Mission Trips – More Than a Religous Vacation

“Wouldn’t it be better to give all that money to a missionary instead of taking a mission trip?”

This quote, in a nutshell, sums up a lot of the logic regarding arguments against mission trips.  To be honest it’s hard to argue with.  After all, wouldn’t a missionary be better off getting the $20, $30, or even up to $50 thousand that some mission trips cost?  Wouldn’t it be better to send them the money so they could use it as they see fit?

Some of the other criticisms of mission trips include:

·         Motive – This concerns the motives of the participants.  Are they really going to help the missionary or are they looking for a vacation – albeit one with a holy purpose.

·         Effectiveness – Do mission trips really help with spreading the gospel?  Couldn’t the missionary be more effective by having the money and directing to one of his or her strategic programs?

·         Length – Does a 10-day excursion to a foreign mission do much to help anybody? The missionary, the participant, or even the people being served? Wouldn’t it be better to send people on a 2 to 5 year stint?

·         Sightseeing – Should any part of the mission trip be used in a tourism sense?

·         Education – If part of a trip’s purpose is to educate the participants about missions wouldn’t it be more effective to do this education in the local church setting instead of going overseas?

A recent Wall Street article covers these criticisms plus more (see it at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122359398873721053.html.

So what about it?  Are these trips really as ineffective and wasteful as claimed?  Should churches nix them from their mission program and divert the money to more effective forms of great commission work?  At first glance, it’s hard to argue with this logic.

I think the criticisms come from genuine concerns (for the most part) and from people who would like to see mission work done as effectively as possible. However, I think some very important intangibles are missed by the critics and some of their logic is faulty.  And, I hate to say it, some of the arguments are just plain prudish.   Similar to the person who walked into a church 60 years ago and first saw padded pews and said, “why did we waste money on that, couldn’t we sit on 2 x 10 wooden benches.”  Okay, that example is a little dated, but you get the point.  Some of this criticism is valid and some of it isn’t.

I think mission trips are much more than a holy holiday and in fact, can be a solid component of the mission program at any church. 

Here’s why:

Economics: I don’t think economics can be completely used to judge the value of a mission trip. The article mentions that a home could be built cheaper with local labor. Yes, but then the trip participants wouldn’t get the experience of “seeing” and “helping” a missionary. How do you place a value on this experience?  It’s impossible.

Education:  There is a value to a person standing next to a missionary helping him serve.  While it is expensive, there is value to it.  This is why in the secular world we have study abroad programs and foreign exchange students.  Under the same logic, it could be argued that these programs are a waste of money.  Why not educate via a DVD presentation and taking a foreign language class? Because there is something about “being there.”   
Vision: I believe there is great value in a person being on the field and seeing the possibilities.  How could God use them? What does He want for their life? How can they serve missionaries better stateside?  What more should their church be doing? It’s hard to put a dollar figure on the vision building aspect of a mission trip.  
New Missionaries: Many current missionaries were originally challenged about being one partly through taking a trip.  I can think of at least 5 from our church alone.  Obviously God can direct people to missionary service without a trip.  But it appears trips are at least a part of how many current missionaries became challenged to serve.  How can a value be placed on a person’s decision to follow the Lord into career missionary work?  Imagine if every trip produced a new career missionary? 

·         A person who would spend the next 35 years spreading the gospel in a foreign land (or close to home for that matter.)

·         A person who would win dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of souls to Christ.

·         A person who would plant dozens of churches.

·         A person who would start Bible colleges for training new indigenous Christian workers.

How much is that worth? As one recent commercial would say, I think it’s “priceless.”

Effectiveness: The argument is that a missionary could make better use of the dollars.  Yes, if the only purpose is to get the “work” done.  However, that is only one of the goals of a trip.  The other goal is to challenge people and churches about missions, to connect with their missionary, to encourage their missionary, and also to get some work done.  There’s no arguing that some work does get done.  This argument is just about the cost of it.

It should also be noted that many missionaries ask us to send mission teams. If trips weren’t productive and helpful to a missionary, I doubt they would be asking churches to send teams. Even at our conference this past week, we had a missionary from Hungary ask us to send a team over. I think there are some tangible benefits to the missionary by hosting a team including:

·         Closer connection to a supporting church.

·         Funds provided to the missionary by the team.

