Typically any trip you go on takes good planning in order to be successful. Preparing your group to serve on a mission trip takes even more focus and attention to detail as you maximize the experience, not just for the good of your group, but for the glory of God! It is important that when we travel on mission trips we don’t lead and go with the mindset of a tourist, but the mindset of a missionary, called by God and sent on mission for and with Him.
Zac Condie (Servant Life Director) and I have shared with you FOUR simple thoughts to help you plan and prepare for your time serving with your students on any mission experience. It’s easy to get so caught up in what has to be done, that we sometimes miss out on what should be done.
1. CAST VISION FOR YOUR TEAM
As a leader, if you fail to cast vision for your students and adults that are going to serve they create their own terms for that. When participants, especially students have the wrong goals in mind, they can quickly become discouraged and frustrated if their expectations aren’t met, and might even consider the trip to be a failure. For instance, if someone defines that success is 100 people coming to Christ (praise God if it does happen) and if that does not happen, is the trip a failure?
We need to lead with a “short-term mission trip is more about the long-term impact” mindset. Hopefully what you are doing in the short-term is connected to long-term strategy, and the local churches or missionaries will follow up and build upon what you’ve done. Often times in these short-term trips we don’t see the impact of our faithful service. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Sometimes we plant seeds and sometimes we water them, but it is important for you as a leader to help those serving to understand they haven’t failed on a trip simply because the “don’t see it” happen while on the trip. The results of our ministry are not in our hands but in God’s hands. We must not confuse our role in the mission. God expects us to be faithful to Him and to His Word, and that’s our primary responsibility. But at the end of the day, we can’t bring anyone from death to life—that is God’s responsibility. It is God’s job to save people and our role in the process is to faithfully proclaim the Gospel. Success for us is in being faithful to the call to go and share. Results are up to God through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
So as a leader, help your group understand the goals of the trip and what success looks like as you cast vision from the start. If they don’t have a solid understanding of these principles, don’t be surprised when their unmet expectations turn into frustration. Teach them not to just pack their bags to go on a trip, but help them understand they are going on mission and what that looks like.
2. PREPARE YOUR GROUP SPIRITUALLY
One of the number one things we hear from mission partners all over the world is students show up to serve with great energy, but they are not ready for gospel engagement. We’ve missed the mark if we do everything required of us to go on a mission trip, yet show up unprepared to be ambassadors for Christ and proclaimers of His gospel. As leaders, we must prepare our team members to be ready to share not only their story but the gospel grounded in the Word of God.
There are numerous evangelism techniques and strategies that you could use to train your students. The important thing is not which strategy you use, but that you have a plan to help your students gain confidence with some type of gospel-sharing technique that is faithful to God’s Word. There are plenty of resources online that teach some of these approaches, here are two that Zac shares for your benefit “Three Circles” and “Treads.” You can also find other examples like “The Romans Road,” “The Bridge,” etc. You likely have a favorite you use. We suggest you find at least one that feels like a good fit for your team and make sure each person is ready and confident to share the gospel with someone in some way. Giving your students a full toolbox here will help them well beyond their time on the field and prepare them for sharing at home, in their school and with anyone they come in contact with.
We want to be known as Christ-followers as people that point to the gospel in everything they do. The hope is that the gospel is the core of our story. However, one thing to watch for in this process is many Christians think that if they can articulate their testimony in some capacity that they can share the gospel well, but this is not necessarily true. Our testimonies can often be long-winded, full of confusing church language (especially in a foreign context) and lacking Scripture and biblical truth. By no means is sharing your testimony a bad thing, but we must be critical of what we are saying and consider how faithfully we are pointing the recipient to the truth of Christ. One good perspective is the 30-3-30 rule. Be prepared to share your testimony during a trip in 30 seconds, 3 minutes or 30 minutes depending on the context you are in. And in each of those, make sure that our testimony always points back to the goodness and grace of God found in the gospel.
3. SET UP A PRAYER NETWORK
Do you think that prayer is important? Renowned missionary Samuel Zwemer was known as “the Apostle to Islam” and spent his entire ministry seeking to love and share Christ with Muslims. As the author of numerous books he left behind many nuggets of wisdom, but one of the most profound things he said was this: “The history of missions is the history of answered prayer.” In other words, he recognized that any success he saw in the mission field had already been ordained by God above. If we believe this is true, it should drive us to our knees in prayer as we look ahead to our mission trips.
This starts with the personal prayers of everyone going on the trip, but take it a step further and think about ways you can connect your whole church to be prayer partners for your trip. There are countless ways to bring focus to the mission you are going on and the people you are serving. You can create prayer cards for each person on your trip and distribute them to other small groups and individuals in the church, handouts magnets, bracelets, t-shirts, etc. These simple reminders allow the trip to go behind just the team traveling to a church-wide engagement. You can also ask suggestions from others that have traveled on trips in groups like Youth Pastors Only and get great ideas in creating your prayer network.
Once the network is created, make sure that each person has multiple levels of prayer support. Encourage those praying to find ways to affirm the ones for whom they are praying. How cool would it be on the morning of the trip if all of those prayer warriors showed up in the church parking lot to circle around your team members and pray over them before you head off? Don’t miss out on the many ways to make sure the power and presence of prayer are a part of your mission experience. The task of missions belongs to God, and we must be dependent on Him if we want to see fruit. Let’s be a people who seek Him in prayer, and invite those around us to do the same.
4. HELP YOUR STUDENTS PROCESS THEIR TRIP EXPERIENCE
A lot of leaders spend time preparing and time going, but very little time in preparation for the return. Re-entry after a mission experience is extremely important, especially after a spring break trip when students are right back into school. It is important as a leader to be thinking about what a good re-entry plan needs to look like for your group.
A mission trip often opens our eyes to the world around us, putting things into perspective for us, and helps us see the world how God sees the world instead of only through our own cultural lenses. Help your students understand they don’t just “go on a mission trip” but rather as a Christ-follower, they are called to live life on mission. When you return from a “trip” it is not over, yes that time is over, but the mission continues well after we return home.
It is not difficult to see that God not only works through team members, but he also works in team members. Because of this, we need to help our students make the most of their mission trip experiences. Equip them with resources to help them process their trip and help them draw near to God through his Word. Often times it can also be hard to just re-enter to regular life when everyone else did not experience the same thing we did. Help your students be prepared for this reality.
There are great resources available to help your students do this. One such resource is a mission journal available through Servant Life. These daily devotionals cover the time before, during, and after your trip in order to help your team members connect with the Lord as they seek to faithfully serve him. You can find some of those resources from YM360 HERE if interested.
We know that a lot of hard work goes into a mission trip, but in addition to taking care of all the urgent details to make the trip happen, we encourage you to not neglect these important steps to help your team have great success. These short-term trips not only have an opportunity to be a catalyst for the long-term work where you are serving but we know those going will be greatly impacted.
If you are still looking for opportunities to serve this summer or in the coming years you can find out more about the experience through YM360 at www.generatestudents.com or Servant Life at www.servantlife.com. Our teams are ready and willing to help you with any of your mission trip needs along the way.