By Seth Barnes, Founder of Adventures in Missions
We hurt people when we lead them to Christ and then fail to continue the caring process. It is the ugly backside of student missions, the result of our American quick-fix mentality.
I first became aware of the hurt we can unwittingly inflict when some co-workers of mine had stones thrown at them in a Mexican neighborhood.
The same kids who in years previous had attended our VBS’s had become sick of being “dissed” by American youth groups whose leaders, whether out of ignorance or presumption, had no plan beyond four days of ministry, a trip to the beach, and a quick adios to their new friends. The locals had caught on to the shallowness of their commitment and vented their hurt rather eloquently.
The concept of spiritual parenthood is inescapable for those of us in ministry. It’s time for us to live up to the responsibilities of the role of spiritual parent. Ministry doesn’t stop at the altar, it must continue in the raw and dangerous environment of the streets.
The emotional highs mission trips produce are great, but they’ve got to be supported by a plan for ongoing ministry or they can backfire. The question, “How will you follow-up on our ministry?” ought to be one of the first that you ask a missions agency before planning a trip.
To be fair, the question should also be asked of you and your leaders after the trip is over. Will you be a faithful steward of the changes you’ve helped set in motion? Too many leaders squander the greatest opportunity they’ll have all year when they revert to a “business as usual” mode back home.
Continuing the momentum generated on a project, both with those to whom your group has been ministering, as well as within the group itself is an issue that few groups confront adequately.
How do we ensure that the fruit of our missions efforts endures? You can no more assume that ministry will continue on the field than you can that your own students will continue to be discipled without your involvement.
Here are four factors that inhibit follow up:
- An “event mentality”
The logic youth leaders find themselves fighting goes like this: To be culturally relevant, we’ve got to talk to students in a language they can understand. Attention spans are getting shorter, so we’ve got to compete with quick-hitting events that can draw crowds.
Such a focus on events results in audiences that fidget halfway through an event as they begin anticipating the next thing on the agenda. An investment in long-term relationships is nonsense to those who are consumed by attraction-oriented events. But Paul said, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” (I Corinthians 1:27)
- No connection with human need
We have got to get out of the warm cocoon of suburbia. Reality is the drunk sleeping on the heating grate, it’s the old woman abandoned by her family in the nursing home, it’s the high school student desperately longing for a friend, it’s the third grader who comes home to an empty apartment after school.
Too often we return from a mission trip pumped up to make a difference in our own community and we don’t. Rarely is it because of a lack of need. If we just knew the names and faces of the people in our own communities who are hurting, we would be more likely to reach out to them. By cloistering ourselves in safe areas, we help no one. To make a difference, we’ve got to know where people are hurting.
- Short tenure
Though this trend is being tempered as a growing number of youth pastors refuse to see their job as a stepping stone to the pastorate, it remains a problem. In many churches, two years and out is the norm. Even youth pastors with a vision for follow-up are cut off at the knees by such a practice.
- No objectives
A calendar is a poor substitute for a set of objectives. Without objectives, plans stay fuzzy. Where month-at-a-time planning is the standard, continuity and discipleship suffer.
Some groups require progressively more commitment. To participate one group’s program, students must go through a four level process beginning with jail ministry and culminating in a missions trip to Mexico City. Each level builds on the one preceding it.
How do we assure that the fruit of our mission efforts endures? Good follow-up requires planning. Here are six steps that leaders can take to follow up.
Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not just win converts. Here are some specific suggestions to help you follow-up after a mission trip:
- Identify basic discipleship materials to use with new converts. For ministry-oriented students, Catch the Wave by Kevin Johnson (Bethany Press) is great.
- Before deciding on a missions trip, investigate the follow-up work which will be done after your group has moved on.
- Work within your home church to meet existing ministry needs.
- Decide to change the orientation of your work away from entertainment and event-based activity to ministry that touches real human need. Ask yourself, “What kinds of relationships can we build which will help change my students from givers to takers?”
- Set measurable objectives for your ministry-oriented students. Consider the objective that your youth would engage in some form of outreach once a week.
- Organize your students into ministry teams that engage in peer outreach. They can become involved in the care and feeding of their peers as well as outreach to the community.
Seth is the executive director of Adventures In Missions – an organization that sends people on short-term mission trips around the world. He lives in Gainesville, GA with his wife Karen. You can visit his blog “Radical Living in a Comfortable World” at sethbarnes.com.