Chapter OneWHY DO
You're a parent who is frantic to see something good happen in your church for your youth. You
want them to step closer to God, bond with positive friends, and integrate with the adults in the
congregation. What do you do?
Or you're a church volunteer who sees the youth you teach week after week spouting all the right
facts yet showing no fruit from a tight relationship with God. They're choking on too much Sunday
school. How can you grab hold of them with a spiritual Heimlich maneuver?
Or you're a rookie when it comes to working with students. Still you know God wants to use you
in their lives. You're looking for ways to grow the youth you know. Where can you start?
Or you're a youth pastor worn out from trying to devise programs as enthralling as this week's
hottest band, movie, or quiz show. You want to train your youth to take the next step toward God, not
to expect you to produce a bigger and better program for each youth group meeting. How can you
extract yourself from the contest to be voted America's Hippest Youth Pastor?
Or you're a student at the head of the your youth group pack, someone who senses there's more
to following Jesus than sponging up Bible stories and doing church socials. You hate it when adults
pat you on the head and tell you you're "the church of tomorrow." What can you do to make a
difference in your world today?
Or you're a senior pastor wanting to energize what looks like a fizzling youth program. You know
firsthand the struggle to be relevant without selling your soul, and you wonder how to best engage
today's youth. What sort of guidance should you give your youth staff?
Maybe you see bits and pieces of yourself in several descriptions-or your situation is unique.
Yet if you've picked up this book you probably sense that all of those dilemmas share a common
solution: Thousands of youth workers have found that an indispensable key to moving their students
toward spiritual growth is involving them in short-term missions.
THE ANSWER IS MISSIONS
Missions. Not an expanded diet of lock-ins and wild stunts.
Missions. Not more splashy meetings laced with pricey multimedia.
Missions. Not another luxurious camp or retreat.
Launching students into short-term missions produces effects far more enduring than
entertainment. It cracks opens the hearts of youth to biblical content and commands in a way that
fun-and-games can't. It ignites their minds far faster than lectures. It captures the attention of youth
who want to do rather than sit and learn from a book, even if that book is the Bible. It can draw
jaded students into a lifetime of making a difference in the world. And contrary to the old-school
youth ministry theory that says the only way to evangelize students is by luring them in with crazy events
and then surprising them with the gospel, a service event can even be an entry point to meeting God.
Students who take part in short-term missions join an activity at the center of the heart of God.
As they get up-close-and-personal with the purposes of God in their world, they can glimpse the God
who is ultimate power, ultimate intelligence, ultimate justice, and ultimate love-the God who burst
into history in the person of Jesus Christ to wrap them and their world in total care, total wisdom, total
fairness, and total belonging. They see that God passionately wants them to know him and to make
them a part of his plan for the world.
THE THREE BIG REASONS TO GO
If you've never done a short-term mission trip either on your own or with students, you might smell a
sales job. You may have heard the enthusiastic testimonials of youth workers who have led students
on trips, yet you wonder if trips actually do anyone any lasting good. If you're already signed up for a
trip, you might be wondering how to maximize the event. And if you've done a short-term project and
had a less-than-incredible experience, you might be asking yourself why the project didn't produce
the promised results.
The good effects of plugging your students into missions aren't automatic. The effort isn't as easy
as barging into your youth group and announcing that you're doing a trip to Nepal next summer. But
this guide will help you pull together everything you need to ensure your trip's success-to get ready,
accomplish much, and make it stick when you get home. Whether you're a first-timer or a veteran of
many short-term mission projects, Mission Trip Prep Kit will assist you in making the most of your project.
To start, here's a big thought: While the process of dreaming up the perfect trip for your students
leaves your brain aswirl with questions of where to go and what to do, you're far more likely to get to
the good results you seek if you first settle a bigger question: Why go at all?
