A friend of mine recently said, “I am so tired of people going on a two week mission trip where they work for about two days and think that they have given up some big sacrifice to be a missionary.”
My friend and fellow Christian made a real good point. Many churches, including my own, make a huge deal of missions trips. There are promotional videos, testimonies, informational meetings, etc. None of this is bad. But it can quickly go off course. I have especially seen this with younger people who do a mission trip because evidently that is what you are supposed to do if you want to be liked at church.
Please do not get me wrong. I am pro missions, even short-term trips can be a good thing. I don’t even mind missionary tourism where the trip is about seeing Biblical sites or learning foreign cultures. Those can serve a good purpose to widen the worldview of Christians in America. But I do think we need to be honest about our level of sacrifice. We need to realize that the Gospel is about Jesus not us or even other people.
Personally, I have only been on a few missions trips where I felt like I had to sacrifice much at all. Strangely, those have all been trips that took place less than eight hours from home. And those sacrifices were primarily my own mental sanity for a day or so.
Giving up a week’s vacation is nothing compared to what many others have done for the Gospel. Working hard in the hot sun for three days is not persecution. You are not a super Christian just because you went to a foreign country on a missions trip for two weeks and slept in less than posh surroundings.
As a youth worker, I have seen students come back from mission trips with either bloated opinions of their accomplishments or a sense of disillusionment because it somehow did not live up to their expectations of Biblical proportions. My real concern is that sometimes these mission endeavors serve as an excuse not to share the Gospel instead of a catalyst for even more relational missions when we get home. It is like people get home and check evangelism off their to-do list for a year.
I really believe what we do when we get home is the real test for how successful a missions endeavor was in impacting our life and worldview.
More than anything, I believe that people, especially teenagers, need to process through their experience and get a sense of perspective. While it is good that a student may come home and be thankful for what they have, that isn’t much of a spiritual outcome when you consider all the effort that goes into international missions. The main objective of missions trips is not to make people happy that they live in the USA.
I am concerned that trips without proper debriefing can lead to Christians who get the wrong ideas about missions. They can go on future trips with the wrong motives and not realize the dangers in doing “spiritual” things for selfish reasons. It can be so hard to detect our real motives because we can become very good at disguising them. Then, we don’t even know the truth of what is going on inside of us.
The objective of missions isn’t even other people. The real goal is to glorify God and to extend His Kingdom rule across the planet. This is not done by fear, violence, manipulation or intimidation. Instead, this is manifest by service and love as God receives the glory for the good things that His Church does in His name.
Missions is a must for the Church today. But it cannot be something that just happens on foreign trips or church outings. Being a witness for Christ is what all true Christians are called to be every day of our lives. We never check that off our list.
If we started going on mission trips for the right reasons, would we start living at home a bit differently? Maybe we would act more like Christ when we talk to our neighbor or come across a checker at the grocery store who is having a bad day.