Mission trips are a great way to experience different cultures, serve others, and grow spiritually. But, there have been times where mission trips fail to glorify God and spread the gospel and end up harming a community more than they help. Because of this, it’s easy to believe that mission trips are inherently bad.
Are mission trips bad? Mission trips that are done right are not bad, because they carry out God’s mission for the world and transform lives by introducing participants to what it’s like as a missionary, spread the gospel, and build relationships.
The real heart behind all mission trips, whether short or long term, is to spread the gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation so that they may believe in Jesus, love him, and worship him. When this happens, Jesus tells us that the end will come and we will be able to worship him all together.
This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.Matthew 24:14 CSB
Why Mission Trips Are Good
Three reasons why mission trips are good: they teach participants what it’s like to be a missionary, they spread the gospel, and they build relationships.
Mission Trips Teach Participants What It’s Like To Be A Missionary
One of the most effective things mission trips do is train aspiring missionaries and participants how to serve in different types of ministry so that one day, they themselves might use what they’re learned to impact communities.
There have been many trips where team members of a trip have heard from God clearly about their calling and discover a passion for pursuing missionary work long term.
Though it’s not a guarantee that this will happen to everyone, there are still so many opportunities to grow spiritually and develop God-given gifts.
Some personal spiritual gifts and talents many mission trips help shape are:
- Art skills
There are so many more gifts that mission trips help grow for the building up of the body of Christ, but even more so than this, mission trips can point people to where they’re meant to be long term.
I know personally of people who were called to be missionaries and decided to go on mission trips that allowed them to gain experience about how to minister to people and where to go long term.
These people didn’t know where they were called to at first, but after some mission trips to different cultures and lots of prayer, they were able to discern what God wanted them to do and where they were to do it.
God can still send missionaries without having them first experience a mission trip.
Mission trips are incredibly valuable and helpful in guiding people interested in being a missionary long term.
They Spread The Gospel
While many mission trips focus on disaster relief, community projects, and other service tasks, and though these are good things, the most effective work is spreading the gospel.
Spreading the gospel can be done through words and actions, which is why service project trips are perfectly ok, but when we go on mission trips we want to make sure that there are opportunities to witness to people and show them the love of Jesus.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16
This is the gospel, and the whole purpose that God sent Jesus was to love us and offer us salvation. In the same way, our goal for being sent should be to share the story of salvation we have received ourselves and share the love of the Father.
They Build Relationships
Just like Jesus, participants on mission trips are called to love people by building relationships with them and getting to know them.
By building relationships, they can either share the gospel directly with them, or connect them to local missionaries, Christians, and churches who are their long term.
This way, those who are curious about the faith or even new believers can ask questions and be discipled, even when mission trip participants leave.
Another way participants can make a mission trip effective is by building relationships with missionaries and ministries, encouraging them through serving, laughing, crying, and spending time with them.
How Mission Trips Can Be Bad:
Mission can be bad if: the trips purpose is undefined or doesn’t match God’s purpose or there is a lack of preparation.
If The Trip’s Purpose Is Undefined Or Doesn’t Match God’s Purpose
You can be sure that a mission trip that doesn’t have a clear goal or clear purpose that aligns with God’s word then it will be ineffective. John 15 says that without remaining with God, we can do nothing.
Because of this, when you’re wondering if mission trips are inherently bad, those that don’t have the heart to serve God and others are bad.
You can know that trips that are on board with a godly purpose and are being led by the Holy Spirit are trips that will make a difference for the better.
That said, we are not the heroes, no matter how much good we do. Jesus is the hero, so if the trip isn’t about glorifying him and instead is about glorifying ourselves, then that is when we can label a mission trip bad.
Both leaders and participants must not be in it for their own purposes, but for the purposes of God.
If There Is A Lack Of Preparation
Any mission trip needs prayerful and logistical preparation.
This doesn’t mean that we have to know how every second will be spent on the trip, or try to control everything, but mission trips do need a healthy amount of preparation and strategy.
When a trip doesn’t prep with these things, that is when it is not wise to go on a mission trip.
One thing that prayer especially does is protect participants from certain dangers, spiritual attacks, and even natural disasters. So, when prayer is not an essential part of trip planning, participants may suffer the consequences.
Both of the short-term trips I personally went on had an element of danger.
When I was in Guatemala, we went right after Mt. Fuego erupted, yet we were able to share the hope we had with shaken farmers because we had prayer partners back home praying for us and we ourselves had invested in hours of prayer.
On the second trip, we arrived right before the coronavirus pandemic hit Rome, Italy, just in time to share the gospel openly before everyone was forced to spend over three months cooped up in their apartments alone.
I believe this timing was only accomplished because my leaders prayed about the timing of our trip. I can only imagine what would’ve happened if they hadn’t.
