As a missions pastor, I have the privilege and responsibility of planning, coordinating, promoting, and leading mission trips nationally and internationally. Occasionally, I’m faced with the question, “Why are we going to another place/country to do missions when there are so many needs/lost people here?” Admittedly, I have sometimes been frustrated by the question itself. I mean, I’m a missions pastor and I think we all ought to be on mission and go on mission trips. But since I’ve been asked the question, let me offer a few reasons why we do travel to other places to share the gospel.
1. We have a standing commission to preach the gospel everywhere. When Jesus went to the cross, it was not just for the Jews, but for the nations as well. Paul highlighted the importance of the hearing/preaching of the gospel to everyone in Romans 10. Here he argued using rhetorical questions that gospel preaching logically precedes hearing the gospel which logically precedes believing the gospel (Romans 10:14-15). Essentially, because one cannot hope to believe in Christ without hearing of Him, we become responsible as messengers of the gospel. If we are unwilling to go or participate in going, we can actually predetermine a negative response to the gospel by our failure to share it with those who are lost. We’ve been sent, and I believe many to whom we’ve been sent are just waiting for us to arrive with good news from foreign land (see Proverbs 25:25).
2. We have not been sent to meet every need. This principle is a tough one, but one that consistently shapes my responsibilities as a missions pastor. If we were to tally up all the possible needs and mission opportunities locally, nationally, and globally, we could never fund, meet, and minister to all the local ones, much less the rest of them. As a result we cannot choose our mission trips/projects based on merely the preponderance of the need(s). We must concentrate on the need(s) to which we have been sent with particular emphasis on the need(s) that provide springboards for sharing the gospel. This principle requires discernment, prayer, and a team mentality to plan, recruit, and promote a church mission strategy that keeps the gospel central. Basically, we try to discern where God is sending us. And we plan trips where and to whom He is sending us.
3. We cannot overlook the benefit to our faith and maturity afforded by international missions. I’ve been involved in the leadership of quite a few mission trips. It is certainly not true that everyone who goes on a mission trip is drastically changed. On the other hand, I’ve personally watched how God used mission trips as a means of astounding personal growth. There’s just something about the crisis of faith, media isolation, ministry opportunities, evangelistic openness, team camaraderie, and spiritual challenges faced on an international mission trip that offers ripe soil for deep spiritual growth. I’ve witnessed hard hearts become tender, weak faith grow strong, negligent prayer lives begin to flourish, quiet people become evangelistically bold, and obedient people begin to sense a call to vocational Christian ministry. Mission trips are one of God’s prime tools for developing and maturing His people.
4. We cannot underestimate the eternal impact. You cannot put a price tag on the eternal destiny of someone who comes to faith in Christ through a mission trip. God rejoices over lost sheep who become found. International mission trips afford believers the opportunity to partner with Christ on the greatest endeavor ever invented – traveling to a foreign land to share with someone destined for hell how they can be forgiven, redeemed, and made a citizen of heaven.
My advice to you. Go on an international mission trip. If you absolutely can’t go, then pray for someone who is going or invest financially in their trip. Just be careful. God may just decide to use an international mission trip to change everything about your life. After all, He invented international missions. Rather, He invented inter-dimensional missions when He came in the person of Jesus Christ from heaven to earth to offer forgiveness and hope to desperate and hopeless sinners like us. When we go on a mission trip, we’re like Jesus, the first true missionary.