·         Labor provided by the team (obviously not efficient economically, but work does get done).

·         Increased evangelism above what the missionary could do on his or her own.

·         Special skills provided by the team that the missionary cannot hire (an evangelistic baseball camp.)

·         The encouragement the missionary receives from the team and its sending church.

Finally, what about the arguments that mission trips are merely religious vacations. 

Is that really so bad? Keep in mind that most of the money for a mission trip comes from the participants and their fund raising efforts. If they want to give and raise the money, is it a bad thing for them to be excited about seeing another country? Not to be sarcastic, but is it better to go lay on a Florida beach for 10 days or spend those 10 days in Kenya doing a soccer camp for kids and sharing Jesus with them?  And while doing it taking in a little safari.  I’ll let you answer that one.

From a personal perspective, I and my son took a mission trip to Peru several years ago.  Each person had some money set aside to see Machu Picchu.  Wow!  What an opportunity.  In the end, after praying about it, everyone gave this portion of their trip money to the missionary instead of seeing this tourist attraction.  It amounted to about $2500.

All this being said, I’m sure there are many mission trips taken that are not effective. To me this doesn’t mean don’t take the trip, but instead do a better job of planning and knowing your objective. 

It also means the question doesn’t have to be an “either/or” question: either take a mission trip or send more money to missionaries.  I say it should be a “both/and” question.  Let’s do both: 

A.    Take mission trips

B.    AND make them the best they can be

C.    AND send more finances to missionaries.

D.    AND educate our churches better about missions work.

So what do you think?      (to respond click on the word, ‘comments’ below)

 


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Mission Trips – More Than a Religous Vacation — 37 Comments

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  28. God didn’t send silver or gold, he sent himself in the form of the Son.

    Note from Shawn…

    John, yes of course. I nor anyone else is trying to say anything less. However, to take this great news of Jesus coming in the flesh to the world takes “silver and gold”, as you say. No one is getting on a plane to from one country to another without someone buying a ticket. Right? So the question we are discussing here is, “what is the best way to do that?”

    Do you have something to comment on regarding this discussion?

  29. The only thing I find myself having qualms with, is the whole “missions” part of the trip. It implies that the people going are there to do something for the people, which in fact they are. But it is veiled in a shroud of self-sacrficing glorification. It implies selflessness, however, I believe that even while doing God’s work, it seems a selfish means of doing it. The money raised could be spent in many other ways. I realize I am not writing in the most eloquent manner, its hard for me to express how I feel

    In a nutshell, my main qualm is…I understand the trips are meant to glorify God and help the people…but I can’t help but feel that these trips actually benefit those who go on them far more than the people they serve. I think that is fine…I just don’t like that what a “mission trip” connotes is doing something that is on par with serving in the Peace Corps or doing a long term project that more efficiently benefits the people in need. This is mainly what has stopped me from going on a missions trip.

  30. There is no question that short-term mission trips can be valuable experiences and should be part of a church’s overall strategy. Most long-term missionaries today have had at least one short-term mission exposure. At the same time, research does show that the vast majority (80%+) of short-term trips are done poorly. This is primarily because most are organized and run by youth directors/pastors who are unable to plan such trips carefully due to either lack of experience, lack of time, or lack of motivation. I believe in the value of short-term missions, providing they have quality training before the trip, specified outcomes for the trip, and scheduled debriefs for a period of time after the trip in order to determine if the trip accomplished its intentions in the lives of the participants. Most trips fail to meet these standards. Ultimately, to me, it is a question of stewardship. Last year 2 billion dollars were spent on short-term mission trips, exceeding the resources expended in the support of long-term missionaries. You would rightly expect significant outcomes from such an enormous expenditure. But there has been no increase in long-term missionaries being sent (stagnant in North America over the past 10 years), and no measurable increase in either financial support or in prayer (as reported by the participants). So, are such trips valuable? Yes, in certain circumstances. But far too many fit the norm reported by the Washington Post article.

    Response from Shawn to Paul…I must say that your observations about mission trips are contrary to the experiences I’ve heard from almost anyone I’ve ever talked to about a trip they have taken. I also question some of your statistics (source) and the WSJ article research. You’ve ignored many of the other observations in my article; a primary one being the most missionaries want mission teams to come and help them. This is key – if the trips were so ineffective, why are missionaries asking (almost begging sometimes) teams to come and visit them? Also – with you position as being president of Moody Bible Institute, I must admit I am shocked at your views of mission trips and their effectiveness. I trust your position on mission trips is one that is still in development and evaluaton.

