We, as Americans, are living in a difficult but exciting era of God’s mission. Difficult because our culture and peers often scorn our devotion to Jesus, yet exciting because we no longer have to travel far away to share the hope of Christ with someone who has never understood it.
Several hundred of years of emphasis on cross cultural, overseas “mission work” coupled with an increasingly godless American culture has developed a renewed focus toward local mission efforts. More and more, we are hearing about ways to leverage the opportunities in our everyday lives to share the Gospel, right here in our own “Jerusalem” – our own backyard.
Short-term mission trips have done wonders in helping “globalize” the Body of Christ into longer term work in those areas, but I’d like to challenge us about how we can catalyze a lifestyle of mission in the very context where we live.
First, let’s observe some strengths and weaknesses about the traditional “Missions Trip” model (where you leave your normal context and travel to a different one) in order to glean a better understanding about how to live on mission locally.
Strength #1: The heightened sense of purpose and focus for participants to live as a missionary has done amazing things in many individuals. In my story, it was after I went on my first missions trip to serve a very poor and dangerous indian reservation that I came back to my school with a new boldness for Christ. I was so grateful for how I was challenges to share the Gospel while I served, looking for ways to speak of Jesus.
Weakness #1: On the other hand, many of the practical tools and experiences I had were highly specific to that group of people, making it difficult for me to translate how to speak to my friends in the same way.
Strength #2: Going away into a different context to minister can be the perfect time to re-evaluate your life and how you’re living in your own context. The Lord often uses a change of scenery to open our eyes to a new way of living upon returning to “life as usual.”
Weakness #2: Coming back to your own context can be a cultural shock by itself if the re-entry training isn’t done well. For many people, besides a 45-minute debriefing talk, they are left without the ongoing support needed to continue on in their local context living as a missionary.
Strength #3: Many times, “Mission Trips” are done in a group context where the added synergy of believers working together makes it easier to share the Gospel. They will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35). This is also why “Missional Communities” or “groups of ‘sent’ people” are so critical when creating a lifestyle of Mission: because the group can witness better than any individual usually can.
Weakness #3: Many times in those group settings, only the leader gets a chance to articulate the Gospel – making it difficult for the participants to go back into their own contexts and find ways to articulate the Gospel.
I know not all short-term mission trips have the same weaknesses (or strengths for that matter), but I am convinced that there is a new way we can train people to live intentionally in our own context. Go ahead and click on Part 2 of this blog to continue reading about the “Local Immersion.”
Patrick Lowndes is an adopted son of God, husband and father of two daughters. As an evangelist and entrepreneur at heart, Patrick is the Founder and Lead Mobilizer of Walking Proclamation, a missional t-shirt company that seeks to provoke curiosity that starts conversations about God and His Gospel. Patrick is a part of a church plant in south Seattle and seeks to equip the Kingdom through entrepreneurial and evangelistic gifts.