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The Cold, Hard Science why Student Missions Trips are the Key to Faith

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

There is plenty of tension about what this generation is leaving faith in droves. Many suggest solutions on making things easier for kids to come in through the door.  Youth pastors use attractions to entertain kids to stay a little longer. Interestingly, Leaders who promote student missions are seeing things a completely different way. Evidently all of the flashy  give-aways of youth programs have not worked out. In fact the Fuller Youth Institute determined:

Roughly 50% of students walk away from the church after they graduate High School.

They shared this research in Sticky Faith. The authors studied hundreds of students over the years of transition from high school into college and found something intriguing. One particular group tends to retain its faith moorings well beyond others. Young adults who retained faith were students who had been active on a student missions trip.

Why does a student missions trip help youth in their faith?

People want to belong to something bigger than themselves. Simplifying faith to bite-sized chunks reduces hardship, but this is not the compelling vision that you signed up for. All attractions dim over time – no matter how thrilling it was the first time –  no one wants to watch the same movie for years.

True Mission does the opposite.

Instead of a moments thrill, great mission makes us uncomfortable. It asks us to pay more than we can afford. It forces us to let others see us at our worst. Mission challenges us.

Mission is hard and it should be. In life, anything of meaning is hard.

Why student missions is vital for faith

Here are six keys to understanding why mission matters to the faith of our students.

1. Faith is life lived not pages read.

The Bible we follow is a book full of stories of people trying to manage in an awkward and unfair world. When it is devolved to ‘God’s Lil Instruction Book’ full of motivational quotes we miss the point.

Mission takes the words and gives them meaning in context. When you read about food offered to idols and have to accept a peice of fruit from a priest in a temple that just offered it to an idol … it suddenly makes things real. When it asks us to live at peace with someone we would rather avoid we have to make a real choice.

Mission asks us over and over whether we will follow or ignore the words.

2. Justice kicks in the door.

It is virtually impossible to comprehend persecution when your biggest issue of the week is where to get take-out for Netflix night.

When we visit hard places and meet people who are eager to follow Jesus, it forces us to look at what we complain about.

We see life through their eyes and we wonder how they see us. Sometimes that can be embarrassing and enlightening.

3. Community never happens around a screen.

Community happens when people have to travel thousands of kms together, eat together, fight together and find peace together.

Community is born in the times that are truly terrible in the moment, but remembered for years after. No one talks about the movie you watched last year … everyone talks about the trip you took when the tire blew and you were stranded overnight.

4. Mission is not about being nice.

If the point of your faith is to learn to be nice to people and not rock the boat, you have lost a generation.  If your church spends more time complaining about the carpet colour, or the hymn/chorus/drums ratio you are in serious trouble.

Vanilla platitudes and motivational posters are not the life of adventure anyone signs up for.

Life is to be lived. Faith must be robust, dirty even. Mission drags us into the lives of others and makes us face the complex. That can be scary for some people … but if you are scared, you are probably in the right place.

5. It forces us into embarrassing situations.

Maturity happens when we are put into a place where we either step up or get embarrassed. People on mission get a chance to step out and try on new ways of leading, they don't assume they know it all, already.

On mission you will be confronted in your cultural, religious, social, economic (and many other) beliefs. You will be in conversation with someone who is not part of our normal circle. You may be pressed. People will think very differently from you. You will not be able to get off the hook too easily.

You find out what kind of person you are when you have to step up (or not)

6. We have to meet strangers and (shudder) talk to them

It is far too easy to talk about “us and them” without ever meeting a them. Talking about Africans, or Muslims, or Atheists should never be a one-sided activity. If you are reading about them from someone who thinks exactly like you do you are in trouble. If the person telling you about “them” is not African, Muslim, or an Atheist you are probably building straw men arguments.

Instead of random stereotypes of faceless people groups, mission allows us to meet complex people with real names. Mission starts to happen when we learn those names and spend time in real conversation.

Student missions is not a cure-all.

Be careful you don't fall into the trap of seeing mission as an activity rather than the formation of a relationship. This can include using student missions simply as a tool to burn faith deep inside your kids. That one-sided activity of taking kids overseas to observe poverty is not a panacea that will ensure faith … it doesn’t work that way, but Student Missions trips do allow students to actively engage in all of the breath-taking ways of life that we all want in our life.

Terrified of the risk?  Great! It means you are on the right track.

Why do you bring students on mission?

Interested but not sure where to start?  consider if you are ready for the Short Term Mission Leadership course. The course is built for leaders who have never lead, as well as leaders who have decades of experience under their belt.

The best leaders are not concerned about how many trips they have behind them. They are too focused on growing their future mission. They are fearless about learning more.

Hosts know the difference, they tell me often.

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