Involving your students in short-term missions is nothing less than latching on to God's colossal
plan to reach humankind with the Good News of Christ. Done right, that endeavor reaps at least three
BENEFIT: OUR MAXIMUM GROWTH. Frankly, the growth of your students might be your pressing
priority. Facilitating their growth might be your paid duty, your full-time responsibility, the heartbeat of
your life. And asking what a mission trip can do for you and the students you lead isn't a selfish
question-not unless you're using missions as a ruse to set up a beach bash in Cancun.
Here's why. Outreach isn't just how Jesus spread news of his kingdom and met the needs of the
world at large; it's also how he trained his followers. After those followers watched Jesus minister to
the crowds (Luke 8:1), he sent them out two-by-two, first commissioning his 12 closest disciples
(Luke 9:1-6), then a group of 72 (Luke 10:1). If you check the biblical texts, you'll notice that the people
he sent were still homing in on Christ's precise identity (Luke 9:18-20). Jesus didn't send them
out because of their thorough maturity but, in part, to move them toward that maturity.
The same kind of quantum growth that Jesus plotted for his disciples occurs because students
involved in outreach help usher in even bigger benefits.
BENEFIT: OTHERS' MAXIMUM GOOD. God aims to do something about the world he sees distanced from
himself and mired in destruction. Early in his public ministry Jesus engaged in a set of actions that
illustrate the kind of good he intends for us to replicate as we do missions: When a group of men lowered
their paralyzed friend through a roof to get him close to Jesus, he forgave the man's sins and
healed his broken body and called him his friend (Luke 5:17-26).
That's exactly the kind of spiritual, physical, and emotional good Jesus predicted he would bring
to the world when he stood in his hometown synagogue and read a prophecy from Isaiah: "The Spirit
of the Lord is on me," he said, "because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He
has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the
oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19). When students imitate Christ's
love for the world, they do good for others that brings people whole-life help.
BENEFIT: GOD'S MAXIMUM GLORY. Our motivation for missions starts with the Bible command to "go
and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you
always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20). That Great Commission tells us what to do,
but often we lop off what Jesus said about why we do it: because "all authority in heaven and on
earth" belongs to Jesus (Matthew 28:18).
God's greatness and majesty are one-of-a-kind awe-striking. And his goal is for everything about
him-everything worth praising, honoring, and respecting-to be broadcast throughout the world.
Isaiah 60:2 says, "See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the
Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you." Habakkuk 2:14 puts it this way: "For the earth
will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
Right before Jesus headed back to heaven, he made a great prediction of exactly how and where
God's glory would spread: The Holy Spirit would empower all of us to speak and act-and we would
be the ones to "tell people about [Jesus] everywhere-in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NLT).
God isn't glorified only when individual lives are repaired or even when individuals trust in him.
God's biggest goal is to build a people. God made us for friendship with himself and each other, but
sin smashed that friendship. His goal now is to build a tight group of friends who belong to him-friends
who honor him as their Master and rely on his care now and forever, and whose hearts beat
with his compassion for all the people of the world.
1 Peter 2:9-10 puts in plain words the good that God wants to use us to do in the world: "But you
are chosen people. You are the King's priests. You are a holy nation. You are a nation that belongs to
God alone. God chose you to tell about the wonderful things he has done. He called you out of darkness
into his wonderful light. At one time you were not God's people. But now you are his people. In
the past you had never received mercy. But now you have received God's mercy" (NCV).
NO BETTER WAY TO GROW
Our growth. Others' good. God's glory. Those are great benefits, but benefits that large can be
abstract and hard-to-grasp.
As a youth worker-type contemplating a short-term trip for your group, you no doubt intend for
your efforts to showcase God's greatness. You surely want to make a difference in the lives of the real
people you reach out to. But your immediate reason for picking up this book is likely the huge change
that short-term missions can work in your kids. So check out some of the big reasons why short-term
projects are so effective in growing students:
SHORT-TERM MISSION EXPERIENCES OFFER AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO TEACH AND DISCIPLE YOUR STUDENTS.
