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The three main models of student missions

I’m neck-deep in short-term missions – I’ve been doing them since leaving for Guatemala as a young punk in 1975. These days I have a love-hate relationship with them. Love ’em when they’re done right and change lives, but most of the time I just shake my head and wonder about what fruit their sp…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I’m neck-deep in short-term missions – I’ve been doing them since leaving for Guatemala as a young punk in 1975. These days I have a love-hate relationship with them. Love ’em when they’re done right and change lives, but most of the time I just shake my head and wonder about what fruit their sponsors hoped to accomplish.

I’ve seen three main models – each of which varies in effectiveness: the team of individuals, the workcamp group, and the
ministry group. The advantages of each
are listed below. For my money, the least effective are the workcamps. The other two can teach you a broader range of spiritual principles and the team of individuals, if it is long enough, is by far the most transformative of the lot. I’ve sent all five of my children on them and have watched them all blossom as others discipled them in ways that I could not.

Teams of Individuals
The
phenomenon of teenagers going on short-term missions is relatively recent. Youth missions did not have a ready-made
constituency in church youth groups. It
began in the early 70’s as teens joined teams headed for exotic ports of call
in order to “get dirty for God.”
I went on two Teen Missions Int’l trips as a teenager. I was put on a team of individual teenagers
from many different churches and we spent two months living and working with
other young people. Such teams can offer
a depth of missions experience unavailable anywhere else. One frequently heard criticism is that youth
leaders often have a difficult time reintegrating teens who have been on such
projects back into the group. Here are
the advantages:

*Particularly
valuable for individual teens who are either part of a small youth group or who
have been through group projects before and are seeking a more demanding missions
experience.

*Teams
often are scheduled for extended periods of time.

*Frequently
such teams offer a boot camp-type experience that unifies the team.

Workcamp Groups
As
youth leaders saw the power that student mission projects have to change lives,
they began looking for ways to get their entire group involved in
projects. The movement has come of age
in the 1990’s. Workcamp projects have
soared in popularity, rivaling summer camps as the vernal experience of
choice.

Advantages

*
The youth pastor can shepherd the process.

*Readily
available all over the U.S.

*Relatively
inexpensive.

*Large
numbers from the youth group can go.

*Greater
adult supervision (1 to 5 ratio) than with teams of individuals.

Ministry Groups
Many
youth leaders prefer projects in which they have greater control over the
discipleship of their teens. A project
that has a ministry focus affords them the platform to require more disciplined
quiet times and regular involvement in local ministry. It also gives them a reason to develop
ministry skills. These additional
factors make ministry group projects more attractive for many youth pastors:

*Usually more of a cross-cultural emphasis than with workcamp groups. Opportunities for exposure to poverty abound.

*Greater opportunity for discipleship as students are challenged to exercise
their faith.

*The experience is given a context upon return home.

*Opportunity to teach youth ministry skills.

*Greater opportunity for follow-up through ongoing local ministry.

Comments (2)

  • I think you may have overlooked the most powerful method of student missions – the one called “Family Missions”.

    In this model, the parents make sure that their kids experience missions in the home – by having missionaries over for dinner to interact with the kids; by supporting missionaries financially (in addition to the church’s missions budget); by planning and going on a mission’s trip with each child at some point in their teen years – either nationally or internationally; by reading missionary biographies to your kids (and encouraging them to read themselves).

    This model is by far the most successful of all the models suggested – near 100% participation in missions for those families who try it.

  • Bob is right – this is a powerful model, especially if parents will take a month or more to go with their kids. Because so few do, it is not a “main model.” And for it to be effective for teenagers, I’d argue that it still needs to be incorporated into one of these other models. When I took my teenagers to Peru in 2002 for a month, I took along 17 other individuals as a broader team. The impact was much greater than if I’d taken them by myself. They needed to interact with their own peer group and begin to function more autonomously from me.

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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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