Scott Douglas serves as Student Pastor at Westside Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He is married to Carrie Beth, and they have a son, Samuel. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in Leadership at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Our student ministry center has a collection of flags hanging from the rafters. Each one represents a place our students have visited on mission trips. We have several from around our area, one from Boston, and some global flags. Each flag represents a life-long memory for students and adults, but more importantly, an opportunity to be a part of God’s work among the nations and our neighbors. They remind us of the words of John Piper in Let the Nations Be Glad when he declares that worship is the ultimate act, and missions is secondary – that one day we will gather with all the nations and praise the Savior, and there will be no more need for missionaries or missions offerings or awkward yard sales to raise money for short-term trips. All will be set before the throne of God in worship. This is the great motivation for mission work.
I am often asked the question, “Why take students on mission trips?” Here are four important reasons that has caused our church to be committed to student missions:
1. To teach them what it means to love God. We often think of love as merely a sentiment or a feeling towards someone, but love is always an action. The feelings are there of course, but the act of love is what truly matters. Jesus makes this very point when he says that the evidence for faith will be the love His followers have for one another. As the band DC Talk once put it, “Love is a verb.” Paul describes love as active in 1 Corinthians, James describes love in terms of obedience (doing the Word), and Jesus defines the greatest love as active (laying down His life). Love for God is always intersected with love/service to others. At its core, mission trips are about love. Love for God means holding the hand of a homeless man with a drug addiction who needs to hear about how Jesus is the only one who can give him the freedom he craves. Love for God means picking up trash in a lower-income neighborhood for the sake sharing the gospel with those who live there. Love for God means serving others with humility – scrubbing toilets, serving meals, and coloring with a child to show her that not all adults will yell at her and that Jesus loves her
2. To give them a heart for the nations and their neighbors. When we think about missions most of us naturally think about international work, as we should. There are over 6,000 unreached people groups, and countless billions around the world who will die and spend eternity in hell. This heartbreaking reality should spur us to care deeply about international missions. Yet, there is another heartbreaking reality the church faces: the United States is 40% unengaged with the gospel. The United States is the 4th largest unreached nation on the planet, and other nations are sending their foreign missionaries to us! We need to be careful not to separate our call to the nations and our call to the neighborhood. We have a responsibility to the ends of the earth and at the same time to our local context. It means little if we’re willing to board a plane to share the gospel overseas if we won’t serve in the food pantry in our hometown. We push missions, have missionary testimonies, support missionaries, and make it a central part of our student ministry for the simple fact that all around us are countless people who do not know Christ.
3. To give them a burden for their school & friends. Sometimes getting away from the distractions of everyday life can be a catalyst for God to work. One of the things we always do on mission trips with our students is set aside some time when we talk about how things will be different once we return home. I’ll ask them to identify people, projects, and opportunities where they can apply what they have learned while on the short-term trip. Short-term mission trips are an eye-opening experience for many students. When they see the great needs out there, it shows them how great the needs are here. By narrowing the distance between students and the overseas mission field, short-term trips become the starting place for students to recognize that the “mission field” begins in the context where God has placed them.
4. To show them how they can be a part of God’s work. The final goal and aim of taking students on mission trips is to expose them to what God is doing to reconcile people to Himself through Jesus. Our goal in every mission trip is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the missio Dei in our students’ lives. This can be seen in every activity of the mission trip – whether knocking on doors, cleaning a park, hosting a block party, or serving a homeless. Most of our students aren’t called to be vocational missionaries, but these short-term trips and projects help give them a vision to see themselves as missionaries even if they serve in another profession. Each trip has the potential to be a catalyst for a lifetime of service in the kingdom of God, regardless of the vocation our students pursue. My prayer for each short-term mission trip has been simple: God, show them what it is you have for them and how this can be the beginning of a life lived for your glory.