Thursday, September 08, 2005

missing the point of mission?

I had coffee with a fellow youth worker (Rich) this morning - we ended up chatting for most of the morning. The conversation covered many different topics, one of which was short term mission trips or missions trips as some people (not us) call them. I thought it might be worth sharing (with Rich's permission) some of our reflections, or at least what I can remember from this morning, about short term mission(s) trips....

Rich has spent quite a bit of time running and hosting short term mission trips, mainly in the USA and I'm currently studying for an MA in Mission Studies. I say all this not to make anybody look bigger/better/cooler, rather so whoever reads this knows that the subject of mission is something we both have an interest in. We spent a fair while discussing the pros and cons of short term mission trips. Both of us have been on short term mission trips in the past, and Rich in particular has, in recent years had considerable involvement with short term mission trips. This morning we had a really healthy discussion about short term mission trips and both of us shared some of our thoughts and questions…

1. We both have questions about the value of short term mission trips for those the ‘missionaries’ are intending to serve. I know that sometimes the cost of getting these young missionaries out to far-flung destinations can be such that if it were given as cash to the local community, it would make a vast difference to the life of that community. I recognise that often there is no substitute for human interaction, and I certainly don't want to encourage giving financially as the only kind of giving. I also know that sometimes the fundraising projects to pay for plane tickets etc also raise additional money to go direct to the organisations working day-to-day in these local communities. That's all great. But the question still remains, is us, flying half way around the world, to paint houses (or whatever) the best way for us to engage in mission?

2. Many people talk about mission in terms of what those participating in the mission trip will get out of it, eg, new experiences, a deepened relationship with God etc. Now don't get me wrong, I think new experiences are good, as is a deepened relationship with God. But if these are the sole purposes of the mission trip then something is a little bit wrong (in my opinion).
Now obviously nobody ever states that these are the sole purposes of short term mission trips, but sometimes I have to wonder. Let me explain…
I recently spent some time with a group of American high school students who were over in this country (the UK) on a short term mission trip. These missionaries had been doing various things around the community as well as in local schools. Now the activities they had been engaging in were all well and good, and I know that having a bunch of people who speak funny coming into your school can draw a crowd BUT what value is there in the long term. Both Rich and I agreed that the most beneficial short term mission trips we had had dealings with, were those when groups of people had returned to the same place on more than one occasion. When I spoke to the leaders of this group of American students they seemed to have no intention of returning.
Reflecting on the aims of this trip, it seemed to me that the only real aim was that these American young people would gain new experiences, possibly develop better relationships with other members of their group, and having shared some new and exciting experience together, have learned to have to put their trust in God, and thus their relationships with Him may have deepened. IF this, or anything vaguely similar happened, then that great. Really, I think it is. BUT THAT’S NOT MISSION. Or at least that not all there is to mission. Is it?

I guess that one of the things I’m trying to say is that mission, for me, has to be something more than just a week or two every summer, I get the feeling it is something that I am called to do with the whole of my life – I want to be a part of a Christian community, which is a part of God’s mission to the world, expressed through His creation, the sending of His Son, and hopefully His church. Mission, for me, has to be about the way we as a community live our lives (possibly as some kind of act of worship – though that’s for another time!!), demonstrating who we as a community are, what we as a community stand for, 24/7.

Incidently the Church of England's Mission-Shaped Church is now available to download as a pdf.


Richard Passmore said...

The next frontier lecture will hopefully look in part at this. Whilst you have your thinking cap on I wouldn't mind some feedback on my last two posts on Emerging church as our subcultures weakness.


Rich said...

As the other half of the coffee and conversation I thought I'd let you know I have just set up a blog and might get round to writing something oneday.

Suzie said...

Hi Phil, I think you couldn't be more right about short term mission trips.

I went with TearFund to India back in 1998-99 and had a great time. We were based at a Christian Hospital and did work painting the hospital, interacting with the children and visiting women's self-help groups (by far the best part). It birthed in me a love of India, BUT I would have to say that the benefits for us as a group far outweighed the benefits for those we were supposed to be helping! It would have been far better on an economic level to have employed local people to paint the hospital. The point I think was really to provide interaction between the two cultures, and again that was mainly to educate us about a non-western culture. There wasn't much specifically missional content to our visit, but it has shaped my views on the whole question of overseas mission trips. When the trips are to developing countries, I think that often, sadly, our mindset tends to be almost neo-colonial.

Roger Vere Youth Worker said...

Part of our vision for the next year is to be missional i what we're doing with our youth work; not to DO MISSION or missions but to encourage young people (and parents and youth leaders?) to faith through the witness of the work that we do. It looks great on paper - just have to work ou thow we're going to do it now!

Luce said...

ok. interestingness. my spin on things is this.

I hate an 'us and them' attitude in approach to mission. That somehow we are better than 'them' whom we are trying to save, and anyway its not about us, but surely the whole point of the missio dei - is that its God's mission not ours.

Thats not saying we are not to go, we are. BUT we are to go and share life, not demystify and disrespect all that a people believe in. That demeans their existence and is not, in my opinion, good news.

I feel very uncomfortable at the thought of mission consisting, only in week chunks, going somewhere, having a laugh, and getting a load of people to utter commitment prayers and then flying home.

Salvation, in my limited understanding, is so much more than a 'commitment prayer'.

I have been saved, I am being saved and I will be saved

(or something like that ;) )

We are ALL in need of saving.

In the original post, Phil mentioned in his 2nd point that those on the mission trip can be the ones who get the most out of mission, and this has been confirmed in some of the comments. However I dont think that this is entirely negative. A (however cheesy it sounds) 'learning together' approach is much better, where the missionaries and missionees (excuse term) learn and experience stuff together.

Sharing between equals not us vs them, richer vs. poorer, saved vs. not saved.

rant over.