  31. Excellent Shawn! The above comments were encouraging too. I never even thought about Missions trips being a vacation until the missionaries from Hawaii told us in tears that a team couldn’t raise enough money to come help where they were so needed. So many naysayers assumed they were going for the vaca and not to minister to the people who worshipped gods. Great reminder that God works in lots of ways…we can’t box Him in to one method!

  32. Thanks Shawn. Another reason to go on missions trips is that in some fields, Americans attract the crowds. I have been in 3 missions trips in the Philippines. The first 2 with Breaking Point. We were able to get into the public schools and share the gospel with over 20,000 people in a couple weeks. We were able to because of the Americans on the team. Our missionary there, though he was doing a great job, told me that he could never get that kind of visibility, and speak to that many people without BP. It was a highly effective trip.
    The last trip was with a group of basketball players. We worked with Buhay Sports whose main strategy is using mission teams from the states to bring crowds to watch them play basketball. It is the presence of the Americans that draws the crowds. Because of that we have the unique capacity to partner with local churches to get the gospel to a whole lot more people than they can on their own. While this is not the case in every field, it certainly is in the Philippines.

  33. I look at a mission trip as an adventure, Sure there is apprehension in anyone “giving” to a mission trip.
    I come from a family that was raised to ask the question WHY? They asked my daughter everytime she goes on one, their religion(the one I was raised in) doesn’t get it.
    Several things came to light when my eldest child took her first mission trip. What would the group she went with get from her. She was 16. But sometimes things work a little different. She came home a shining light.
    We both know our lord does his thing on missions trips. If that is a benefit to the Missionary then Amen!
    But how about the travelers, do they benefit, Oh yes they do.
    I think one can have all the conferences, tent revivals, community service projects for those who say, ehh I don’t think I want to eat ants in my raisin bran for breakfast so I will say at home.
    I do know we are told to GO DO IT, GO to the far corners of the earth teaching and doing our part to make sure everyone has the opportunity to hear the gospel. So we send missionaries to the front line, then at times our church members go there also. maybe to lend a hand or maybe just maybe there has been a bug in the ear called a calling, and when they hit the region they KNOW that this is the answer.
    Maybe on the other hand the travelers will see their life at home in a different light, returned charged for missions and there to assist the church when that call is made for assistance to a Missionary.
    I do see some churches do it too much and they would be better off going to the promised land on a vacation to see where our Lord was born.
    They can get too complacent with the annual jaunt that they lose the vision that our Lord wants. I have not been on a missions trip due to things holding me home, but my daughter understands better than most that when on a missions trip, the ideal is lay it in the hands of Jesus and he will carry up through this trip to make sure we have fulfilled his needs here. that works both ways
    Is it expensive… Yes… Is it necessary, in my eyes YES it is very necessary as the churches…. like a recent Missionary told me the Church is one chopstick and the Missionary is the other, can’t eat with just one. gotta have two and the trip just adds the sauce to the meal to make just s little spicy and memorable so those remember why they went and everyone walks away from the trip understanding a little better about what the Missionaries do daily, not just for 10 days.. I for one would love to hit the dirt path and see the shine in a new believers eyes, I have seen it here at home a couple of times, it is like being reborn all over again, you feel it..

  34. Shawn…good article. I have heard these excuses over the years as well. One would think, as you stated, that just giving the money to the missionaries would be better…only from a financial standpoint. But there is no proof whatsoever that those funds would be earmarked for missions without such a trip. For example, I have heard people say, “Why do we need a new sound system?” or “Why should we remodel the church auditorium?” After all, can’t we worship the same without? “Just think what a missionary could do with this money?!” My point is this…just because a missionary could do something with those funds, does not mean that those funds would ever make it to the mission field. Without a point of reference (i.e. a mission trip) most people would not be challenged to set aside $2500, or even more, on top of their regular tities and offerings (and in some cases on top of their faith promise giving as well) for missions. Mission trips have been invaluable in my life, and in the lives of many others that I personally know. There will always be naysayers to all good things, and we need to consider their arguments, as you have done, but in the end it is up to each church and pastor to determine how to best fulfill the great commission in their context.

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