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Mission trips as spiritual formation

What’s the difference between how Jesus mentored his disciples and how we do it in our day? Jesus did it by teaching his disciples, by modeling life for them, by training and coaching them, and by giving them specific opportunities to practice their faith. By contrast, we moderns seem to focus …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
What’s the difference between how Jesus mentored his disciples and how we do it in our day? Jesus did it by teaching his disciples, by modeling life for them, by training and coaching them, and by giving them specific opportunities to practice their faith. By contrast, we moderns seem to focus on teaching as the focal point for our spiritual formation efforts.
 
The problem is, people as a general rule don’t change through teaching alone. Sermons are a good place to lay out the rationale for change and to describe the change process, but they’re a poor substitute for real life. You need to watch what you’re being asked to do before you do it.
 
That’s why Jesus pioneered the practice of short-term missions (STMs). His whole ministry was a journey, an extended mission trip. He left home at age 30 and wandered village to village for three years. And within that journey were smaller journeys intended for his disciples growth. He didn’t send his disciples out in Luke 9 and 10 to inaugurate his missionary program. That came much later after he had his disciples wait for the Holy Spirit.
 
Jesus sent them out in Luke 9 and 10 because his disciples needed some practical experience for their spiritual formation. Mission trips are a practice field. Going on an STM we get to practice
wielding authority at a new level in a new place, in the company of
strangers with only God as a resource.
 
To
expand your ability to wield spiritual authority, you need not so much a wild leap into the unknown as you do a series of forays – small-scale thrusts  into another level. We need to take risks to grow, but they’re best taken in a limited time frame with a chance for debriefing afterward. That way you can applaud the stuff that worked and make adjustments where they’re warranted.
 
Unless we’re a born savant like
Mozart, we don’t become proficient at anything overnight. We change by degrees as we
practice new things. Mastery comes through familiarity and practice. A foray into new territory gives us the opportunity to fail and still live to fight another day. People who criticize STMs need to recognize that Jesus invented them as a spiritual formation tool. STMs should be a regular feature in every discipler’s toolkit.

Comments (6)

  • Thanks for this missive.

    Grace, grit, going far, getting it, God…all are in the taxonomy of disciple greatness.

    Praying you have some of those men and women this year you could trade…:)

  • Good stuff Seth!!!

    To many people sit in the pews and wonder “why” we need STMs? I tell them when Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

    When we send out STMs and as they step out of the boat like Jesus they begin to have compassion for a people group they never knew before.

  • Seth, thanks for adding another frame of reference to short term missions; your point makez a lot of sense. I’ve wrestled with the veracity & effectiveness of short term missions for a while. It seems that I’ve considered them from a cultural perspective rather than a biblical reality- a mistake that causes me to shudder. Relevance. Generosity. Obedience. Humility. Go.

  • After just returning from an STM in India, I see (again) first-hand the transformation in the young people we took. And as they have been stirred, some in their circle have been touched by the ripple. We need to just keep going…

  • STM are great for spiritual formation but they need to be a blessing and benefit to the missionaries and/or national church that you are working with. Otherwise, while it may be great for those going, it ends up being a burden for those on the receiving end. I say this as one who has been on short-term missions, led short-term missions, and also received many short-term teams as a long term missionary on the field.

    Also, since short-termers are usually new to the language, culture, and local scene into which they are going, I am not sure how appropriate it is to “practice wielding authority at a new level in a new place”. What kind of authority should STMers be wielding on the mission field? It seems like the humble attitude of a learner would be more in order.

  • Karl – I guess the issue is, do you believe that Luke 10 serves as a model for us today or not? Jesus sent his disciples out to give them the opportunity to test their new-found spiritual authority in an STM. I believe that the model is still relevant and that we practice exercising spiritual authority in new ways in ministry situations.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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