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Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about Short Term Mission Trips, and I just returned recently from one to Wimauma, FL , and it was probably one of the best trips my youth group has ever been on.
After I having read post after post about some of the issues with short term mission trips, and considering our Youth Ministry abandoning them next year , opting instead for a summer camp, I wanted to be intentional with this trip to get the most out of it. I came into this mission trip with this understanding: short term youth mission trips are not so much about the impact the students leave on the location or people that live there but rather to impact the students who are going.
With that being on my mind, here is what I did to make sure the trip was the best trip I could possibly do.
1. Made my own devotionals
I had never done this before. In fact I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste my time if most youth pastors know of good pre-made ones. I even asked @Youth_min to see what they would recommend, and they made a great post to help me outline a devotional that I could use and customize. I was able to contextualize for my group and pin point exactly what my youth needed to hear so they could be challenged in their morning devotionals. In the evening, we had group discussions to help our youth see the gospel in a way to challenge them to not just believe it, but live it.
Also, one thing I learned, youth love quotes. You can write paragraphs and paragraphs of rich content but something about a quote that is a sentence or two impacts teens a lot. When we discussed the devotional at night the first thing they would mention when asked what they learned, they always talked about the quotes.
2. Never miss an opportunity
My youth group loves free style rapping, having wrestling contests, and doing push-up contests. Well, at least my boys do.
At midnight, when all their energy is spent from working out and pretending to be Lecrae ,out of no where they would ask me super big and heavy questions. “If God is sovereign, why do we need to pray?”, “What about people who never hear the gospel?”, or my favorite “Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?”It is so easy after a long day of sweating in the Florida heat to just try to give a short answer so you can get some sleep.
Don’t miss those opportunities! I would much rather lose sleep to help a kid understand God better than be well rested while kids still have questions. Stay up late. Let them ask questions. Even if their questions are not orthodox, I will let a student plead their case on why they believe in Theistic Evolution so they can flesh out their thoughts so I can step in and help them see the truth.
3. Separate the Genders
I know this sounds like real 1990’s youth ministry but hear me out. I purposely scheduled the students to be in their rooms a little earlier so that the youth can build with their peers of their same gender. I think it is simple to understand. Guys will be more open and honest when it is just guys. The opposite is true too. This was probably one of the points that made the trip such a great success. The guys got to be open and transparent with other guys and the girls got to be open and transparent with the other girls. They left stronger and more united as a group.
There is no verse in the Bible that says, “Go and make disciples and then have 1 fun day”. Maybe it is in the amplified version.
Regardless, as much as we want to say there isn’t anything spiritual about having a fun day on a mission trip, I used it to leverage the idea of killing “spiritual highs”. In the morning, we talked about how we should never put our guard down and turn off our Christian walk just because we are at a secular place. We encouraged them to be bold for Christ at the happiest place on earth as well as being intentional about being the hands and feet of Christ. My kids let families cut our large group in front of us in lines. They stood and held doors open. One of my girls cleaned up straw wrappers next to a fountain drink machine just because she wanted to find a way to serve. These “fun days” can be a way to put what they learned all week in action after the trip.
Another small note: We should probably change the name of “mission trip” when we take youth on these trips to “serve trip” or something like that. My youth did interact with people and there were opportunities for our kids to share the gospel, however when I think of missions there is no way it can be only a week long.
True missions is reserved for those people who spend the months and years at a place sharing the gospel, planting churches and doing life with the people. We are really just going down there to serve for a week. I don’t think our youth will know or even care about the name change, but giving our youth a better perspective on missions is better than letting them think that full time missionaries are just people who wear bandannas on their head and just paint walls all day.