, nor does his mission. Our God is on mission to reconcile the whole world back to himself, not just our little corner of America.

Our church takes a number of student mission trips every summer. Junior highers are encouraged to be a part of our local missions camp. High schoolers have the option to take part in a local mission trip focused on our city or to spend a week in Haiti teaching English and building churches. The trip to Haiti is my favorite because it is hard and laborious work where students have the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective.

The nightly worship time and book study is filled with stories of students having their eyes opened to a world that is not their own. To a people who have less and yet are still loved by God. These experiences are seeds being planted in students’ souls that continue to grow into a missional perspective that causes students to reach outside of their own culture and comfort for the glory of God.

One student shares the difficulty of seeing the conditions in Haiti and a hardening of his heart toward a culture different from his own. After a number of trips, however, he realized that being on mission for God was not always easy. That there is a cost to discipleship. He writes,

“I came to serve and bless the Haitian people, regardless if I thought it was fun or not. It has helped me understand that missional living is a daily sacrifice.”

-A high school student after going on several mission trips to Haiti

Short-Term Trips as a Springboard to Missional Living

These are three reasons of many that good short-term mission trips can be a springboard to missional living for students. Short-term mission trips give students the opportunity to own something, step out of their comfort zone, and see the world from a different perspective. Short-term mission trips have the opportunity to help students realize that they have the ability to live on mission in their own spheres of influence.

These influential experiences push students to live on mission for God. They teach them that they have the ability to own projects and initiatives at home. They are called to step out of their comfort zone so that God might be glorified in their schools. They learn that the world is made up of many different cultures and perspectives, all of which need the salvation offered by Jesus.

After one of our middle school mission trips to inner city Cleveland. One student realized that a short-term mission trip is not enough. God is calling her to live on mission everyday. To step out of her comfort zone, take up her cross, and boldly declare the name of the Lord wherever she is:

After mission trips, people usually get on a spiritual high. But sometimes it’s only for a short period of time. I’ve learned that living on a mission is in my every day life not just a week in the summer. I need to look for those who are hurting and that need the Lord. Stepping out of my comfort zone. Putting my faith on the line. That’s what living on a mission is to me.

-Female Middle School Student after a mission trip to Cleveland.

Scott Erwin

Scott is happily married to Bethany and serves as the Director of Campus Life at Bethel Church, Hobart/Portage Campus in Indiana. He has been on staff in local churches directing youth ministry for four years. He loves leading students on short-term mission trips and watching them transition back to their normal rhythms but more fully expressing Jesus in every area of their lives.

Contact Scott at serwin@bethelweb.org

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