Mission Trip Rules that Transform

Published at Youthworker Online (A part of Youthworker Journal)

Read the online article here

Mission Trip Rules that Transform

When we think about mission trips, rules are not one of the first things that come to mind. Rules in youth ministry are often treated as a necessary evil instead of an opportunity. Believe it or not, in the case of mission trips, rules not only create physical and emotional safety, they can add to the transforming power of mission trips. There are a few rules that I have carried with me throughout my whole career and to every church I have served. They are always met with some resistance, but they have served as a great tool for transformation. Too often, we youth worker types are not intentional about many things, particularly our rules and expectations of students.

Rule #1: Cell Phones

I have never allowed students to bring cell phones on mission trips for any reason. We communicate this with students and parents early and often. We do allow our adults to bring them for communication and safety reasons, but also ask them not to use them in front of students unless it is an emergency or an important trip communication. Leaving cell phones home makes a huge difference on mission trips. It’s one more thing that could get lost or stolen as well as one more thing to keep track of. Additionally, cell phones are a huge distraction. Most of our rules for mission trips are focused on either safety or removing distractions. Forcing our students to disconnect during the mission trip avoids a wide variety of problems and leads to a lot of transformation. Our students (as well as adults) are surrounded by noise and distraction and are constantly connected. This prevents so many of us from hearing the voice of God. Removing cell phones from our trips has helped students hear the still, small voice of God with more clarity.

Rule #2: Other Electronic Devices

We also have rules regarding other electronic devices. We do allow music players (ipod etc) on our trips unless we are going on an international trip and are concerned about customs (Yes, we have several students who tell us their music is on their phone but we do not allow them to bring their phones for any reason). We only allow these music devices to be used while on the drive or flight to and from the location of the trip. Once we arrive we take them away and lock them up (this prevents them from getting used, lost or stolen) and even though we have students who insist they need them to sleep, we ask them to suffer for Jesus. We of course allow cameras (unless it’s a phone) on our mission trips, but do not allow any other electronic devices (video game players etc) on our trips. As with the cell phones, these devices are not only a risk (theft etc), but they are also a distraction. Thankfully we have not had any students go into shock after a week without their electronic devices.

Rule #3: Pampering

This rule has created the most debate and controversy in recent years. For our mission trips we tell all participants that it is not a time to pamper, spend time on our appearance and parade the many resources we have in front of others. We ask our students and adults to avoid really nice clothing and jewelry and tell them not to bring a bunch of makeup and other pampering products including hair dryers, curling irons etc. More times than not, our leaders (and usually the ones in their twenties) have the hardest time with this rule.

Rule #4: The Obvious Stuff

There are those rules that are (or at least should be) obvious that I also hold fast to on mission trips. In addition to honoring and respecting the rules of the organizations and people you are working with, the most obvious of these rules relates to romantic physical contact between students. I have never permitted this and while I have rarely had a problem in this area (I am sure there are some I do not know about) it is a rule that we must take seriously on mission trips. Allowing students to wander alone in unsafe situations or riding on the roof of the church van along with other issues are the simple and obvious things that hopefully we do not forget.

The Covenant

Each year I ask our mission teams to create and sign a covenant. I ask them to think about the things that they should expect from each other and we have a dialogue about what should go into our covenant. This agreement between all of the members of our team and God is something that enhances the trip and creates great dialogue between our students as they prepare for our mission trips. It also helps us all to focus on why we are serving while perhaps even reducing some the drama that is a natural part of any mission trip.

Rev. Marcus J Carlson has worked with children and youth for over 14 years and is a spiritual director. He current serves as Associate Pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, CO. (marcusjcarlson.com).

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