Youth Ministry Short-Term Missions Cognition

Outside of facilities and staffing, youth ministry short-missions is likely the largest financial investment in young people the local church makes.

But do we think about it as much as we do facilities and staffing? I sense we don’t.

I experienced my first short-term trip as a confirmation student at First Presbyterian Church in Mishawaka, Indiana. I don’t know the story behind why we chose this particular trip but one summer day we loaded up some vans and drove to eastern Tennessee to work alongside a small town rural outreach.

I’m pretty positive I was in middle school, so I was pretty young and we had shockingly little adult supervision.

That said, I remember a lot about the trip itself. We stayed in a bunk house across the street from the church. The church was simple but welcoming. The people were kind and each day we did a few work projects around the ministry. One day we were clearing brush and I got to use a chain saw for the first time. And during free time I would wander over to the church’s thrift store to talk to the elderly women who worked there. I was fascinated with their accents and convinced they all knew Dolly Parton.

Later on, in high school, my chaplain-based youth ministry program in Germany took another mission trip to Vienna, Austria where we worked alongside a local church in helping to remodel an apartment that had been used by Operation Mobilization to smuggle Bibles into Eastern Bloc countries.

Then, of course, I married into a family of missionaries. Kristen was born in Indonesia and lived there until she was eight as her parents served as missionaries in what’s now known as West Papua, Indonesia. Kristen’s parents, recently retired, served as full-time missionaries for their entire careers.

Actually, Kristen’s undergraduate degree is in International Missions. And while serving in local churches as a youth pastor and other roles, missions was always something on my plate. (youth, adult, long-term, short-term.)

I lay all that out to say: We think a lot about missions around here. It’s a big time value.

One of My Current Hats

If you follow me on social media you’ve no doubt noticed that my work with The Youth Cartel is tied into our partnership with Praying Pelican Missions. If your church or youth group goes on a trip anywhere PPM goes, it’s a trip that we at the Cartel are saying… “We dig what these folks are all about. We think they are the best in the short-term mission space.” And for the past three years we’ve taken that partnership even deeper as I helped start and currently lead Praying Pelican’s work in Baja California. (The Mexican state south of San Diego, including Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada, Mexicali, etc.) If you want to bring a group to Mexico with PPM, we’ll be working together on that.

I share that because short-term missions with youth and young adults isn’t just something I care about a lot, it’s actually something I deeply embedded in actually doing right now.

I think a lot about short-term missions. I think a lot about how to make sure our trips are Good News and not bad news. I think about how to make sure our teams are Good News in the Neighborhoods we’re serving in while in Mexico AND I’m thinking about how to make sure the trips are Good News for participants… because I know just how formative missions were for me, I want the same for every single person on one of the trips I lead.

So I am constantly evaluating, refining, talking to former participants, talking to our partnership pastors, observing, talking to other orgs that do short-term missions.

I try to not just do what we do as well as we can do it. I want to make sure I’m thinking about every aspect and making sure it all aligns with the stated mission of PPM.

That’s a lot of words to say: I think a lot about short-term missions. And I apply that thinking to my day-to-day activities and preparation for what I’m doing alongside PPM.

Short-Term Missions Cognition

This thinking about how we think about missions is super important. Even if we don’t ultimately agree that “my way” is the best way to do short-term missions (though I’ll fight you on that!) I think there’s a ton of value in really thinking about how we think about short-term missions.

Why? Because there are bad mission trip experiences out there. There are selfish ones. There are trips where no one really benefits from the experience, where a lot of time and money are wasted. There are ones so poorly organized that merely surviving is the real mission. There are trips out there that’ll ruin your host churches ministry in their community. And there are trips out there that will get you fired… or at least should.

But there are also really good, life-changing, community improving, trajectory changing, stereotype challenging, mind-blowing missions experiences out there, too.

Personally, I think far too many churches stopped thinking about short-term mission experiences altogether. Rather than working towards advancing the Kingdom of God both in the lives of the participants and those communities who receive groups, they sold out to the criticism that all short-term missions are bad or a waste of resources or some form of Neocolonialism. Maybe they had a bad experience or just didn’t think about it enough and they killed their short-term missions programs rather than investing the time and energy into doing it right/better?

And the truth? I think those churches are really missing something vital.

Let me close this with a pitch for a product… sorry, not sorry.

While this post wasn’t intentionally meant to be a pitch for a book we’re about to publish… we really do have a great book coming out on this very topic: 5 Views on Youth Ministry Short-Term Missions.

If you haven’t thought much about short-term missions lately or if you’ve got a firmly held posture on how you think short-term missions ought to be done (preaching to myself here…) than I think this book is super useful.

Pick it up. I think you’ll like it.






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