Stop Doing These 5 Things
Does any of this sound familiar?
- I’ve never been more tired, and I’ve never felt closer to God.
- I went there expecting to bless others, but I ended up receiving more than I gave.
- I wish I could feel as close to God at home as I do on a mission trip.
If you’ve experienced a life–changing mission trip, church camp, or retreat, you know all about the mountaintop experience. You come back, and you’re determined to keep that excitement from then on.
But like a New Year’s resolution or a goal for a new school year, eventually the excitement fades. Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep that mission-trip excitement year-round?
The truth is, if you just want to KEEP the excitement, you’ll likely be disappointed. That excitement can inspire your group to a lifetime of mission, but what you’re doing (or not doing) to prepare may be what’s killing it. So here are 5 things you need to stop doing if you want to sustain your passion for mission year-round.
1. Stop treating the trip as the big game (it’s the pep rally)
When you approach a mission trip, do you want to leave excited about what you did or excited about what you’re going to do next? We’ve become experts at compartmentalizing our lives – what we do in one area doesn’t translate to other areas. We have to plan for that.
Imagine if you came back from a trip and instead of reporting all the great stuff you did, you came back and you were talking about how what you did has inspired what you will do. If the mission trip becomes the big game, you risk objectifying the people you serve and missing an opportunity for growth. If it’s the pep rally, then the excitement can continue to build after the trip itself ends.
Going to the mission trip or camp without a plan for how to engage participants when they get back is a recipe for missed opportunity. Have a plan for how to engage students and redirect that excitement into sustainable endeavors at home.
2. Stop emphasizing the how and where (focus on the why)
If your church has a mission trip partner, or the church goes to the same location or camp every year, you and those who participate can probably easily describe how your church engages in mission (we have a great construction team, children’s ministry team, etc) or where (we go to Appalachia every year). But if you had to articulate why you do what you do, what would you say? It’s easy to articulate how and where, but having a good sense of the why helps you move away from a focus on projects to true partnership. Your why might be that Jesus commanded us to meet people’s needs, that we want to become better disciples, or that we want deeper relationships with one another and the communities we serve. When we understand the why and can connect it to our life of faith, we are more invested, and the passion becomes much more sustainable.
3. Stop seeing summer trips as a chance for someone else to lead
You’ve probably had the experience where you hand off your students to the leaders on site and then sigh in relief. There’s something really appealing about an experience where the leaders take care of everything. But as good as that feels during the trip, it can lead to your students disconnecting their most formative faith experiences from the life of your church. If your students’ most powerful faith experiences happen when someone else is leading them, they’ll look outside the church for their understanding of mission. You don’t want to hand the ball to someone else when your members are most open to hearing God’s call – take advantage of the support the organizers offer to invest even more.
4. Stop separating youth mission trips from the church’s mission
Mission trips and summer camps are by definition a different experience than your regular church life. That’s part of why we go. But if you can’t articulate how those experiences are part of the life of the entire church (not just the youth group), then you’re planning for the excitement to die after you return. The most impactful mission or camp experience shows kids that they’re part of a bigger mission – and that the church values them. When the whole church invests in the mission experience and supports it, it invites the youth to return and see their place in the church’s mission. That excitement from camp is the perfect time to point kids to what they can do through the church’s local mission partnerships when they get home.
5. Stop looking forward to next year (look forward to next week)
One of the best ways to kill the excitement a trip generates is to start planning the next one. For most youth groups, there’s likely one week-long mission trip all year. Maybe a weekend mission trip is possible if you’ve got lots of support. But living for one week out of the year can be a serious energy killer. If you want to sustain excitement, go into the trip with a plan for what you’ll do when you get back. Instead of planning next year’s trip, use the camp to get kids excited about next week. Or next month. Channel that excitement into something your church is already doing, and help your youth become part of the mission the church has already invested in.
Get the right tools
Your mission trip or camp can be a great component of a vibrant youth ministry – as long as you keep the right perspective. Whatever the trip is, it should reinforce what you’re already doing, not work against it. Ministry partners that give you resources to help transform the energy of that trip into energy for the coming year will leave you better able to direct the “summer high” into an investment into the church’s mission year-round. Whether it’s devotional resources helping them reflect on their place in God’s mission and what God may be calling them to, opportunities for further engagement, or deeper relationships with the mission leaders of your own church, the right kind of preparation can turn your summer trip into the energizer that inspires your group all year long.
Learn more in the resource below:
Impact Mission Camps is a construction-based youth mission camp that helps youth engage their faith while meeting immediate needs of homeowners. Students serve a community by repairing homes, ensuring homeowners are safe, warm, and dry. Part of the Impact experience is completing Bible study and devotional resources that help participants explore how they fit into God’s mission, reflect on how God may be calling them to serve, and prepare to continue serving when they return home. You can learn more or register for camp here.