2 Common Mistakes in Missions

What is the purpose of mission trips? The first thing that comes to mind is “helping others.” Take away serving, and your mission trip is just a vacation.

But when I read this quote in an article about college service-oriented trips over spring break, I knew something was wrong:

“If we don’t feel tired and we are not dirty, we didn’t do anything.”

At first glance it sounds noble and right. There is something that just feels good about pouring yourself out for a good cause. And I don’t want to detract from that.

(And I also want to point out that these were not church sponsored trips, so I understand that their philosophical purpose will not completely align with my views. But I also see these same mistakes in Christian mission trips.)

What bothers me is the idea that unless you do something tiring and dirty, you haven’t done anything. Is that all there is to mission trips — completing a dirty job?

Mistake #1: Putting Tasks Over Relationships

People and communities have real needs, and we need to help ensure that people have basic necessities such as food, shelter, and access to medical care. However, over the last 50 (or more) years, our country has proven that continuous, unidirectional assistance is a trap that leads to unhealthy dependence.

Being part of a service-oriented experience probably will mean you will get tired and your hands will get dirty. But whether or not that happens is not connected to how meaningful of an impact you have. You can get dirty and meet someone’s needs, and everyone can feel good about it. But if you want to have a greater impact, the primary purpose must be to develop long-term relationships.

Mistake #2: Working Together Instead of Building Relationships

The same day I read the article about the college service projects, I spoke with a gentlemen who has been working in Allendale (among other places across the state) for many years. We had an open discussion about our family’s purpose in Allendale, and what his organization had been doing.

As you might expect, I talked to him about building relationships, and I asked him how he had done that. He responded by listing a handful of people that he has worked alongside, and what his organization had provided for them. Sounds good, right?


Working alongside is not the same as building relationships. Think about the people at work, or the people you serve alongside in ministry. Yes, you do have a level of relationship with them, but how deep are those relationships?

Real relationship-building does not just mean coming together to work on a project or task. Real relationship building is not about a meeting where one person lists their needs, and the other side tries to meet them.

A meaningful relationship transcends any project, event, or task. A meaningful relationship involves phone calls just to ask how the other person is doing. A meaningful relationship means traveling to visit each other. A meaningful relationship is friendship, not just partnership. A meaningful relationship means eating together, for the sole purpose of eating together. A meaningful relationship grows deeper over time.

Turning Away “Help”

In the 2+ years I have been in Allendale, a number of people from different churches have contacted me about wanting to serve here. Many of these groups we have been able to help get connected to people in Allendale.

Yet we have also turned away groups that were freely offering their help. For a community that has so many “needs,” you’d think I was crazy to turn away offers of assistance. But what Allendale needs is a helping hand, not a hand-out. And that helping hand means joining together in unity and friendship — not for a project, but for long-term relationships.

If you want to help meet immediate needs, you will probably get your hands dirty. But if you want to have a long-term impact, you must build relationships of love and mutual concern.

Related Links:

**image courtesy of Hakan Dahlstrom via flickr


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2 responses to “2 Common Mistakes in Missions”

  1. Gwendolyn Walker says :

    Wow!! Well said.

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