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Guest Editorial: Missions more than mission trip

by Bob Terry

Church sponsored mission trips are important. Practically all Baptist representatives serving on international fields will attest to their value. Mission trips, when done the right way, provide encouragement to local Christians as well as to Baptist representatives. Often, mission trips serve as a stimulus for ministries, programs and projects long envisioned, but never accomplished.

Mission trips can result in new doors of opportunity. Nationals often want to know why an American would come to their part of the world. They will listen to a gospel presentation from a missions volunteer when they would not listen to a national Christian.

It is no secret that missions teams provide manpower and other resources often lacking in a particular area. From dentists pulling teeth to construction workers raising buildings to teachers sharing with children, mission trip volunteers make valuable contributions to sites across the globe.

Not the least of these contributions is sharing the Gospel through testimonies translated and printed in local languages or personal evangelism or revival meetings or any of the countless other means mission trip volunteers use to share the good news of God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ.

Mission trips are valuable for the volunteer as well. Practically all return from a volunteer missions experience with new understandings about people in other areas and their needs. Equally important is the new understanding about missions.

Frequently, American volunteers return home with new appreciation for the faith and prayer life of national Christians with whom they worked. The window of understanding provided by the mission trip often results in greater giving to missions, in adjusted personal priorities, even in vocational calls to missions.

From the vantage point of those served or from those who go, church-sponsored mission trips are important. Still, missions is more than a mission trip.

At its core, international missions involves lives planted in a particular culture in order to share the Gospel with all who will hear.

Missiologists call this “incarnational missions.” It is Baptist representatives living among a particular people group, learning their language, customs and culture. It is Baptist representatives earning the right to be heard through relationship-building. It is becoming the presence of Christ among a people to whom God has called that Baptist representative.

Volunteers want to get the work done in a week or two. Missions looks at how to share the Gospel over a longer time frame. Volunteers want the project completed. Missions wants to impact circumstances that will create an ongoing openness to the Gospel. Volunteers come with a clear goal. Missions allows for the continuing evolution of goals as circumstances change.

Volunteers reflect the Gospel through American values, culture and understandings. Missions identifies with the people that the Gospel is presented to in ways that relate to local values, culture and understandings. This is true even when the Gospel challenges local customs.

Volunteers usually communicate through an interpreter. Missions communicates in the heart language of the people. Volunteers can be flexible enough to live and eat in unusual circumstances for a week or two. For missions, it is a lifetime of learning, living and eating in those circumstances.

Volunteers often develop a new appreciation of “home.” Missions weans one away from home as one becomes part of a new place and people. It is no wonder that many children of Baptist representatives often feel trapped between two worlds—where they served and the United States—not really belonging to either.
For volunteers, the experience is a trip. For Baptist representatives, it is a lifetime.

Mission trips are important and needed. So are the incarnational missions efforts of Southern Baptist representatives. In fact, in most places around the world, churches would not be doing mission trips if it were not for the work of Baptist representatives. Incarnational missions is the foundation of what Baptists do around the world.

Going on a mission trip—or scores of mission trips—does not make one an incarnational Baptist representative. Nor does it mean that one knows and understands what life is like for these God-called men and women.

A term being heard with increasing regularity is “recreational missions.” It describes volunteers who treat mission trips like annual vacations. Please do not confuse recreational missions volunteers with volunteers who sacrificially give of themselves in order to participate in missions projects. God has blessed His Kingdom with men and women, usually lay persons, who have the heart, the skills and the resources to pour themselves out in missions efforts. These godly men and women are an inspiration to all who know them.

Also, there are some volunteers who advocate their churches reducing giving to missions through the Cooperative Program (CP) in order for the churches to sponsor more mission trips on their own. Translation: reduce CP giving so the churches can underwrite their participation in mission trips each year. These are recreational missions volunteers.

This position puts mission trips in competition with incarnational missions. Instead of valuing both, a dilemma is created, forcing the church to choose between the two. Churches should do international mission trips and support incarnational missions as done by the roughly 5,000 Baptist representatives around the world.

Every Sunday, Baptists support incarnational missions as a portion of undesignated offerings are channeled to international missions causes through the CP. Keep that giving strong. Do not cut it. Then, when the time comes for the church to sponsor an international mission trip, go or help someone go. These mission trips are important. But always remember, missions is more than a mission trip.

Bob Terry is editor of The Alabama Baptist. This article first appeared in its Dec. 16 issue. Used by permission.


Author: Staff

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  • Gary Capshaw

    The author shouldn’t dismiss those “recreational” missionaries quite so easily. Just because someone enjoys the trip doesn’t mean their service to the Lord is invalid or not worth as much.

    After all, God has spent our lifetimes crafting us into people He can use. Our genetics and life experiences have made us who we are and prepared us for the service He is using us in right now and in the future. Since I doubt He wants his short-term mission volunteers to go under a spirit of drudgery and obligation, it seems logical to me that He would make His missionaries to be the kind of people who enjoy traveling.

  • Juan Gomez

    As a lifelong missionary, I have difficulty with the term “incarnational missions.” It seems to fit our culture too easy, where nothing is sacred anymore. When I was in seminary, it was not a word that was used and had it been, it would have likely been met with objections by both students and theologians. The term robs Jesus of His supremacy and uniqueness as “the” Incarnate One and now He is reduced to being “one of” the incarnate ones.
    It is difficult enough, in mission work, to deal with the variety of religions and worldviews around us that also claim an “incarnation” of sorts for their deities or universal soul. In Hinduism, Krishna was incarnate in a human figure, as has been many other human deities (Avatars). Buddhism teaches that the rebirthed soul is re-“incarnated” in each subsequent life. The Tibetian take on this is that Lamas (Dahlia Lama) are enlightened ones who chose to continue “incarnating” to help others along the path.
    If the incarnation of the true God in Jesus Christ is not uniquely spelled out in terms that have been reserved for His one-time historical advent, then the Church has been wrong for two millennia by assigning it to Jesus alone. By broad-brushing the definition to include any and all Christians who live incognito among a people group for the purpose of culturally blending, then it strips Jesus of His deity by making Him a mere visitor of sorts on planet earth and it speaks nothing of His unique incarnate nature as God-man. Even should we bifurcate the term with the new definition, making two kinds of incarnations within Christianity (unheard of in past generations!), then all that we have really mastered is muddying the waters for the very people we intend to reach. We are telling them “I am incarnational among you.” But don’t confuse that with the “Incarnation of Jesus Christ,” who was God incarnate among men. All this will accomplish is pure confusion of terms. The more you explain it, then the murkier it becomes. It is an unjustifiable misuse of the term to apply it to human beings and thus rob Jesus Christ of His unique nature as “the” Incarnate God in Man.

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