We’re entering our summer mission trip season here at Brandywine Valley Baptist Church. In the next weeks we’ll have informational meetings, teens will talk and pray with their parents about which of our three trips they’ll apply to – or perhaps decide this summer God is leading them to something else, and applications will be turned in. Ultimately, our summer mission trips are a long process, usually beginning around the time the previous trips end (sometimes even sooner). When looking at opportunities and trying to decide on our destinations, there are three key elements I look for that I firmly believe every short term mission trip should have:
- MEANINGFUL SERVICE Whatever our task is, wherever we end up, it should be something of substance. Not just work to do work, but some sort of teaching or physical labor that is meaningful to the recipients. The trip isn’t a holiday, and those we go to shouldn’t feel like we wasted their time or ours. Over the course of the next six months and through our three mission trips, we will use a significant amount of resources; being good stewards of that demands that what we do be worth the cost.
- SPIRITUAL GROWTH I’ve heard different opinions on this one; some feel the mission is the most important, some feel the growth and impact on the team is the most important. To me, they are equal priorities. We have to intentionally create an atmosphere that fosters spiritual growth in our teams. Towards that end we have meetings in the months ahead of the trip to set the stage for that growth, we limit our team sizes because we believe smaller groups foster team building and environments for pursuing God together, and we specifically create space in our daily schedules on the trip for time with God at optimal times of the day. We use tools like journals and debriefing sessions to help make this happen as well.
- ELEMENT OF FUN Being on a mission trip doesn’t mean it has to be all work and no play! Intentionally fun experiences are good for building the team and fostering unity – which enhances the above two points! It’s why our team that went to Maine last year made a stop at Palace Playland, and why our Chicago team went to a White Sox game! Having a group of people out of their comfort zone, living, working, and traveling together for a significant period of time is a recipe for stress, conflict and more. Elements of fun are a great tool for releasing some of that potential pressure buildup and an opportunity to build long lasting memories together.
None of these elements just happen, they all take planning and intentionality. Short term mission trips are an incredible opportunity whatever the age of the participants!