I think many youth ministry workers would agree that there is a double standard when it comes to the attention paid to mission trips as opposed to the amount (or lack thereof) of time, effort, and resources that go into local mission projects. And yes, we should not wait for spring break or a summer trip so we can go somewhere and do missions. We can do missions anywhere, especially at home. However, in an attempt to keep ourselves honest, I think lately a lot of youth workers have been downplaying the importance of mission trips as opposed to doing local missions projects. But I believe that mission trips may be even more critical in the spiritual lives of teenagers. Here’s why.
I think one of the biggest mistakes we make as youth workers is that we are so passionate about seeing our students come to spiritual maturity that we often forget that they are still teenagers. Mike Yaconelli used to say that youth are not ready for true biblical discipleship. So our role as youth workers is to model Christ for them. So, while it is less glamorous to rake leaves at a house around the corner from the church than it is to spend a week in a new location building wheelchair ramps, we shouldn’t demonize what happens on that week long mission trip.
Teenagers are teenagers. And many times teenagers need a hook to get them interested in something. For missions that hook may be the idea of getting to leave home for a week, or going to some place new, or getting to see that cute 9th grade girl every day for a week. So the student goes on a mission trip just to get out of the house for a week and while he’s there he learns what it means to serve others. He learns what it means to be a part of a team. He sees tears come to a homeowner’s eyes when she sees the work his group has done. He understands what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Then when he goes home and the youth leaders announces that Saturday the group will be raking leaves at Mrs. Smith’s house, our student can get excited about this project? Why? Because one time when he wanted to get out of the house for a week in the summer, he wound up on a trip that changed his life.
We should make the most of all of our missions opportunities. But I don’t think we should beat ourselves up because mission trips are more fun, adventurous, or glamorous than local mission projects at home. They are still an important part of any youth ministry’s missions program.