Why I Don't Do Mission Trips Any More

Fuller Youth Institute | Mar 7, 2016

Photo by Hanna Emmilyn

Brandon Hendriks is a 13-year youth ministry veteran currently serving as the Student Ministries Pastor at Pacific Coast Church in San Clemente, California with his wife and three sons.

There was a time when I led mission trips. I don’t any more.

Here’s why.

Mission trips are often a subtle (or not-so-subtle) way of saying that we have something you need. When we roll into town, people can finally hear about Jesus, get their needs met, and see how ministry is meant to be done. As a young youth pastor with something to prove, I led missions trips like that. That bums me out now. A lot.

I’ve since learned that “ministry partnerships” are so much more fulfilling, effective, and culturally affirming than “mission trips.” Books such as Deep Justice in a Broken World and When Helping Hurts shed light on a reality that I’d felt but hadn’t been able to fully articulate. The way we were doing missions was broken and even damaging to the very people we were trying to minister to. The key there is “to” instead of “with.” When we go to minister to people, we can be shortsighted and even oppressive. When we minister with people we become long-term ministry partners.

A few weeks ago I took a few students and volunteers down to Mexico with me to meet with the pastor and youth leaders of the church we partner with during our Spring Break trip. We sat in a room together as partners and equals as we prayed together, dreamed, and planned out some of the things we could do together while we’re there. I emphasized, as I have for years now, that we are there as co-laborers with them (after all, they are the experts on ministering in that area and culture), and that they could use our team in whatever way benefits the ministry of their church the most.

They shared that they had some new things they wanted to do that week to bring people to Christ—things we’d never done before, and frankly, a schedule I would not have planned. Now we are putting those plans into action as we start training our students this weekend to prepare for the trip. The church in Mexico is also starting to train their teens to prepare for that week of ministry. The group from our church is half of the team, and the group from their church is the other half. Only once we come together will the ministry team be whole.

Sure, we still call them mission trips. That’s how the students know them. But these are very different from the trips of my early years. This is a picture of the Body of Christ as it exists beyond culture and nation. The people that I’ve been blessed to partner with in Mexico are not only my brothers and sisters in Christ, they have become beloved friends—friends that I get to do Kingdom work with, and that’s the best kind.

How have you tried to move from simply taking mission trips to forming ministry partnerships?

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