When Jesus took his disciples along as he ministered and then launched them to minister on their
own, he was conveying spiritual content in the context of real life. It works the same for us: No
classroom teaching tactic has the punch of a real-life project, and a short-term trip offers a concentrated
way for students to see God at work in and through them. From a purely educational perspective, mission
trips are effective because it naturally yields cognitive, affective, and behavioral results-helping
students learn with their head, heart, and hands.
SHORT-TERM MISSION EXPERIENCES COMMUNICATE YOUR BELIEF IN YOUR STUDENTS. In his book The
Power of Believing in Your Child, youth speaker and former San Diego Charger Miles McPherson
talks about touring the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. As the captain reeled off facts about the
multibillion dollar floating airport, Miles noticed the helmsman. Steering the ship was a baby-faced
19-year-old. If young women and men still in their teens can guide planes, target bombs, read radar,
guard our national security, and put themselves in harm's way, we can trust them to be a light to the
world. With a potency few other activities possess, short-term missions call students to live up to the
active faith they are capable of.
Plenty of people overlook the potential of youth for accomplishing anything significant, whether
teachers who baby-sit them until graduation or media that paints them as selfish rebels. Even many
parents fear their children's growing maturity and puzzle over how to channel adolescent energy.
When you dare youth to do their best by doing real ministry, you demonstrate gigantic faith in them.
SHORT-TERM MISSION EXPERIENCES HOOK STUDENTS ON MINISTRY-AND ON GOD. If students only know
about God from week-in, week-out experiences of Sunday school and youth group, they can draw
some misguided conclusions about their faith. They might think that following Jesus is all about sitting
still and listening to someone drone on. And if the only place the adults of the church see youth
are the week-in, week-out experiences of Sunday school and youth group, they might draw some
misguided conclusions about adolescents.
For most youth, making their lives matter is high on their list of priorities. Taking part in a short-term
mission project lets them make a difference in someone's life, maybe for the first time. It can
jumpstart a life of service, making ministry a normal, everyday part of a student's journey as a
Christian. Opening up opportunities for service, in fact, might be far more important than you
In one of the few empirical studies of why youth distance themselves from God, Dr. Bob Laurent
found that teens' own most-cited reason for ditching God was surprising: their church failed to
provide opportunities for significant involvement (Keeping Your Teen in Touch with God, Life Journey
Books, 1988). Those "opportunities for significant involvement" often revolve around apprenticing
youth in real ministry-in evangelism, administration, helps, social justice, worship, Christian education,
and discipleship. Students not only need more than fun and games, they want more. Mission projects
are one way to give it to them.
NO ARM-TWISTING REQUIRED
Offering your youth the opportunity to take part in a short-term mission project might not awaken an
overwhelming response the first time. But recruiting is infinitely easier the next time. Countless students
back from well-run trips report to their parents, pastors, and peers that they have experienced
all kinds of growth:
+ THEY AUDACIOUSLY SHARE WHAT THEY BELIEVE. For some students, merely
identifying themselves with a mission team-signing up, climbing in the van,
being seen as part of the group, even wearing a project T-shirt-is a huge bit of boldness.
Others step out by speaking about their faith. And some stretch to taking part in
proactive evangelism, talking with strangers in a winsome way.
+ THEY MEET PEOPLE DIFFERENT FROM THEMSELVES. Not many students sit around with
their friends contemplating how to spend their spare time and come up with, "Let's
go meet some homeless people-or some senior citizens-or some people of another race
or religion." But that doesn't mean they won't grab hold of the opportunity if you put it in front
of them. Short-term mission projects open the door to a world they might never enter otherwise.
+ THEY DO NEW THINGS FOR GOD. Lots of youth are never trusted with a lawnmower,
much less a circular saw or a pneumatic hammer. They've never climbed a ladder
or hung out on a roof.