Why Send High School Students on a Mission Trip


This summer I had the privilege of taking 20 high school students on a mission trip to Compton, CA. Before I moved to Grand Rapids, I worked at a church that was a neighboring city to Compton and I got to see firsthand all of the amazing work God is doing through the churches and residents in the area. Most of the students I minister to have never been to California either, so it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now I know that pastors, or any Christians for that matter, aren’t supposed to admit this out loud, but I struggle with short-term mission trips. I struggle with a number of things with this mission trip model. I struggle with only being there for a week instead of the long haul. I struggle with needing to provide entertainment to our students alongside our service to a community. I struggle with the intense, unsustainable schedule that produces mountaintop spiritual highs that our students will inevitably come off of when they get home. For all the good that comes out of a short-term mission trip, there is an equal amount of struggle that we’ll inevitably have to face when the trip is over.

Which begs the question…why serve? Why go on these mission trips? It costs a lot of money to send these students to CA for a week. If there aren’t only positives, then why not stay more local and partner with churches and Para church ministries in the area? This is a question I’ve struggled with and labored over for years and I hope my answer hits a chord with you.

We serve, no matter the context, because it draws us closer to Jesus. Service shapes us more and more into Christ’s likeness.

We don’t serve because the work won’t be done if we don’t do it, we don’t serve to save anyone, and we certainly don’t serve and spend a week in short term mission because it will make God love us more. I fear that often times these are our primary motivations for service (especially on short-term mission trips). We fear that no one will help the people like we can and that without us, they might suffer even more. We sometimes hope that God will smile on us extra for that week we gave up during summer.

But one of the sobering realities of service is that we aren’t needed in the end. The reality is that if we hadn’t gone to Compton and served the neighborhood this Summer, another youth group would’ve taken our place (seriously, there were two other groups who couldn’t come because we were there taking up all the space). God isn’t waiting around for us to accomplish His will and purpose. God is sovereign, he rules over all with love, mercy, grace, and power we can’t comprehend. Whether we decide to serve or not will not determine God’s actions. And if this is true, then why serve?

Because Jesus served. Although Jesus is God, he didn’t consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage. He took on the form of a servant and became obedient to death for our sake. Even death on a cross! This same Jesus calls us into relationship with him. One aspect of being in relationship with Jesus is that we would grow more and more into His likeness. That’s what service does, it makes us more like Jesus. And personally, I can’t think of a greater motivation to serve than that.

Why serve? Why take 20 students across the country for a week?

So that they can come to know their savior more and be formed into His likeness so that His kingdom may reign here on earth.

Posted in:
Image Credit

The Network hosts user-submitted content.
Posts don't necessarily imply CRCNA endorsement, but must comply with our community guidelines.

Let's Discuss…

We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.
Community Builder

This is a really good post.  It is brutally honest about most short term "missions" or "serve projects."  

I don't actively oppose such projects but would gently insist that almost all of them should viewed as projects that predominantly are for the benefit of those who "serve," not those supposedly "served," whether or not the "servers" are aware of that.

Thanks for your post.

But you missed a very important point about short-term missions - and that's the carbon footprint that results from sending a group somewhere. Whether you drive to Mississippi or fly to Haiti or Zambia your trip requires fossil fuel. And at a time when we are warned by the United Nations about the impacts of our carbon emissions on God's creation, we need to take seriously the effects these 'mission' trips have on our planet. Surely, of all organizations, churches, which confess that the God we love and serve is the Creator of this world, should be at the forefront in taking seriously the call to decrease our carbon emissions for the sake of the creation. Yes, young people (and adults too!) can benefit from these activities, but mission work can be done right in your own communities - we just need to be creative in how we approach it.

Henry, as a Climate Witness Regional Organizer, I hope that your exhortations on limited travel begin close to home with the Office of Social Justice.  Director Smith is a regular Carmen Sandiego, and the OSJ has been known to send a delegation all the way to Paris just to observe meetings.  Travel occurs to the Mexican border among other places, and the latest OSJ Facebook post has "mobilizers" traveling to Washington D.C., which seems to be a regular occurrence.

But let's introduce a few numbers here to see just how much these kids on a mission trip are affecting the planet.  Considering that the U.S. contributes roughly 15% of GHG emissions, and considering that transportation (across all sectors, including airplanes, trucks, passenger vehicles, etc.) accounts for about 29% of U.S. emissions, and considering that in 2016 Americans put on about 3.22 trillion miles on the highway, I think that the average group of kids from Grand Rapids who want travel the 860 miles down to help the good people at the Cary Christian Center in Cary, Mississippi can do so with a clear conscience.  In others words, the impact of this trip on global GHG emissions is so infinitesimally small as to be absolutely inconsequential.  Of all the things to balance in consideration of such a trip, it is not even worth giving the effect on the plant a second thought.