The Lie About Missions
By Kyle Rohane
We all know that mission trips can be powerful experiences, but we also know they don’t always help in the ways we’d like them to. There’s only so much a small group of inexperienced but well-intentioned people can do over a week or so. Writers have started pointing out some of the flaws in the way we do short-term mission trips, and now youth workers are faced with a dilemma.
One answer is to stop taking students on mission trips altogether—if our hard work isn’t as effective as we thought, we might as well not go. On the other hand, you could ignore the issues and keep doing trips the way you’ve always done them—after all, it’s easiest to stick with what we know.
We think there’s a better way.
For mission trips to have the best kind of impact (on our teams and in the communities we’re serving), it’s going to take something huge: a complete shift in perspective. Students will have to see their trip through the eyes of their leaders, their missionary hosts, and the communities they’re serving.
That’s why we’ve produced a new book to transform the way your students experience mission trips. It’s called Flipping Missions. This interactive resource was written by Rob Murphy, a long-term missionary and trip host, and Tony Myles, an experienced pastor and trip leader. It helps students look behind the scenes before, during, and after their trip from every angle so they can push their trip from a one-time experience to something life-changing.
“Unless our students’ perspectives change, we’ll never see the trip reach its true potential.”
Here’s a day from Flipping Missions your students will work through before they go on their trip. As you can see, it’s written directly to students (though there are group “checkpoint” days throughout). Trip leaders can have great expectations for serving a community, but unless our students’ perspectives change, we’ll never see the trip reach its true potential.
Week 2, Day 2: The Lie About Missions
An old folk tale tells about a monkey who, while walking along a beach, spotted a fish swimming against the harsh waters. It appeared as if this strange aquatic creature needed help. He was a kind monkey, so he ventured into the heavy waves at great risk to himself to save the fish. Once back on shore, the monkey placed the fish down on a shady part of the beach. That’s better, he thought. The fish seemed excited at first, flapping around to show gratitude to the monkey. Soon, the fish settled into a peaceful rest. At least, that’s how the monkey tells the story—and he tells it often. He feels proud telling everyone how he helped the fish.
If you’ve ever watched a great illusionist perform, then you know your eyes can trick you. You may see large objects disappear or a woman sawed in half and wonder, How did he do that? You can even feel prideful if you think, I figured out the trick!
Another misdirection in front of you is how relaxed the illusionist is, because so much went into the performance. He had to develop a meticulous plan, practice the feat repeatedly, and develop the showmanship to present it to people.
Mission trips can hide a similar illusion—not because someone is intentionally trying to trick you, but because you’ll experience a presentation of a culture instead of the whole culture itself. There’s so much more going on behind the scenes than what your eyes will ever witness. You’ll miss it if you become prideful and think, I figured out these people!
Your trip is meant to help you have a significant experience in that culture. If you can realize that your point of view is limited going in, you will walk away with deeper truths on the way out. Think of the trip like standing on an ocean shoreline and dipping your toe into the water. You can truthfully claim that you were “in the ocean,” but there’s no denying the people out in the waves are experiencing something you aren’t. Every step you take as you walk out to join them equips you to “swim” and discover a thrill out there more incredible than you realize.
Just don’t become the monkey.
- If you were the fish in the monkey illustration, how would you tell the story?
- Read 1 Samuel 16:1–13. What did God have to remind the prophet Samuel as he was looking for the next king of Israel among Jesse’s sons?
- How can fixating on the outward appearances hinder your ability to serve others?
- Visit a local fast food restaurant. Order only one item (a la carte, not a meal or combo) off the menu and eat it.
- Now look at the rest of the menu. If someone thought that the only thing the restaurant offered was the one thing you ordered, what would they be missing out on? What would they think about this restaurant? How nutritious would they think it was? Could the restaurant they are envisioning meet their needs? What ingredients in that one item are shared in other menu items?
- Write out what God is trying to tell you about your trip through this exercise.
If you want to learn more about flipping your students’ perspective to change how they serve, you can check out Flipping Missions HERE.
Tony Myles is the Lead Pastor of Connection Church in Medina, Ohio. With over 25 years of experience and advanced education in youth ministry, he is also a volunteer youth worker in his church, a national ministry coach, a book author, a columnist, and a blogger. Mostly, Tony is a messy Christ-follower with an overflowing love for God; for his amazing wife, Katie; for their two awesome boys and one beautiful girl; and for the Church in all its imperfect, redemptive beauty.
Rob Murphy has a wealth of service experiences as a pastor, missionary, and ministry consultant. He founded African Child Zambia, a medical advocacy mission to orphans and vulnerable children. A gifted international communicator, Rob speaks passionately about missions and issues facing the church internationally. He is married with seven children, and they regularly volunteer together wherever there is a need to serve.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More