It’s that time of year!  Many of my colleagues are gearing up for “Mission Trip Season.”

For those of you who don’t know what that is, permit me a paragraph.

Short Term Mission Trips for students started coming to fruition about 30 years ago.   The genesis of the trip was to take a youth group, and go somewhere out of their comfortable sphere of influence to serve other people.  In the beginning stages these mission groups might go to the inner city to play soccer with inner city kids.  Maybe they would identify widows in the community who needed some yard work done.  Or maybe they might go and serve food to the homeless downtown or something.

Slowly, the mission trip started evolving where students would travel some long distance exotic place to serve someone who they thought needed some service they could provide.  Each year the “Mission Trip” became more and more of a LONG ROAD TRIP helping solidify relationships within the group, and reaching out to the world around us to learn we have a responsibility to play in the world.

A decade ago, I heard Chap Clark (from Fuller Seminary) at a conference, and he said, “Short term mission trips are a waste of time, resources, and energy.”

My jaw dropped.

I was actually designing short-term missions for students at the time, and up close and personal, I saw real transformation.  I saw American teenagers begin to expand their worldview, reach out to the poor, and get their fingers dirty working on several projects around the world.

And then the evolution continued.

More and more students started to go on “Mission Trips” to see different parts of the world.  They weren’t really excited about serving, but they were excited to check the box off of a different country they’d never been to .  The ‘wanderlust’ generation started going on these trips while being totally subsidized by a church or non-profit community.  Simply put – they traveled to see something new, take a picture, and put it on their social media profiles to seem important.

And then it got STRANGER…

The pictures I started seeing of students traveling to Africa started looking more and more patristic and less like they were traveling for service.  It seemed like everybody going on the mission trip would take pictures of the ‘native’ people with their own ‘selfie’ in the middle, almost acting like a staged picture of social justice.  I saw More and more White Girls taking pictures with Black Kids with captions like, “We changed lives!”

So you can imagine when this conversation started to hit closer and closer to home when I asked the KIVU students, “How do we need to re-think mission trips?”

  1. Are we really serving? Or are we serving our own need to feel important?
  2. How sustainable is our service?
  3. Are the local people we are serving at the center of the conversation, or are they told what you will or won’t do?
  4. How many times will you go back to develop long term relationships?
  5. Is there any way to quantify what you did and accomplish a goal?

To my surprise, the kids went CRAZY!!  They were trying to justify every trip they ever took, even the ones that were 7 days long – 2 days of travel to the destination – 2 days of site seeing at said destination = 3 days of total service.

When I asked them, Was this trip more for you, or for the people you went to serve?  They answered with a resounding, “We changed lives!”

Now, I’m not in a position to judge someone’s motives for traveling abroad to help people.  But I am re-thinking the posture I had when I first encountered Chap Clark.  I’m wondering…How much help are we…REALLY?  And How effective are these Mission Trips going all over the world?  We’re spending millions of dollars on this travel, and for what goal?  Are we really changing lives?

What do you think?  We already had a three day conversation out here at KIVU.  And it WAS AMAZING!!


  1. As teenagers, when we think of going on a mission trip we need to out weigh if our money is worth the time we are devoting the kids, and serving the lord, like we are saying we are. It’s harsh, but I believe that many times teens abilities, and skills they are bringing to the mission field are not worth the thousands of dollars it cost to get there, their money would serve the community’s better. American teens have turned mission trips into a fad, and I 100% believe short term mission trips are for ourselves. However, I do believe some times God ask us to do things for ourselves in order to grow as kingdom workers. As a teen who has participated in a short term mission, I will never return for only a short time, but I would never take back the week I went. Because I strongly believe the Lord sent me there to grow into the kingdom worker he foresees me as, and teach me about fully serving him.

  2. I think our new youth pastor would agree with you. During spring break we often serve at Mission Arlington in TX. While doing a vbs type program and playing with these kids is meaningful, he began to ask himself, why not Enid? So Mission Enid is happening this summer. If you can hang out with kids in another state or country and talk about Jesus, what about your town? It’s a tough, good question to be asking.

  3. Read the book, “When Helping Hurts”. It touches on this subject along with a bunch of other difficult ones! I highly recommend it!

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