Because mission trips are, by their very nature, short-term, it can be tempting to use them as an opportunity to try out new leaders.
While mission trips are indeed short-term, their short-term nature makes them incredibly stressful, especially if you cross cultures. For that reason, you need your best, most capable leaders on mission trips – ones you’ve seen minister to teens who you know how to work with. Here’s why.
1. Rookie leaders require additional time and energy from you to support, encourage, and nurture them in their role as a leader. It’s far easier to find the time to invest in leaders during the year than it is during a week-long mission trip in which you’re on 24/7. On a mission trip, you need every ounce of energy you have to be focused on your teens – not on your leaders. You need your adults to give you energy, not deplete it.
2. You need time to learn the idiosyncrasies of your adult leader team. What makes people tick? Perhaps more importantly, what frustrates them? The more you know about your team, the better you can minister with and to them.
3. Not every adult leader should serve on a mission trip. Mission trips require a certain type of adult leader – those who are flexible, willing to step away from their ordinary lives for a week or two, and those who are willing to take on a supporting leadership role. You might have an adult leader who’s fantastic with teens an hour at a time, but who would be a disaster on a longer experience like a mission trip. Regularly serving with your adult leaders before a mission trip enables you to discern who will make the best leaders on your trip.
4. Even the best, most carefully planned mission trips are stressful. You don’t not need the extra stress that comes when one of your adult leaders implodes on a trip. The only way you can reasonably assure that won't happen is to observe them in stressful situations beforehand. So, before you sign an adult leader up for your mission trip, ask them to serve with you during a lock-in or a retreat. It’s far easier to deal with a leader who “breaks” during a retreat that’s a few hours from home than it is to deal with a leader who shuts down during a two-week long international trip.
5. Relationships matter on mission trips. Your team needs to be able to move and respond as a team – both to serve well and to respond to safety concerns. When teens know their mission trip adult leaders well before their trip begins, it sets everyone up for success. They’ll respect and respond to leaders far better when they’re known entities instead of strangers. They’ll also trust your leaders more. The more they trust your adult leaders, the more willing they’ll be to share their questions, doubts, and stories with adult leaders during a mission trip.
6. While mission trips form disciples, those disciples shouldn’t be your adult leaders. On mission trips, participants will encounter God in new ways. This is true of your adult leaders every bit as much as your teens. And yet, the reality is that while we expect mission trips to make disciples out of the teens who go, your adult leaders should already be followers of Jesus with a faith of their own. (If you want to make disciples of adults on a mission trip, take an adult or intergenerational trip where you’re not depending on all adults to function as adult leaders). Since you cannot be everywhere at once, you’ll need to be able to count on adult leaders to lead your teens in every way, including in their faith. Since you cannot take someone where you haven’t gone yourself, for adults to be able to help teens process, make sense of, and even form their faith, they must have a consequential faith of their own.
Mission trip adult leaders aren’t just decorative accents on your trip. They’re foundational. Your trip will only be as good as your weakest adult leader. So, take adult leaders that you know and trust because you’ve seen them flourish in a variety of ministry environments. When you do, you’ll set your mission trip up for success.
To learn more about the theological basis for short-term missions and its practical implications, buy a copy of Jen's latest book today: A Mission That Matters: How to do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm.