In my previous article I shared three reasons why it is beneficial for church leaders to go on short-term mission trips with their congregation. In this article I intend to show how participation in these trips exposes church leaders to God’s work in the world we share. These observations come from my own experience during more than 20 years of being a church leader and joining my congregations on similar trips.
- We recognize that the mission has a church. No, that’s not a typo. I discovered this phrase years ago being used by a group of Christians in Australia. Rather than talking about the church having a mission, they prefer to say that the mission of God has a church. This is more than semantics. It keep us honest about exactly who owns the mission. When we acknowledge that the mission to save all creation belongs to God (John 3; Rom 8), we overcome the tendency to see mission points as satellites or extensions of our own particular Jerusalem church. Working among mission churches in various parts of the world has shown me that the same activity of God that generates and gathers the church family I serve has also been at work in other parts of the world. I urge you to make this adjustment and speak of the mission of God having a church, and see if it changes how your congregation views their relationship and responsibility to the other churches in the world.
- We are more likely to see the hidden work of God. We are familiar with our own culture and our ability to influence that environment. Unfortunately, this can cause us to overlook how God works for his purposes. Going into an unfamiliar culture helps us to see what is normally hidden to us. Most of us go into a mission trip with every intention of helping others. This is commendable and right. I have gone on short-term trips to encourage and provide resources, but I often see how God has been at work among others. In those instances, my job is simply to point out to them what may be hidden to them in their own culture. For instance, if Christians in another nation have grown despite opposition from the surrounding culture, they may be so discouraged by that opposition that they have not been able to see the growth. Likewise, the disciples in other cultures can help us to see what is typically hidden due to our familiarity with our own culture. This “spiritual exchange program” is a genuine source of encouragement. I believe that church leaders who go on a short-term mission trip will witness how God rules over and sustains his church throughout the world.
- We become less self-reliant. Self-reliance is not entirely a problem. Most of us are accustomed to being self-reliant. Even the church becomes self-sufficient in our home culture. When we decide to build something, we contract for plans and fund it. Yet, when all of our ministry and service is based on self-reliance, then we fail to recall that God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20). Churches in other settings that do not have the cultural acceptance or resources that we take for granted have learned to be more reliant on God. Rather than teach them how to be self-reliant or reliant upon “mother churches” in America, we would do well to learn about reliance on God from their stories.
- We upgrade our gospel database. In the concentrated and exciting environment of a short-term mission trip, we witness the gospel in action. I have met very few people, and fewer church leaders, who go on mission trips and fail to come back with stories that exemplify the gospel. This collection of stories and experiences is what I call my “gospel database.” When I am preaching, teaching or discussing the gospel with others I have found that others want to know that the gospel is real and not just a table of ancient propositions. The good news is not monochromatic. One of the best ways to experience the full spectrum of the goodness and newness of the gospel is to see how it brings salvation to various people in various cultures.