Mission Trips – More Than a Religous Vacation

“Wouldn’t it be better to give all that money to a missionary instead of taking a mission trip?”

This quote, in a nutshell, sums up a lot of the logic regarding arguments against mission trips.  To be honest it’s hard to argue with.  After all, wouldn’t a missionary be better off getting the $20, $30, or even up to $50 thousand that some mission trips cost?  Wouldn’t it be better to send them the money so they could use it as they see fit?

Some of the other criticisms of mission trips include:

·         Motive – This concerns the motives of the participants.  Are they really going to help the missionary or are they looking for a vacation – albeit one with a holy purpose.

·         Effectiveness – Do mission trips really help with spreading the gospel?  Couldn’t the missionary be more effective by having the money and directing to one of his or her strategic programs?

·         Length – Does a 10-day excursion to a foreign mission do much to help anybody? The missionary, the participant, or even the people being served? Wouldn’t it be better to send people on a 2 to 5 year stint?

·         Sightseeing – Should any part of the mission trip be used in a tourism sense?

·         Education – If part of a trip’s purpose is to educate the participants about missions wouldn’t it be more effective to do this education in the local church setting instead of going overseas?

A recent Wall Street article covers these criticisms plus more (see it at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122359398873721053.html.

So what about it?  Are these trips really as ineffective and wasteful as claimed?  Should churches nix them from their mission program and divert the money to more effective forms of great commission work?  At first glance, it’s hard to argue with this logic.

I think the criticisms come from genuine concerns (for the most part) and from people who would like to see mission work done as effectively as possible. However, I think some very important intangibles are missed by the critics and some of their logic is faulty.  And, I hate to say it, some of the arguments are just plain prudish.   Similar to the person who walked into a church 60 years ago and first saw padded pews and said, “why did we waste money on that, couldn’t we sit on 2 x 10 wooden benches.”  Okay, that example is a little dated, but you get the point.  Some of this criticism is valid and some of it isn’t.

I think mission trips are much more than a holy holiday and in fact, can be a solid component of the mission program at any church. 

Here’s why:

Economics: I don’t think economics can be completely used to judge the value of a mission trip. The article mentions that a home could be built cheaper with local labor. Yes, but then the trip participants wouldn’t get the experience of “seeing” and “helping” a missionary. How do you place a value on this experience?  It’s impossible.

Education:  There is a value to a person standing next to a missionary helping him serve.  While it is expensive, there is value to it.  This is why in the secular world we have study abroad programs and foreign exchange students.  Under the same logic, it could be argued that these programs are a waste of money.  Why not educate via a DVD presentation and taking a foreign language class? Because there is something about “being there.”   
Vision: I believe there is great value in a person being on the field and seeing the possibilities.  How could God use them? What does He want for their life? How can they serve missionaries better stateside?  What more should their church be doing? It’s hard to put a dollar figure on the vision building aspect of a mission trip.  
New Missionaries: Many current missionaries were originally challenged about being one partly through taking a trip.  I can think of at least 5 from our church alone.  Obviously God can direct people to missionary service without a trip.  But it appears trips are at least a part of how many current missionaries became challenged to serve.  How can a value be placed on a person’s decision to follow the Lord into career missionary work?  Imagine if every trip produced a new career missionary? 

·         A person who would spend the next 35 years spreading the gospel in a foreign land (or close to home for that matter.)

·         A person who would win dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of souls to Christ.

·         A person who would plant dozens of churches.

·         A person who would start Bible colleges for training new indigenous Christian workers.

How much is that worth? As one recent commercial would say, I think it’s “priceless.”

Effectiveness: The argument is that a missionary could make better use of the dollars.  Yes, if the only purpose is to get the “work” done.  However, that is only one of the goals of a trip.  The other goal is to challenge people and churches about missions, to connect with their missionary, to encourage their missionary, and also to get some work done.  There’s no arguing that some work does get done.  This argument is just about the cost of it.

It should also be noted that many missionaries ask us to send mission teams. If trips weren’t productive and helpful to a missionary, I doubt they would be asking churches to send teams. Even at our conference this past week, we had a missionary from Hungary ask us to send a team over. I think there are some tangible benefits to the missionary by hosting a team including:

·         Closer connection to a supporting church.

·         Funds provided to the missionary by the team.

·         Labor provided by the team (obviously not efficient economically, but work does get done).

·         Increased evangelism above what the missionary could do on his or her own.

·         Special skills provided by the team that the missionary cannot hire (an evangelistic baseball camp.)

·         The encouragement the missionary receives from the team and its sending church.

Finally, what about the arguments that mission trips are merely religious vacations. 

Is that really so bad? Keep in mind that most of the money for a mission trip comes from the participants and their fund raising efforts. If they want to give and raise the money, is it a bad thing for them to be excited about seeing another country? Not to be sarcastic, but is it better to go lay on a Florida beach for 10 days or spend those 10 days in Kenya doing a soccer camp for kids and sharing Jesus with them?  And while doing it taking in a little safari.  I’ll let you answer that one.

From a personal perspective, I and my son took a mission trip to Peru several years ago.  Each person had some money set aside to see Machu Picchu.  Wow!  What an opportunity.  In the end, after praying about it, everyone gave this portion of their trip money to the missionary instead of seeing this tourist attraction.  It amounted to about $2500.

All this being said, I’m sure there are many mission trips taken that are not effective. To me this doesn’t mean don’t take the trip, but instead do a better job of planning and knowing your objective. 

It also means the question doesn’t have to be an “either/or” question: either take a mission trip or send more money to missionaries.  I say it should be a “both/and” question.  Let’s do both: 

A.    Take mission trips

B.    AND make them the best they can be

C.    AND send more finances to missionaries.

D.    AND educate our churches better about missions work.

So what do you think?      (to respond click on the word, ‘comments’ below)

 

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