Jamaica Diaries: The secret benefit of mission trips– Church hopping
Into the Field
In this episode the team finally breaks camp and heads out into the mission fields. It is Sunday, and our first two stops today are churches in Jamaica. (video of this part is at the bottom of the post.)
This first one is Bamboo Tabernacle, which is where we will be doing VBS later in the week, this was a later addition to the schedule, and we really don’t have any idea what we have in terms of facilities yet. Turns out we learn that they have a drum setup and a keyboard, which we are able to use for leading worship and music. We dont stay there very long, just long enough to introduce the team to Pastor White, and check out the building.
The second stop, is Bethlehem church, where we arrive earlier than the Sunday School class we are planning to lead. This class was an even later addition to the schedule than VBS, but was a very cool way to spend a Sunday morning. After Sunday school the team attended the adult worship service, and a couple of them volunteered to share their testimony on their Christian story so far.
The gasps: that’s not something people my age do
One of the remarkable things about the Sunday school class, and this was indeed a preview of the reaction the team would get throughout the trip, was the reaction they got when they did introductions. They would all line up and say their name, and age and grade.. and then answer one of Erin’s ice breakers..like “if you could be any animal which one would you be and why?”
I don’t know how old the group of kids thought the team was when they arrived. I guess they assumed they were looking at college students. And that is probably because “going on an international mission trip” is not something they consider to the “something people my age do”
But when Cassidy would say..”And I am 15..” or Lindsey would say “I am 14”.. the room would suddenly start buzzing. the kids would check with their neighbors.. “did she say 15?”.. I heard one say..”I am 15″. This was one of the cool side effects of the trip, and something a college or adult mission trip could not have done.
In Tony Robbins show “Breakthroughs” he made a point that I think applies here: “if you have a limiting belief you can do one of two things.. you can try to talk yourself out of it.. not very effective.. or you can have an experience that is so incompatible with your prior beliefs, that you have no choice but to throw them out, and that is very effective and almost instant”.. I think that is what the team was able to do for those teens in Jamaica. When confronted with the evidence of what people their own age were capable of, they were forced to throw out their old limiting beliefs on the spot.
But this breaking down of limiting barriers and seeing things new ways was not just limited to the teens in Jamaica. One of the recurring themes through the interviews I did was the power that the team experienced in worshiping in new and different churches.
The hidden benefit for us: Church Hopping (not Shopping)
In this paragraph I am talking about “we” as the average church member. I assume this has been normal for a long time (hundred years or more), but back in Texas we dont often go to other churches. We might “church shop” when we arrive in a new city.. or maybe even when we get a new pastor sadly. But once that is over we tend to not do it again unless we become unhappy. We become a creature of habit, and go to the same church, see the same people, listen to the same sermons (or predictably similar ones), sing from a list of about 20 songs, and heck, we probably only ever attend one specific hour of the two or three services at our home church in a given year.
Of course as paid clergy, you might change churches every 4 years or so, which makes you far more exposed to new ideas, songs, people etc, then the average person in your church, some who may be members for 40 years.
So unless as a clergy member you are getting a new job, or as a church member you move or are unhappy, none of us go around “Church Shopping” for fun on the weekend. So most of us aren’t prepared when you get put in the mission field YOU HAVE TO GO TO NEW CHURCHES. And like I said this forced exposure to other churches was constantly cited as one of the best things to happen on the entire trip.
So what were some of the things that we got to pick up from going to a different church?
- Dress: In the US the phrase “Sunday Best” has lost almost all meaning. It kind of is business casual or even less formal than that. I want to say after some Lock-ins you may even see bleary eyed students still in pajamas turn up for worship. In Texas, I see plenty of jeans in services (even when I look down at my own pants). But this was not the case in Jamaica. In a place where the average per capita income is something like US$1380/year, everyone was dressed in their true “Sunday best”.
- Singing: As I alluded to earlier, it seems to me that the average church may have a catalog of maybe 20 songs that they will typically play worship music from. I suspect it is really less than even that. What that means is that after a year or two (maybe 6 months or so) the music starts to blend into the scenery and loses its power. We become numb to the words. Our feet stop tapping, hands stop clapping to the beat. On mission trip, they dont have the same 20 songs.. they might not even have one song in common with our 20 songs. At the first church they played “As the Deer”, which I have heard before, but never ever like that :). So one of the key things that people bring back even from US mission trips is new songs to sing, and initially we were purposeful in making sure that we shared our songs, but quickly we decided that we wanted to learn their songs as well.
- Testimony: Like music, this is one that we planned on sharing first, but quickly realized that what we were hearing from the people we met was every bit as important.
- Altar call and more: Back at my home church, and even all the UMC/Presbyterian/Lutheran etc churches I have been to, and probably true for most churches for that matter. I can write out the order of service from memory. I can probably pull out last week or last months bulletin and aside from which of the 20 songs is plugged into which slot, I will have a pretty good idea what is going to happen, when. I know what the opening prayer will roughly sound like, I know who will be near by when it is time to great each other, I know benediction, Blessing of the offering, the invitation to membership. On a given Sunday there are no surprises at the place I go to worship every week. On mission trip, it is all new, all surprising in some way. Small things that are different stand out, and big things that are pretty radically different leave a large mark in our memory.
The combined effect of all of that, is that for the most part on mission trips, even in the US, the worship is memorable and impactful in a way that the last service at your home church probably wasn’t. Which if you are planning a mission trip, or planning to help team members transition back, should be aware of and plan for.
Additionally, your missionaries are probably going to come back with lots of new songs and ideas. It may be a good idea to formalize that process some. Review the new songs, review the new ideas, maybe make some of those changes part of the welcome back service when the team shares their experiences with the congregation.
Should we do this back home?
Do you have to wait for a mission trip to get these benefits? I don’t think you do. I think you can be purposeful and go out of your way to experience new churches near your congregation. I don’t think this is easy, and I dont think this will ever become stock practice. But I think in a “Who Moved my Cheese” way it is a good idea to do periodically. That said, here are some of barriers that keep this as a mission trip only benefit:
- Stigma: Like I said earlier going to other churches when you are a member somewhere, is normally associated with dissatisfaction and “Church Shopping”. The rumors would start flying that “something must be going on over there, I saw 10 people from their church here last week”. I tried to pick a new name for it when it is deliberate “Church hopping”, but I dont think that will be enough to fight the confusion this might cause for people not in the loop.
- Schedule conflict/ I already do enough church: This is a practical one. I have to miss my own church that I like already to go do this. And I might not like this new/different/other church. And even if there is not a conflict, you might feel like, I already had to sit through one sermon, why would I sign up for another.
- We already like our church: This is big too, you may not have a lot of support for changing anything at your church. And any change however small might meet resistance. And if your church has a history of implementing a “flavor of the month” approach to new ministry ideas, you probably have trained people to fight all new ideas.
So in conclusion, we go on mission trip to do things for other people. But one of the biggest benefits we can receive is getting a chance to meet God in a new way, and to bring that back home to our church. And I don think we have to limit that to one week a year.
Check out the video from the trip below and see what I mean.