Over the past few years I have spoken with students and young adults in regards to the effectiveness of missions. What did they gain from their missions’ experience? How have they grown spiritually? In what ways were they impacted to show more compassion and humility on a daily basis? The continual answer I have found breaks my heart. Students and young adults are not getting a true missions experience, instead they are being sent on a glorified retreat that turns into a social hangout.
In my opinion today’s high school and college student does not need to be given another opportunity to hang out in a social club. They need to face the facts of a lost and broken world. They need to be hit with the truth of a hurting society that is in need of the love and compassion of Jesus. One student who recently visited the country of Bolivia said it was simply a retreat. We are organizing trips to build earthly relationships instead of focusing on growing the Kingdom of God.
So… what do we do? Where do we go from here? How do we impact today’s teenagers and young adults through a mission’s experience? I believe first and foremost we must create a desire for missions in our own backyard. Many of our students miss the needs staring them in the face. They do not realize that they are coming in contact with homeless, widows, and orphaned children on a daily basis.
A couple of years ago I held a localized missions week for our students, where we set aside an intensive time of missions training. We brought in several guest speakers involved in compassion and outreach ministries within our local area. We also organized several groups of students each day that went out into the community and were involved in hands on missions work. We connected with the homeless, the orphaned children, the elderly, at risk youth, and the widows. Each student had their eyes opened to the need for missions and compassion ministries right in their own backyard. It created an awareness and passion to carry out the love of Christ to the hurting around us. We must constantly create this awareness through local missions trips, volunteer service, and student outreach teams.
As youth leaders, we must also show the importance of organized missions trips, with the emphasis on ‘organized.’ It is so easy to pack up our suitcases, load on the plane, and travel to a third world country. I fear too often this is being done, and we are forgetting the importance and significance of the mission God has called us to. We want to show our students a third world country to make them feel bad and completely humble themselves. Instead of making my students feel bad, I would rather create urgency in them to act based upon how God has blessed them. As the American church, God has blessed us with the capability to reach out to a hurting world in a gigantic way. I desire to cause my students to feel blessed by what God has given them, and in turn feel privileged to share it with the entire world.
Missions’ trips must also be more than a time of social hangout. It comes down to organization and intentionality. What are you doing to create spiritual growth in each individual and in the entire group as a whole? How are you impacting those around you for the cause of Christ? Is your debrief time serious or just another time to laugh and goof around? I am not downplaying the importance of down time and relaxation during a mission’s trip, instead I am pointing out the significance of spiritual growth and spiritual impact while on trip.
Whether it is Africa, Haiti, or our own backyard, we must not lose sight of sharing Christ’s love and the Gospel with those we come in contact with. Organizing effective missions trips and experiences is key to creating a heart of compassion within our students and young adults.
I would love to hear what you are doing to create an effective missions strategy, specifically within the context of student ministry.
Upcoming Blog on Missional Involvement: Creating Missions Partners