Every parent of Christian teenagers desires them to grow as disciples and mature in their faith. We just prefer that they stay within our zip code to do it!
That sentiment describes the inner tension most parents feel when their teenager says, “I want to go overseas on a mission trip.” We want them to follow Christ, but we also want to control where they do it.
It’s not that we don’t believe in the Great Commission. We’re just not certain we want our teenager to participate in it. This tension between gospel confidence and parental caution stretches when the little hand that we held crossing the street now wants to cross borders into a foreign land.
“This tension between gospel confidence and parental caution stretches when the little hand that we held crossing the street now wants to cross borders into a foreign land.”
As a parent of three children whose passports have multiple stamps on them, I understand the weight of the decision to let our teenagers go overseas. We don’t make such decisions with naïve optimism. There are wise questions every parent should consider: Is the timing and location right for my child? Who is leading the trip? What will they be doing? With whom are they partnering in the country?
Once we get answers to these types of questions, then there is only more question that remains.
How do we boldly let our teenagers go on mission trips?
The answer to this question does not come from a checklist of how to pack a bag, take passport photos, raise funds, or get the correct immunizations. Rather, as you continue to hold your teenager tightly in your heart, you learn to hold them loosely in your hands.
Recognize that the opportunity for your teenager to go on a mission trip is an invitation for you both to participate in God’s mission.
Letting a child enter a different culture forces parents into uncharted territory. We want the map, the schedule, the itinerary, and a check-in phone call every five minutes because these things make us feel more secure.
But though God gives us direction, he doesn’t always immediately fill in all the blanks. Obedience in the unknown will shape both you and your teenager. While God expands your child’s worldview, he also increases your faith as you trust him with your child. God’s mission is much larger than your teenager’s two-week mission trip.
Resolve to never underestimate the power of God to shape their zeal.
What if your teenager’s motives to go on a mission trip aren’t completely spiritually pure? Perhaps their zeal to go around the world is founded in the adventurous journey with their friends. If that’s the case, we can trust that God can reshape and refine their motives and intentions.
God has, from the beginning of time, sent people to declare his name. As your teenagers move forward in obedience, God may change their perspective of the world and of unreached people who have never heard of him. He may also change their personal perspective and passion for his glory.
Risk letting them be exposed to God’s world, knowing that it will expand their understanding of his Word.
My seventeen-year-old has heard Bible stories thousands of times, but it took traveling thousands of miles for those stories to come alive. We sat on our back porch together as he unpacked the wisdom he brought home from his global experience.
“The world is not the same everywhere, Mom. I’ve learned that God doesn’t just work in an American church on Sunday mornings, but God is moving all over this world all of the time. I walked through villages, talked with people, and made real friendships. I sat eating with people in their homes and I found myself thinking, ‘This is exactly what Jesus did.’”
As he talked, it reminded me of what Luke wrote about the disciples, that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45 ESV).
Raise them today to live on mission tomorrow.
We know that discipline and practice will help shape our kids’ futures, whether in their studies, learning an instrument, or on a sports team. But it’s also important for participation in God’s mission, and we must teach our children that truth.
“A mission trip is an opportunity to learn awareness of God’s work in the world and an opportunity for our children to understand that they are part of his story.”
A mission trip is an opportunity to learn awareness of God’s work in the world and an opportunity for our children to understand that they are part of his story. As followers of Christ, they are sent ones. When they learn this, a mission trip is much more than a calendared event. God’s mission becomes the rhythm of their lives.
Risk moving your kids from the sidelines to playing in the game.
Let’s just be honest: we prefer that our little sheep stay in the herd and not move beyond the church walls into an unknown world. It feels risky—perhaps it is. As the church and their parents, we are responsible for training the next generation of disciples to not just be church consumers but Great Commission contributors.
God’s mission will continue and the gospel will move forward. Mission trips are not the only answer, but they are one opportunity for teenagers to learn to play their part in the Great Commission. John Ortberg says, “The great danger is not that we will renounce our faith but that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.”
Mission trips might be packed with fun, but they are also opportunities for teenagers to become a formidable force in God’s mission. The more they see the world, the more tangible the truth of God’s Word becomes, and the more they understand his mission. The more they understand God’s mission, the more they understand they have a part to play in that mission. The more they play their part in his mission, the more they live their lives with purpose.
Lori McDaniel is a church initiatives leader at IMB. She served with her family for several years in Africa before returning to plant a church in the United States. You can find her on Twitter @LoriMMcdaniel.
A version of this article was published in the July 2017 edition of Parenting Teens magazine.