The Bible shows us the importance of prayer and tells us not to worry about things we can’t control, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to prepare for our mission trip in the right way.
In this world, we will have tribulation, but Jesus has conquered the world. This doesn’t mean to throw all caution to the wind, but simply trust God for what we can’t control.
There will always be the possibility of things going wrong, but that shouldn’t stop us from obeying God.
God is our protector, so when we choose to cower behind the “what ifs”, we’ll never fully experience what God has for us and our mission trips will cause more harm than good.
What The Bible Says About Mission Trips
There’s nothing in the Bible that says “mission trips are good” or “mission trips are bad”. But, when we look at mission work in the Bible, especially the work of Jesus and even the apostle Paul, we can see that short and long-term missions are good and effective.
Here are examples from scripture that we’ll go through to find out what the Bible really says about mission trips:
- Jesus And The Woman At The Well
- Jesus Sending Out The 72
- Jonah’s Mission Trip To Nineveh
- Paul’s Missionary Journeys
- God As The Sending God
Jesus And The Woman At The Well
In John 4:1-41, Jesus tells his disciples that he has to go through the land of Samaria. At this time, Jews usually traveled around Samaria because they hated them so much.
You’ve probably heard the story of the woman at the well, but to sum it up, Jesus followed the Spirit to a Samaritan woman and told her about the truth about the kingdom of God, and extended grace and love to her.
After this happened, the woman believed in Jesus and ran into her town, a place where she was likely to have a bad reputation.
Despite this, she shared the good news Jesus had shared with her, and from her testimony, she told the whole community about how Jesus knew everything about her and asked if he could be the true Messiah.
Because the town saw the woman’s transformation, they couldn’t help but flock to Jesus to listen to his teaching. Here’s what happened when they did this:
Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of what the woman said when she testified, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’
So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. Many more believed because of what he said.
And they told the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of what you said, since we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.’John 4:39-42 CSB
This may not seem like a story of a mission trip, but it is the very definition of a mission trip.
Jesus would not have gone through Samaria unless the Father prompted him to, so from the Father’s lead, Jesus went on a mission to love and transform the lives of a woman and the people in her village. And it only took a few days.
While we’re not Jesus, the Holy Spirit still leads us and gives us these same opportunities if we ask him. Because of God’s love and his work, who knows what good could come from a mission trip, even a short term one like Jesus’ trip to Samaria.
Jesus Sending Out The 72 (Luke 10:1-17)
In Luke 10:1-20, it talks about how Jesus sent out 72 of his disciples and followers in pairs to the towns and villages he was about to go.
They were sent to prepare the way for him and do miracles in his name. Before they left, however, he said this:
He told them, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest’Luke 10:2
This is why we obey God when we go on mission trips, we want to become the workers for his abundant harvest.
When anyone is sent out into the mission field for any reason, it is because someone prayed to the Lord of the harvest for them, and in the same way, we are to pray for more workers to go.
After this, Jesus gave the 72 a specific mission which included them traveling with nothing but the clothes on their backs, praying for peace over the houses and people they visited, and healing the sick. Finally, they were to proclaim the kingdom of heaven.
Now while the passage doesn’t tell us how long the 72 were out preaching and healing in the villages, we do know that it was a mission trip because they were sent by Jesus, had a specific mission, and proclaimed the kingdom of God.
After they returned, they were ecstatic and shared with Jesus what had happened.
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’Luke 10:17
Jesus knew all that happened on this trip for the 72, and he goes on to tell them not to just rejoice because of the miracles that have happened, but because their names are written heaven.
What a beautiful reminder. Our mission trips become effective and good not just because of miracles or our works, but because God has saved us and others, and written our names in the book of life.
Jonah’s Mission Trip To Nineveh
An example of how a good mission trip doesn’t fully rely on us is the story of Jonah. Even though Jonah was disobedient to God’s call, God still leads him to the city of Nineveh where he was ordered to preach repentance.
What should’ve been a short and relatively simple trip, Jonah turned into a catastrophe by disobeying God and getting stuck in the belly of a fish for three days. Yet, God still accomplished his plans.
And what do you know, when Jonah finally followed through, the whole city of Ninevah repented.
Jonah was still bitter about it, but how much more will God do in and through us when we follow his call to go wherever he leads us and obey him on mission trips as well in the rest of our lives?
How much more will he pour out Jesus’ goodness and his Spirit when we go on trips that fulfill His purposes?
Trips like Jonah’s may not be ideal, and we certainly don’t want to have an attitude like Jonah’s, but we can know that when a trip is about what God is doing, it’s purposes matter, no matter how crazy they sound.
Paul’s Missionary Journeys (Acts)
The apostle Paul has four major missionary journeys, what we would call long term mission trips.
