In Defense of the Summer Mission Trip

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He said it with such conviction: “High schoolers don’t need another reason to feel like they’re the best thing this world has to offer.” I’ll never forget the way my jaw hit the floor. I was shocked; I was stunned–where was this coming from? And from a fellow youth pastor, of all people?

What was this shocking conversation about, you ask? Summer mission trips.

My co-laborer told me he didn’t believe in taking high schoolers on short term service trips because of the alleged “Messiah complex” it creates within them. While that may be the case for a small (and I mean SMALL) percentage of students, I have personal experiences and convictions as to why the summer mission trip may be the best gift you could ever give your high schooler, youth ministry, and community.

My passionate love for the summer mission trip starts in Stephenville, Texas in June of 2011. I had no desire to be on a service trip, but my youth group was going, and if anything, I did not want to be left out of the memories. I certainly had no desire to work or serve; especially in the Texas heat. But God met me in that place. I remember feeling a huge wave of peace come over me at the end of the week as I sang the words to Glorious Day by Casting Crowns, and I knew that this Jesus character was One I wanted to spend my life to know.

I met people that week who walked with me through hell and high water for the remainder of my high school years and into college. Friends whose hearts and even homes are safe havens for me; hearts that allow me to be free and fully myself; hearts through whom I have truly come to know Jesus in my life.

The commitment I made to Jesus that night in Texas has caused me to travel thousands of miles in His name. It has opened my eyes to injustice and heartache in some seriously profound ways. If it were not for the summer mission trip, it could even be questioned whether or not I would be alive today.

Last summer, I had the privilege of taking my high school students on a trip to Brookside, Michigan to serve the community there. The impact made on their lives during that week was evident not only throughout the rest of the summer, but also throughout the school year as they desired to know God more fully, and as several of them made their public professions of faith.

Is the Messiah complex real? Of course. Many people do go into their mission trips thinking what they have to offer is going to change the world. However, I have yet to talk to anyone who’s gone on a summer mission trip who comes out of it with that same mindset and attitude. Coming from these trips as both a student and a leader, I can honestly say that the servants on the trip are much more impacted than the community is. And we praise God for that, because these changed followers of Christ typically end up serving their communities and the global community in amazing ways.

Is your youth ministry needing a few more volunteers to make their summer mission trip happen? Consider giving of your time, energy, and heart to be a part of something bigger than yourself this summer.

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