My new book, A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm, is out! As a youth worker, I wholeheartedly believe that mission trips have the ability to impact teens in an incredibly transformative way. However, doing so requires a great deal of thought before, during, and after your trip. A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm guides you through the process of preparing for and leading a mission trip. It equips you theologically and practically for everything you'll need to do a mission trip well, while minimizing long-term harm on the community you seek to serve.
Missions are something I've written a lot about on this blog, but over the next few weeks, I've invited several people - all of whom I've had the privilege of being on a mission trip with - to weigh in on various aspects of mission trips.
Today's guest post is by Joe Yucha. Joe is the Associate Pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, where he's responsible for a whole host of things including the junior high and high school youth ministries. I first met Joe when he was the intern at the church I was working at. In that role, I got to know him best when we served side by side on summer mission trips. In that context, I saw Joe's heart for teens... And for the communities we sought to serve. Joe is married to Christine and has a boisterous dog, Luna. When he's not pastoring, he can be found reciting lines from Star Wars (Actually, he also does this while pastoring...) and working out.
Short term mission trips were becoming old hat to me.
When I was in high school, I participated in three mission trips. As part of the church where I work, I’ve gone on five, taking on a little more leadership responsibility as part of every trip. I thought I had a pretty good handle on the rhythms of a week-long mission trip.
Then I was unexpectedly vaulted into the role of trip leader.
When the youth director at my church told me she was taking a new job and would be leaving before our combined middle & high school mission trip, I became the de facto leader of the trip. My previous experience going on and leading parts of trips was invaluable as I stepped into this new role. But there were still some surprises, learnings, and things I wish I had known. There is CERTAINLY a difference between being AN adult leader on a trip and being THE adult leader on a trip. What do I wish I’d had more time to think about, you ask?
- Communication: As the trip leader, I quickly became aware that I was the go-between for parents and the mission trip staff. I had expected some communication with the mission trip organization before the trip, and daily check-ins. I did NOT expect to have multiple impromptu conversations each day with the site director to discuss changes to the schedule. I expected to send a daily group message to parents of students on the trip, updating them on what we did. I did NOT expect to receive multiple individual texts from parents who weren’t in the group chat, asking specific questions about their students. I learned I needed to be ready to discuss pretty much anything, at any time.
- Awareness: In order to communicate effectively, I had to be aware of what was going on during the trip. Sure, in the past I’d kept up with my work crew, as well as the general mood of the group. As the leader, I learned that wasn’t enough. I needed to know what was going on in all of the crews that had members of my church in them. I needed to keep tabs on my fellow adult leaders, checking in with them to see when they were excited and when they were exhausted. I needed to know how individual students were interacting both with each other (to be sure our older students weren’t clumping and leaving 7th graders by themselves), and with students in other groups. In order to be sure I could be “present” in the moment during the most unstructured times on the trip, I needed to be sure I was prepared for the other events on this trip.
- Sacrifice: The number of hours of sleep I got dropped pretty substantially on the first trip I led. This was not because of nerves, or restless nights, but because I needed more time for preparation. Staying up a little later to talk with other adults who had questions or plot out some logistics for the next day. Getting up early to be sure I was alive and awake when the students started stumbling out of bed, as well as finishing those logistics plans from the night before. The lack of sleep wasn’t necessarily a surprise to me, but the loss of individual “me time” was. Any time I was out amongst students, leaders, or mission trip staff, I was “on.” And I was more than likely engaged in conversation. By no means was this entirely negative, but it was strange to feel like “free time” disappeared around me. There was ALWAYS something going on, and as the trip leader, I was often brought into it.
Though there are plenty of other things I learned during my first time as the trip leader, these three learnings encompass what struck me as most different. Leading this trip led to an exhausting experience…but it also led to an INCREDIBLY rewarding experience. Feeling like I grew closer to both students and parents, seeing students on the trip act in ways far beyond what I expected of them, and continuing to hear stories of how this trip has impacted their lives. All of these made this trip life-changing for me as well, and eager to dive back in and lead another trip next summer.
To learn more about how to be the leader on short-term mission trips, order your copy of A Mission That Matters here today!