When asked about my favorite mission trip, I always say the next one. As a Youth and Family Pastor, I took my school students to places across North America, Mexico, and even to Vietnam. Later, while at CURE International, I became close friends with nationals in 11 countries (including Afghanistan, the UAE, and several African and Latin American countries) learning from them what helped and hurt their long-term ministries in short term missions.
Since I oversee Serve, people naturally think I help churches plan student mission trips. Close, but not quite. At Youth Unlimited, we are helping churches engage students in missional living, not just for one week. I’d like to be known as the guy who helps church youth groups become more missional the other 51 weeks of the year and through their life journey.
Here are 3 things I keep in mind when preparing students for mission trips:
- It’s a wave, not a mountain top experience. While the mountain top analogy has worked for years, it’s time to retire it. There is now a rhythm to our mission trips and we can look over the course of 12 months and see waves of God's work in a student's life. Hopefully there are some big ones like a mission trip, camp, retreat, convention, etc. Some waves maybe smaller but make up the ocean of consistent Christian growth: youth group meetings, church attendance, classes, personal mentoring, etc. We can even look at the 6 years of middle and high school and plan for the bigger waves periodically. The mission trip experience is simply another wave of God's work to make the most of. And this is so important: that experience is simply a wave in the life of the people they are ministering to. God is working there all through the year as well.
- The MISTM Grid (found in the book Maximum Impact Short-Term Mission by Roger Peterson, Gordon Aeschliman, and R. Wayne Sneed). MISTM gives an at-a-glance tool for planning. It highlights that the "Goers" are only one of 3 sets of participants. The “Hosts” (those that receive the team) and the “Senders” are also experiencing waves of Gods work through this trip. And while we are all very concerned with preparing our group of "Goers", we must also be as concerned about the post trip follow through of the "Hosts" and the "Senders". For another great source, check out the 7 Standards of Excellence at www.soe.org.
- Speaking of post trip, what about the outcomes? What do you want the students (Goers) to experience and learn? What do you hope they integrate into their daily life long after the suitcase is unpacked? What do you want your Host to experience and learn? What about the community of people you are serving? If the outcomes aren’t obvious to the participants, how do you know if you are accomplishing what God wants? Download the attached set of Serve Outcomes as an example. Email me, or comment below, and I will send you 6 Outcomes I believe God accomplishes in students on nearly every mission trip. Also take a look at the ebook, Rebuilders of Almost Anything.
If you’re having success in this area, I’d invite you to tell your story! We have a number of church leaders from across Canada and the US who are engaging students missionally throughout the entire year.