Let’s be honest. For some, mission trips are a life-changing experience. But for others, mission trips are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as in, “Been there, done that-so what?” As with any form of ministry, mission trips will work for some and leave others neutral at best. But I’m convinced that the benefits and risks far outweigh the inevitable downsides.
A few years ago, we started calling these initiatives mission journeys instead of mission trips. Why? The word journey conveys a process, an experience that can outlast mere dates but transport a person to a new level of spiritual sensitivity and engagement with God’s redeeming plan for His creation.
In our church-like many others-we have seen both the number of mission journeys and mission journey participants skyrocket in recent years. In 2002, we sent approximately 70 members on half a dozen or so mission trips. In 2007, 481 people participated in over two dozen mission journeys. In order to plan, process, train, prepare, field and resource that many people requires a significant outlay of
our church’s time and energy. And it’s worth it-if we do it right. Here are four reasons why:

We tend to live in bubbles. In our case, the suburban bubble anesthetizes people to the world and its needs. When people serve-either in a domestic or international context-it confronts people with God’s heart for the nations and their own engagement in His redemptive plan for
all cultures. We have seen numerous members go into full-time missions service as a result of meaningful short-term
missions experiences.

Think about it. When a church is preparing to send a team, that group of people is a captive audience. They are motivated not only to attend meetings but to learn. This is an incredible opportunity to disciple your members, introducing them to the biblical, historical, cultural and strategic dimensions to God’s missions heart. A challenge for all teams is to ensure the preparation goes beyond what sorts of clothes to take but to also reveal to God’s people the scriptural expectations of all believers to share their faith both far away and close to home.

Our people live busy, fragmented lives. Families have precious little time together; the same goes for brothers and sisters in Christ. A seven- or 10-day mission experience is the equivalent of six months or even a year of normal church togetherness. Serving together in such a concentrated format brings people together in ways few other events can. In this way, the entire church is blessed as people return better connected and more aware of their place in the church. We are also working on providing more opportunities for families to serve together; evidence suggests that families who serve together are strengthened as children see their parents model a heart for missions.

We are strategic with our mission efforts. We know volunteers can cause more problems than they solve. We also understand that at times the work our volunteers do could be done by locals at a fraction of the cost. But we believe, overall, that the advocacy, involvement, intercession and-yes-financial giving to missions in our church have exponentially increased in significant part due to the role of mission journeys. Our members get to know and love missionaries on the field. They see firsthand the face of starvation, poverty, AIDS and-worst of all-spiritual lostness. As hundreds of our people have been introduced firsthand to our state, national and global partners, financial giving to missions has increased exponentially. The connection between going and giving-at least in our church-is not coincidental.
We also are well aware of the limitations of mission journeys and the valid criticisms often levied at them. Yes, it’s expensive. Also, many churches and church members erroneously equate missions with mission journeys. We do our best to mitigate this impression. Mission journeys are a gateway to missions. These will never be a substitute for sustained, incarnational, apostolic, indigenous, evangelistic
missionary engagement. Mission journeys introduce our people to a taste of sacrifice, reordered priorities and radical stewardship for the sake of the Kingdom.
Missions journeys should be but one small piece of an overall missions passion that infuses every nook and cranny of your church. Missions journeys are not an end but a means to a glorious end when “all nations will come and worship before You” (Revelation 15:4, NIV).

Photo courtesy of Marion Goodloe

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