Avoiding the Dark Side of Missions

By Doug Franklin April 11, 2013

Youth groups spend a lot of time and treasure on short-term mission trips. We know when students serve, their attitude and actions change. They get a new view on life, and it often leads to maturity. They learn a greater dependency on God. Sometimes mission trips or LeaderTreks Trips change the course of a student’s life; God plants the idea in them of spending their whole life in the mission field. Mission trips for students can be a really good thing, but how do we avoid the dark side of missions?

Avoiding the Dark Side of Missions

Avoiding the dark side of missions.

Even though we want to leave a mark on a community we end up leaving a stain. Our efforts to help end up hurting more than helping. We go with our church’s missionaries because the mission committee at our church thinks it’s a great idea, but our missionaries are not set up to host 30 students. They spend a month of their time doing something that will never move their ministry forward. After the students leave they have a mess to clean up and the people who they serve are confused about why this group was here.

So how do we avoid the dark side of missions and help our students grow while caring for the communities in which we serve?

1. Pre-trip training for students

Our students will leave a mark when they understand the biblical reason for mission. We need to change their perspective from “we are going to have fun” to “we are going to serve.” In this pre-trip training we can also challenge their thinking about people in poverty and cast the vision for us learning from them

The six weeks before a trip are critical to prepare students to serve but what I see is we spend most of this time doing logistics. Start earlier, get the logistics out of the way and spend your time challenging students to serve from a biblical point of view. Use a Pre-Trip Training Resource, like Imprint, to help your students understand the impact their mission trip will have on the mission site, their own lives, and the Kingdom. Pre-Trip Training will help you focus serving and avoid the dark side of missions.

2. Put away the cameras

I challenge the students I take on trips to put away their cameras for the first five days. I do this to challenge students to build relationships. When the cameras are out we are thinking about how a picture will look on Facebook not about the person in the picture. Unhealthy mission trips steal images for our use, healthy trips build relationships where we learn from each other.

3. Set goals and evaluate

Set some goals before you leave in the area of relationship building and evaluate your progress with those goals as the trip unfolds. What you measure matters. When your goals are relationships, not tasks or converts, you will leave greater impact. If someone wants to know about Jesus bring in the host missionary so they can be part of what is happening and can follow-up in the coming weeks. Remember: we are making disciples not earning stickers for our Bibles.

4. Have a post-trip plan

After many summer mission trips youth workers plan vacations. While your vacation is well deserved don’t forget to have a post trip debrief or provide a tool that can help the students process and apply what they have learned. The four weeks after a mission trip are the battle ground between “will I change or will I reman the same?” Avoid the dark side of missions, by using a Post-Trip Journal, like Beyond the Trip, help your students debrief their experience and cement the transformation from their mission trip.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More