Serving Grows Faith
Is it worth it to do a short-term mission trip?
Absolutely! As pastors, we’re always challenging our people to take “that next step of faith,” but most of the steps available to people in the local congregation are not that challenging. We tell people to come to Bible study, to join a small group, to serve in the community…those are all vitally important to our growth as disciples, but they’re not too hard to do. Most people can find the time and energy to accommodate a step like that.
A short-term mission trip is different. It takes time – more than an hour or two a week, it often takes the whole week. It takes money – and money is a measure of where our heart is. It takes courage to leave the US and go someplace where you don’t speak the language or know the culture. Most important of all, it takes commitment to plan for it, pay for it, and see it through. Most people don’t have many opportunities to wear their faith on their sleeve and do something in the name of Jesus. A short-term mission trip gives that opportunity to tell friends and family and neighbors and coworkers about your love for Jesus and (better yet!) show you love Jesus enough to do something about it. The mission trip begins before people ever leave home as the name of Jesus is spoken and his Great Commission is lifted up in the local community.
A short-term mission trip gives people an opportunity to step out in faith and to experience a different kind of faith. At a personal level, faith comes alive. Many people encounter the Holy Spirit on a mission trip in a way they had never encountered Him before. Many people find that going thousands of miles away from home for Jesus has brought them much closer to Him. At the congregational level, mission trips expose people to expressions of faith and worship they may never have seen before. It’s easy for us to think that they way we “do church” is the only way church can be done. Participating in worship with other peoples, cultures, and languages opens our eyes to the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” which the Spirit has gathered worldwide now, and with which we will all worship when Jesus Christ comes again.
How does a short-term mission trip impact a local US congregation?
A short-term mission trip creates two groups of people in the local congregation, whom I’ll call the team and the cadre.
The team is the group of people who actually went on the mission trip together. Most of our experiences in the local congregation are like episodes: people come together for a set amount of time, time and time again. So, for example, people come together to worship for an hour every Sunday, to study the Bible together for 90 minutes every Wednesday, to gather as a small group for two hours every Monday, to serve three hours in a soup kitchen once a month. A short-term mission trip is more like an encounter: people come together and stay together for an extended period of time. That gives people the opportunity to get to know one another, to bond together as they accomplish shared tasks, and to create a shared identity as a team. That relationship is carried over from the mission trip and into the everyday life of the congregation. As pastors, we want people to be connected to the local church, to know and care for one another there. Short-term mission trips accomplish that in spades.
The cadre is the group of all people who’ve been on short-term mission trips. These are the people who have stepped out in faith, done something far outside their comfort zone, and done it out of love for and obedience to Jesus. Many people will testify that they have encountered the Holy Spirit on a mission trip, that they have seen God move and felt God’s love in a way they hadn’t felt before. These are people whose faith has come alive. These are people who’ve participated in the Great Commission and seen its fruits. These are people who get what the church’s mission is all about. These are the sort of people you want in the local church, and short term mission trips create them.
By: Eric Waters, Pastor at Upper Arlington Lutheran Church in Ohio