He went to multiple places all over the world of his time, planting churches, healing and teaching, and spreading the good news of the kingdom.
Paul had a crazy story, and most of the accounts of his trips are found in the book of Acts, as well as in his letters to different churches. He had many different partners and helpers, like Barnabus, Silas, Timothy, Titus, and even some of the apostles.
As Paul and his companions went on their missions, not one of them wasn’t lead by the Holy Spirit.
You’ll hear about how Paul’s direction after his conversion was completely directed by Jesus, and in Acts 16:6 Paul speaks of going to Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit steered them away from Asia at the time.
But from all of their journeys, we come to understand that their trips to different regions and churches should be the model for our own mission trips because they show us the signs of effective and good mission trips.
One theme from Paul’s travels was suffering for the sake of Christ.
Mission trips that are not inherently bad are ones that may appear on the outside as, well, bad. The mission of a mission trip is accomplished by people who are not afraid to suffer or give up their comfort for Jesus.
Taking on a sacrificial attitude for our mission trips and a servant heart is just what Jesus did for us, as well as Paul and the apostles.
Another thing that makes a mission trip good and helpful is relating to the culture as Paul did in Athens.
Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said, ‘People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect.
For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’
Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth’Acts 17:22-24
When we go on a mission trip, we cannot expect the people we meet to understand our own context for the gospel, we have to contextualize it for them so that the gospel can be shared effectively.
This is what Paul did, fitting the story of Jesus into what they knew.
Overall, Paul stayed in Athens for over two years, what we would call a long term trip. So, we can learn from these accounts found in Acts and all over the Bible that mission trips are important and can be used for the glory of God.
From following the Spirit, to living sacrificially, to contextualizing the gospel, Paul’s missionary journeys teach us endless timeless truths about how to conduct our own mission trips.
God As A Sending God
The most important thing to know about mission trips and how to lead our own is to recognize that God is a sending God and our mission should be his.
He is the one who sends us. Because of this, we cannot make a mission trip good on our own. Only knowing that ultimately mission work is God’s work is when we can maximize what we do on our trips.
Mission trips are good because they are part of God’s mission.
God sent Abraham to begin a journey to the promised land for God’s people, for generations to come. Genesis 15:5 tells the story of how God promised Abram that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars.
Why did God promise that? It wasn’t because Abram was a good person, but because God was and is a good God, wanting to love all the people the stars represented. Like the Israelites’ journey to the promised land, God wants to bring us and every person all over the world into heaven with him.
To accomplish this, God sent prophets, judges, a voice crying out in the wilderness, and most importantly Jesus. And now, he’s sending us.
While it wasn’t a short, fun mission trip for most of these people in the Bible, it’s interesting to see Jesus’ life on earth as the biggest, most important mission trip ever accomplished.
And when we approach a mission trip with this in mind and a heart for others to know this, we can know that our work will be used for good.
How To Know If A Mission Trip Is Right For You
Here are some things to think through if you’re debating whether a mission trip is good or bad for you:
- Is God calling you to it?
- Is the Holy Spirit leading you?
- Are there opportunities for you to serve and love others?
- Will you be able to share the gospel?
- Will you be able to use the gifts God has given you and grow spiritually?
- Does this trip focus on building relationships?
- Is the leadership of the trip following God?
- Is the trip’s purpose lined up with God’s purposes?
Other Things To Consider:
Mission trips are also effective when participants are encouraged to dive deep into scripture and listen for the Holy Spirit, creating an atmosphere for life change. Make sure that you’ll have time to do this during your trip and grow spiritually.
Another sign that a mission trip will be good for you, is if they have time afterward to debrief from the trip, and process what happened.
If you’re still not sure if a mission trip is worth it, consider going on a trip to an unreached people group.
An unreached people group is an ethic group that has no access to the gospel or no reproducing church that has resources to reach the rest of the people group.
Unengaged unreached people groups are also extremely important to reach with the gospel because these people have no chance at all of knowing Jesus without any outside help.
Mission trips to unreached people groups are perhaps the least common, but the most needed. They are usually longer but provide you with the chance to truly make a difference in the kingdom of God.
Mission Trips Further God’s Kingdom
Mission trips are a way to obey God’s call to “GO”, and help us realize what it’s like to be a missionary and possibly inspire us to pursue that path in the future.
Ultimately, everything we do should glorify God and we should partner with him to further his kingdom.
Sharing the gospel in love is the most important work to do as a Christian, no matter what we’re doing, but going on a mission trip is a great way to do that by loving and serving others.
When we follow God’s lead to serve others in different cultures and places, we get to build relationships and love others the way Jesus would, sharing the gospel through word and deed so that all might be saved, even unreached people groups.
Mission trips are not inherently bad, but good because they are part of God’s mission, and can be used in amazing ways for his glory and other’s freedom.