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One of the problems we Jesus-followers have is that we don’t ask enough tough questions and we don’t let others see us making ourselves vulnerable. I hate that. We’re all a mess and we who follow Jesus should be quick to own up to it and get the issue of hypocrisy out of the way. So, I’m going to…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

One of the problems we Jesus-followers have is that we don’t ask enough tough questions and we don’t let others see us making ourselves vulnerable. I hate that. We’re all a mess and we who follow Jesus should be quick to own up to it and get the issue of hypocrisy out of the way. So, I’m going to work at a bit of vulnerability with this blog today.

In the last 17 years, AIM has taken a lot of people on mission trips. When I started out taking the first 100 people in 1990, what I didn’t know about missions was a lot. And since then, I’ve made a ton of mistakes. But as a result, I have learned a few lessons. In recent years, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the way we do things. Increasingly, it seems like our short-term trips are losing their punch.

Mission trips should be faith-filled opportunities to experience God?s power, and I?m wondering, are we Americans organizing God right out of our lives in a lot of areas, missions included. “The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power” (1 Cor. 4:20). Jesus won’t be domesticated. He won’t conform to our schedules, much less our theology. Jesus came to raise a ruckus in the temple and he’s still doing that today. Those of us who are most deluded are the ones who think we’ve got him figured out and are trying to package and market him, and those of us who are avid short-term missionaries are no exception.

In 1975, when I went with Teen Missions to Huehuetenango, Guatemala, it was two months of in-your-face challenge. It marked me for life.

Fast forward thirty years and I’m asking myself, have I participated in a process of taking this wild, life-altering experience and dumbing it down to a four day youth group trip where we brush up against the foreign concepts of poverty and servanthood enough to mentally write them off: been there, done that, literally, got the t-shirt.

My concern is that every summer, by giving students short-term missions lite, we inoculate them, as though we had given them a flu shot. Not enough of God’s heart for the lost to challenge them to pursue a call to missions or even begin praying toward that possibility. But enough to be able to put a check on our list.

And so students can say: “Oh yeah, I’ve been on a bunch of mission trips, and now I know that God hasn’t called me to missions.”

What?! Oh yes he has! He called all his disciples to missions before he left the earth and he calls each one of us today! He’s calling young people the world over, an entire generation of them, if we teachers of the law would stop working so hard to prove that the kingdom of God is in fact about talk, not about power. That is, if we’d commit to stop inoculating students, watering down the gospel, and turning Jesus the warrior, into a church lady with blue hair, saggy stockings and a purse.

Does this mean we stop offering week-long mission trips? I don’t think so – no more so than it means we should shut down our temples. But surely a reformation is in order. Cost-me-nothing missions that bear no fruit of radical disciples are a sham and should be stricken from your schedule immediately.

Am I cutting my own throat and saying, “Don’t send your group on an AIM trip if you can’t make a commitment to do it right?” Well, my marketing people may hang me, but yes, I guess I am. If your idea of a mission trip doesn’t wreck the lives of at least half your group, then you’re kidding yourself. You’re probably doing more harm than good, inoculating students to the real thing, leading them to a watering hole that’s run dry.

Living water is not about cheap talk. It’s about healing the blind, helping the lame to walk, raising the dead. It’s undiluted power. It requires risk. It’s the pearl of great price.

Lately, I feel like God has been confronting me with the possibility of selling everything like St. Francis, and giving it to the widow and the orphan.

I’m not there yet, but I’m actively wrestling. What about you? What is your pearl of great price?

Comments (7)

  • Hi Seth. I agree with you. I believe if we’re going to go on a mission trip, it ought to open our eyes to the spiritually needy out there.

    Almost two years ago, I was blessed to go to Peru for a ten day mission/Sponsor tour trip. Since then, I have felt the Lord calling me there. True, I didn’t get a lot of experience of actually living in the shanty towns that surround Lima, however, I have seen and visited them enough to where I want to touch the lives of the communities over there. Yes, I’m willing to spend whatever time the Lord has for me over there reaching and living in these places because like us, God has created them too and they need to know their Creator.

    Whenever the time the Lord wants me there, I’m ready. Upon my visit, I’ve learned not only a lot about the Peruvian culture, but also about myselfespecially in relation to that culture. My heart had a longing to reach out to every single child and adult there. O.K., now I know I know I went deep into my heart when I told you that.

    I also believe everybody has a missionary purpose, where it can either be a foreign country or in a domestic community, the Lord has a unique missionary quality within us. That’s simply something, the Christian cannot ignore.

    Thanks for that insighful post and may God bless you in your outreach. 🙂

  • Richard – I need to hook you up w/ Bob Cooley who had the same experience and has sold his business, his car, his house, and is leaving this month to serve the Peruvian poor outside Lima.

  • how interesting..St. Francis of Assisi my patron saint in my days of yearning to be a priest in the Roman Catholic church. During this part of my pilgrimage, I prayed for the “Stigmata”, actually weeping and begging for hours for the “marks-of-Christ”. Well, I did not get the physical stigmata, but I have received the stigmata of the heart-knowing Christ’s hands, feet, and heart must pour out of the wounds to his body. Also, being willing to be poured out of our sides as it is the wine and blood of Christ’s life. Vunerability is the only way, just as he our savior Jesus has shown us. St. Theresa said it: “Christ has no body here but ours…” Onward Christian Soldiers to the vunerability of the cross! Therein lies our resurrection, because the road to resurrection must pass the cross! Liebt, St. Mark

  • It’s good to reflect from time to time and invite the LORD to shake us. I pray for refiner’s fire.Remember Egypt, and what he’s brought each of us from.We didn’t get free on our own.

  • I once engaged a friend who was running a medical missions agency. They were frustrated with particularly the docs and nurses who would come over and heal people (playing God is what they said), feel better about themselves and return to their lifestyle.

    Brainstorming, we came up with the idea that each medical team had to come up with a medical problem in the international rural community that they serve. The solution might requre 5-10 years to solve and involve their church and community.

    Could you ask each team of teens going into a one week short term mission trip to come back with at least three problems that need to be solved for the future involvement of their church and community? They would become the lead person maybe on a project and church’s might see them an instrumental rather than a liability.

  • i like the idea and will use it. we need to find ways to engage over the long-term that challenge us to incarnational ministry.

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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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