In preparing for mission trips, there are several issues that teams and team leaders face again and again that can get in the way of what ought to be the priority of the experience. However, I rarely hear of these issues being dealt with in an appropriate Kingdom response. Instead, as these questions are asked, I more often hear a coddling response that misleads participants, misplaces attention and emphasis, or gives a very false sense of confidence. Here are three of them that we can quickly address:
1. What will we be doing?
Seems harmless enough, but an underlying value here is quite often being overlooked. Typically, when people are asking the question about the schedule and work description, they are actually asking an evaluation question to try and determine if the trip is something they really want to do or feel qualified to do. The Kingdom response needs to recognize the difference between simple curiosity and a need to disciple the applicant through a more Christ-centered approach to going on mission.
When I sense that it is the latter, I will typically respond by asking, "How will you know when you have found the trip that is right for you?"
This question quickly reveals motives. On any team that I lead, what I am looking for is the strong awareness of the voice of Jesus in a life that is telling them to follow Him in the mission's direction (see John 10). Depending on how teachable the individual is, it is wise to try and point people back to that strong sense, or conviction, that the Lord is telling them this is their next step. Once a person lands on that by faith, then the daily routine become much less important compared to a willing spirit to do anything that Jesus would ask of them while on mission for Him.
There is great danger in simply going on a mission field for any length of time because you believe that you'll be good at something, will really enjoy the list of activities, or because the people there need you and your skills. Don't be content to try and appease this question out of the fear that someone may decide your trip isn't fun enough or the purposes to their liking. The priority of what is done on the field is to accomplish the will of our Father. The to-do list or schedule is important, but cannot take priority over walking in the Spirit.
2. Will there be any time for shopping or tourism?
I hope I don't need to spend much time on this question, but unfortunately I do get asked it often. In the same vein as the above response, I find it difficult to justify trying to make sure that your teams get a full day overseas to do this unless you are also willing to tell all of the supporters you are raising money from that part of the purpose of your trip is to get a day of tourism and shopping.
Still, time and again, when we create the schedules, people are thrilled that they will get to go into the shops and see the museums and art galleries. This is not innately sinful, but as far as priorities go, getting to do these things has come across often as being more special than getting to make disciples.
I think our American church culture talks a great game. It knows how to spin everything. So, let's maintain integrity about why we are going somewhere and what we will be doing when we get there.
There are times when the best way to understand the culture you will be ministering in is to spend a day among the market places or in the museums grasping the history. As team leaders, it is also wise to know when a day of rest is needed, compared to when a day may be better spent serving. If a team is going to be on the field for five days, for instance, do they really need a rest day, which is actually a tourism day? I encourage church leaders to "count the cost" of following Christ, preparing our people to sacrifice and struggle a bit, maybe even suffer, and I add to this that people really can do quite a bit more than they think they can, go without more than they are used to and for longer periods of time than they have before- IF it is what Christ is calling a team to do for His sake in another place. Philippians 4:13 gets applied to the football field and high school exams more than it does the more appropriate context of being on mission.
3. Is it safe?
I've lost track. This question gets asked the most. Parents ask it. Students ask it. Pastors ask it. I recently was being prayed over by a dear brother in the Lord before I was about to lead another team. "And above all else, Lord, I ask that you would keep my brother safe..." was the end of his petition. I know this guy's heart, and it is precious. People mean well and hope for the best when they speak of safety, but it simply not the priority of believers in the New Testament example to be kept completely safe.
Our favorite stories in Scripture all exist because risk was incurred, stands were taken, leaps of faith were made, and safety took a different spin and became God's job and God's prerogative while our job became immediate, costly obedience out of our love for the Lord. The jailer's question of "what must I do to be saved?" was born not of safe living-room Bible study interaction, but because God sent an earthquake to rattle cages loose after two guys stayed up all night singing hymns from filthy Roman stocks and chains after radically preaching the Gospel in a place where they'd been ordered not to speak of Jesus. The entire household of the jailer was saved and baptized that night, and we rejoice to see such salvation, but we want to make sure that the word SAFE is in the mission trip brochure.
I have never, and will never make a guarantee of safety. It is fool hearty or deceitful to do so. I lack integrity to try and make a parent feel like they can release their child to go on mission (even when they are 26 years old) by telling them that I will keep them safe, that I can ensure they will be safe, or that where we are going is completely safe. To be clear, we do not wish to be foolish. We minimize the unnecessary and clearly avoidable dangers, but we must go with a willingness to follow Jesus into whatever He calls us to, and even in suffering, there is no safer place to be than the center of His will.
If Jesus is asking us to do something, but we refuse because it doesn't sound safe enough for our cultural comforts, we have a love problem and an issue with what it means to take up the cross daily, deny ourselves and follow Him- which means we have a problem with what it requires to be a disciple.
Finally, I believe that if these questions were removed from the priority list, being replaced as described above, that the mission field of our own neighborhoods and communities would see an explosion of disciple making, for the principles of God's Kingdom do not merely apply once you land in a foreign country. Let's approach these questions consistently and with much grace, knowing that they are opportunities to deepen the faith of those who are already on a journey of discovering what it means to follow Jesus.