I’m heading on a mission trip on Thursday, to Taiwan. I recounted the provision of God in a blog post yesterday. It was amazing.
But some have pointed out how expensive mission trips are. We will spend between $15,000 to $18,000 on this trip. I will preach around 15 times in 9 days, and our team will lead youth group ministries, lead worship and do other tasks at a missionary conference.
It’s a lot of money for the ministry we are doing. Is it valuable? Is it worth it? It is cost-effective in terms of ministry? Tough questions.
Some say that mission trips are a waste of time and money. They would point out that with the same $15,000, a lot of ministry could be done in Taiwan by local pastors. Some have claimed that overseas missions trips are little more than vacations masquerading as ministry, a pretty extreme view. Some have pointed out that Americans swooping in to do work the nationals could and should do for themselves can create unhealthy dependency. Some question the fact that folks will travel around the world to proclaim Christ, but not across the street. The wave of mission trips in the 80s and 90s started a backlash in which some have questioned the efficacy of the practice.
So, what do you think?
Here’s some of my thoughts:
1) Each of the criticisms has some legitimacy.
Some mission trips have caused problems overseas – when the team becomes more of a burden than a blessing. However, that does not mean that all mission teams are a burden.
2) Mission trips need to work in cooperation with and serve the purposes of the missionaries and national ministries.
In Cedar Rapids, we had several teams from Tennessee come up to help us build our building. Every one of those teams was a blessing, but there was one that was a little more difficult than the others. Most of the teams came up and said, “What can we do to help you?” One of the mission teams, from a very large church, had more of a dominating spirit. ”Here’s what we are going to do for you!” they (sort of) said. They helped us, but on their terms. And, while they were the biggest of the teams, they were the ones we thought accomplished the least.
When we go as short-term volunteers, we need to make sure that our work is not a burden, but a blessing to the missionaries, that we are helping them and not just helping ourselves.
3) Mission trips change the lives of those on mission trips.
I’ve seen it over and over again. Going overseas, seeing the work of God outside your little hamlet; it is a life-changing event. My daughter went last time, and would tell you that when she went she was a Christian whose walk with God was lethargic at best. The two weeks in Taiwan in 2012 changed her. She is studying for missions at Cedarville. We cannot discount the effect this trips have on the lives of the young people (and old) who go on them.
I’d love to see research on the missions offerings and general missions giving of churches that go on trips and those who don’t. I’m guessing that the mission trips often tap the well instead of capping it.
Mission trips are, all in all, a valuable thing. They must be done in such a way that they bless the work and do not burden it. But they can be a valuable tool.
Tell us what you think.