Guest Post: What I learned as a mission trip adult leader by Andy Waters

Jen Bradbury
Sep 04 · 5 min read

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 Andy Waters. Andy is an adult leader extraordinaire who I've led several mission trips with. He's the kind of leader you wish you could just clone. When he's not serving in youth ministry, Andy works in banking. In his free time, he can be found playing Bridge, playing practical jokes on people, tandem biking with his wife Amy, or sailing.

Mission That Matters

As an adult leader I have learned a lot from regularly serving as a leader on mission trips.

It is not about me. It is about the people I serve; the people in the community and the kids. I make the people the center of my attention; not me the center of theirs.

I believe everything God created is good and Jesus values us all equally. I am not better than the people we serve and I let the kids know.

I believe God created humankind in her image. In part, I believe God created me in her image because she wants my help. I let the kids know and show how they are making a difference.

I seek out kids who are alone. I try to be with them by engaging them in a conversation. Ask deeper questions than “How are you doing?”. Instead try “What did you do today?" or "What has happened on the trip so far that you didn’t expect?” I get other kids to engage in the conversation. When a conversation or activity is going well I move on. If the same child is alone often I try to find out why. It could be they are homesick, introverted or not connecting with others. I try to get them engaged with others and not with me all the time. I seek out a child who is a leader type. I affirm what I believe their gift is and then ask her to engage with the child.

I watch for the good things the kids do or ask. One-on-one I point out what I noticed. I do it publicly as well but take care to not praise one child often; I spread it out.

I ask questions, especially when there seems to be lull. In the beginning of the trip they can be light like, “If you could go anywhere for a week where would that be and what would you do there?” As the week goes on, the questions get deeper but they don’t have to all be deep.

I help kids connect with others. There will be kids who know each other well before they go on the trip. Make sure they don’t stay connected all the time or don’t allow other kids to engage.

I don’t use electronics in front of others. Hopefully electronics such as cell phones, tablets, and game devices are not on the trip. I have learned kids like having a break from electronics. It allows them to be more engaged with others and what is happening. I have seen kids who have them be so alone. I have had parents who want to communicate with their children. Being a parent I get it but it can lead to kids being homesick and disruptions. Posting group pictures on a blog or web site can put a parent at ease. They will look for their child and see them smiling.  

I engage the local people we are working with. Get them to tell their story. It is more about learning than painting a house. I don’t want to denigrate the people we are serving so I put thought into our questions. The paid staff are often times college students. I get them to tell their story in front of the kids. One of my favorite questions is “You could be getting paid more, putting in less hours and living at home. Why are you here? What do you enjoy the most?” I’ve seen two kids on mission trips as youth become staff.

I stay positive but don’t dismiss a kid complaining. I try to help them see the positive. If appropriate, I correct the situation when I can and help them move on. I never complain when the kids are present. If there is a problem or something could be done to make the trip better I suggest solutions with the local staff and my leader. Sometimes I vent to my leader.

I keep all the kids engaged in the activity at hand. I work with the kids to show, help and encourage but I don’t do anything unless everyone is engaged. However, if it isn’t a job site where everyone is working 100% all the time, it can require some creativity on my part to find things for everyone to do. Gender bias is strong and extroverts can dominate. Often times the boys and extroverts end up with the fun tasks. I assign jobs to help insure everyone gets the chance to do the fun ones.

I value the kids and show it by telling them, asking their opinions and asking them for help.

It is not about me. It is about Jesus and helping the kids find Jesus not just on the trip but when they get home too. It is difficult for all of us to understand God’s call and how we can make a difference. This is true for the kids too. I try to help them understand what God’s call means to me. I help them find ways they can make a difference.


To learn more about how to recruit and equip adult leaders like Andy to serve on your short-term mission trips, order your copy of A Mission That Matters here today!