In case you haven’t realized it yet, mission trips are messy. Despite all our planning, screening, and noble intentions, every trip involves some really flawed people (including us) who tend to swing from one bit of drama to the next. Even when we’re being leader-like, such as ensuring that people serve for the “right reasons,” we’re pushing values that recipients may struggle with.
Messy is okay, though. Messiness is actually supposed to be part of the mission trip.
Jesus recruited a team of really unique people to travel with him as he ministered. Normally, they wouldn’t have hung out together, yet they all found common ground in Christ. And notice that the Bible doesn’t record Jesus sending any of his disciples home because they weren’t there for the “right reasons.”
There’s a fine line between guiding teenagers toward being intentional and assuming they’ll be perfect and robotic. I’ve seen mission trips get derailed because one or more leaders expected teenagers to not be teenagers. The assumption was that kids would somehow just “get it” from the start so great work could be accomplished without any drama…which, of course, never happens.
I’ve also seen the results of no accountability or code of conduct for participants. Soon the mission trip becomes about a few individuals who act like roosters, stirring up all the other hens with their attitude, flirting, or complaining.
A mission trip is the formation of an extended family. That includes people who act like irritating siblings, weird cousins, frustrated uncles, overbearing aunts, and even worn-out “parents.”
Mission trips are messy for a few good reasons:
- They are natural community builders. You’d better believe something will happen relationally as students are prodded out of their comfort zone to work and play together. Some of this bonding can start happening before the trip if your group participates in fundraisers or a devotional study. Make sure no one gets left out—by accident or on purpose—so that a community, not a clique forms.
- They are unexpected friend-makers. On a mission trip, some unpopular moves are often necessary to break teenagers out of their natural circle of friends. For example, you may need to assign kids who don’t hang out together the same place to sleep or change up seating partners for at least part of the travel time. Even brief “get-to-know-you” games during a meal can help.
- They are supernatural discipleship experiences. To see this happen, you may need to explain and re-explain the mission trip’s purpose. Then again, you may just need to pray with your team every day and invite Jesus to do what only he can. Somewhere in between promoting the rationale and letting God be God, transformation is bound to occur.
In other words, mission trips are all about relationships. Let’s be honest: Kids may sign up because of which friends are going, not because of higher motives to serve. That might bother you, and rightfully so. Then again, Jesus has a way of taking the worst in us that we give him and turning it into something amazing beyond us.
Have you seen the mess of a mission trip create something beautiful in the process? Share your experiences with us!
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