By Katie Jones
A group of travelers, tan and tired, pile out of the church van. They had an amazing time. They never imagined that such poverty could exist. They have never felt so close to Jesus. Then, all too quickly, the feelings fade, old rhythms return, and life settles back to normal.
It’s a familiar story, but is that what Jesus intended when he told His church to love their neighbors or to go and make disciples? If there wasn’t a Bible verse on our matching t-shirts would they actually know we are Christians by our love? Where does the disconnect lie?
The problem doesn’t exist within the model of short-term missions, but it is rather a symptom of a more universal problem that reaches to the core of who we are and what we understanding about God.
A mission trip is an invitation to step outside of oneself, and experience the world, within the context of a Biblical worldview including: creation, fall, and redemption.
In their book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett observes, “While materialism, self-centeredness, and complacency continue to plague all of us, nobody can deny the upswing in social concern among North American evangelicals in the past two decades.”
Could it be that even the draw to social activism and compassion are self-motivated? Serving others has been reduced to something that is controlled and neatly compartmentalize into one week of the summer, a perspective that is consistent with a predominant worldview.
Throughout her observations of American teenagers, Christian Smith suggests, “The de facto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers is what we might call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.’”
Mix in a healthy dose of postmodernism, and truth becomes relative, as well. This worldview exists only to make people feel better, coupled with a general understanding of right and wrong as defined by culture.
This thinking subconsciously leaves in its wake a lifestyle of striving, proving, and achievement. It allows room for the belief that the world, and subsequently a mission trip, revolves around personal gain and satisfaction.
To cease striving and know that He is God is not simply about pausing in the craziness to remember our creator, but a call to see the world outside of our own merit.
In recent years, research has revealed the damage that an individualistic worldview can have on the developing world. Typically, these conversations come to rest on the idea that the benefit of short-term mission trips is for those who are sent.
The answer isn’t to do away with the short-term mission trips altogether, but to use them as an opportunity to coach a correct worldview. The true value of a short-term mission trip lies in the way that each trip unifies the church and provides opportunities to build a Biblical worldview.
The world was created with great love and purpose. Tragically, we can’t fully live into that purpose because sin has devastated our world, our hearts, and the perfect, original design for an eternal relationship with our creator. It is in this condition that we find ourselves rescued by God, who in His kindness, is actively making things new.
This grand narrative of creation, fall, and redemption is the foundation of a Biblical worldview. It is the only understanding of truth that can explain reality, even in suffering. With a correct view of ourselves and God, we can begin to see that we are a part of a much larger story than our own.
What if we lived with a deep understanding that we are being redeemed by Him, and that we are agents of His redemption in the world? The priorities closest to our hearts would become the long-term benefit of the community that we serve, and the genuine needs others.
There would be nothing to prove and no hierarchy would exist between those who serve and those that receive, but rather a camaraderie that comes from walking through life and pursuing God together.
Last summer, in Cumberland, Tennessee, a group of teenagers arrived at a home. It was built as a part of one of the most successful homestead projects under the New Deal in 1934, with the original stone fireplace, and gorgeous wood floors.
Over time, and through the generations that had passed it down, the home had fallen into disrepair. The most urgent need was the front steps that were no longer safe for the homeowner to use. The team worked hard, pouring their own money, time, and sweat into rebuilding the steps. In doing so, they bore the image of their redeeming God.
We make things new, because God is making us new. Those teenagers will remember this homeowner, and she will be reminded everyday by her new steps of them, but long after the memories have faded the imprint of redemption will last.
In a small, tangible way, those steps revealed the bigger story of creation, fall, and redemption. Mission trips may still be the answer, but it is time to move out of an irrelevant worldview and sink into the truth. God’s story is the place where eternal transformation occurs.
A Biblical worldview is what takes us from an interest to a calling, individualism to community, and temporary to eternal.
Changing our mindset can begin with something as simple as asking the right questions. What are the long-term goals of this community and how can we help? What do we have in common with those that we have come to serve? If no one knew that we were here, would we serve in this way? Why or why not?
We must rewrite the cultural narrative and live out a Biblical worldview every day. A life that reveals the story of a redeemer in every moment is a life that is worthy of the calling that we have received.
Katie Jones is the director of staffing and curriculum development for Reach Mission Trips. Reach creates service opportunities that allow youth groups to partner with communities and ultimately transform the way they engage their world for Jesus, www.reachmissiontrips.org.