What is the difference between a mission trip and a missions trip?

The Difference

Comparing the words, there is only a one letter difference, but that one letter changes the perspective entirely. Mission (without an ‘s’) is about saving souls. Missions (with an ‘s’) is about meeting temporary needs.

Think about it this way, missions trips have to do with meeting needs and mission trips have to do with evangelizing and sharing the gospel. Can’t a trip be both? OF COURSE. In fact, many mission trips are disguised as missions trips.

We are going to teach English (missions), so that, we can share the gospel (mission).

Missions helps open the door for mission. Or, as I like to say, demonstrations of the gospel lead to proclamations of the gospel.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between mission and missions. In this post, we focus primarily on mission.

Here are five things to ponder as we consider God’s great rescue mission:

#1. God is on a rescue mission.

As human beings, we love rescue stories. Whether they be as simple as somebody rescuing an animal from a shelter or as complex as Navy Seals rescuing the boys soccer team in Thailand that was stuck in a cave for 17 days.

We love rescue stories. God wired us to love them. Why? He gave us this craving, ultimately, so that we would love His rescue story!

What is His rescue story? This short verse from Ephesians 1:5, will be helpful in answering some preliminary questions, it reads, “He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ.”

QUESTION ONE: When did God’s rescue mission begin?

According to the verse from Ephesians, God “predestined” His rescue mission. Without getting caught up in the Arminian/Calvinist debate, we can all agree that before the universe was created, before anything and everything, God had His rescue mission planned.

The cross of Christ was not Plan B, it was always Plan A.

God’s rescue mission through Jesus on the cross was drawn up before there was even a perfect world, let alone a fallen world. If you want to look into this topic further, I’d recommend looking into what is called, “The Council of Redemption.”

QUESTION TWO: What is God’s rescue mission?

God’s rescue mission is to adopt sinners “as sons and daughters.” The verse from Ephesians implies a very tough, but real truth; not every human being is a son or daughter of God, only those who have been adopted are.

Now, to comfort that tough truth, here is a weightier one, anybody can become a son or daughter of God! And that my friends, is the good news of the mission that God is on.

QUESTION THREE: Who fulfills God’s rescue mission?

The verse from Ephesians concludes with “through Jesus!” Jesus is the Rescuer! However, we usually don’t call Him by that title, instead, we typically claim that Jesus is the Savior! Same difference.

FOOTNOTE: At the Council of Redemption, God the Father plans, God the Son (Jesus) lives a perfect life and dies on the cross as our substitute, and the Holy Spirit awakens us to belief and lives inside of us for daily guidance. Therefore, the entire Trinity is involved in our salvation, but Jesus is credited primarily because of the crucial role He played/plays.

The remaining four points are for Christians and how we can be a part of the rescue mission that God is on.

#2. God has ordered those He saved to join His mission.

Matthew 28:19-20 reads, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

What does the passage from Matthew tell followers of Jesus that we are supposed to “make?” Disciples! The word disciple means, follower or student, so a paraphrase could be, “Followers of Jesus, multiply,” or “Followers of Jesus, be teachers and share with others what you know!”

Based off of the Matthew passage, as we make disciples, when somebody says, “Ah, I get it! I want to be saved,” we work through that declaration and see if they really get it, and if they do, then they are baptized to show the church, “I’m in!” And, to show the world, “I’m out!”

Then, the verse continues and says, “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Being a follower of Jesus does not end after we are saved and baptized, but it is simply just beginning. We are to continue learning as students of Jesus and His Word for all of our remaining days on the planet.

DO NOT MISS THIS: this mission of making new disciples and taking them deeper in their faith through spiritually developing them is not optional.

I had a professor that once said, “God gives us an invitation to join Him on His rescue mission.” Nah, He commanded it! God didn’t invite us to be a part of His mission like a friend asking for help, He commanded us like a King from His throne. My God is bigger than that, He doesn’t have to ask me to do something, He doesn’t need my permission, He gets to tell me. And I rejoice in this truth because He makes such a better leader than I ever will. Sometimes I wish that even in the smallest things of life that He had given me a command so that I would know what to do! But nevertheless, in regard to the recuse mission He is on, we know what to do – we make new disciples and we continue developing those that are already disciples.

#3. The mission is not optional, but our roles are.

God’s rescue mission, on our end, making new disciples and developing existing disciples is not optional, but our roles in how we accomplish this are.

When I say this is our mission, I do not mean that each one of us, individually are all going to make a lot of disciples and develop a lot of these disciples. It takes all of us working together in different ways!

In our Bibles, we read about a missionary named Paul, who risked his life over and over again, traveling around, planting churches, being in shipwrecks, being thrown in prison, being tortured, and you know what? At the end of the day, he loved it. At the end of his life, when his head was chopped off by the order of the emperor, he loved it.

And you know what, we still have those crazy missionaries today going to dangerous countries and living dangerous lives. And they love it! God wires some people this way, and these people are truly inspirations and gifts from God!

But get this, do you think Paul traveling around, and getting food, and finding places to stay was cheap? No! He had to raise support! He fundraised his salary and his trips. Who do you think he called on for this support? People who believed in the mission, but didn’t feel that crazy call of going themselves.

And then, that missionary, Paul, wrote a letter to a church, a group of people not as financially as well off as some of the other churches, Colossians 4:2-3, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message.” So those that believed in the mission, but didn’t feel a call to go, and couldn’t really help fund, could pray. And this is not a cop out, but a vital necessity; prayer must be primary to all we do as followers of Jesus!

So when it comes to advancing the mission, we can go, we can fund, and we can pray.

Now, before we move on to our next point, I want to add a fourth thing we can do, and I would even argue, in various degrees, should do; in addition to going, funding, and praying; we can stay and be. Stay at your job and be different, stay with your family and be present, stay in that chemotherapy seat and be resilient, stay and be. Therefore, in this since, even though we may not be missionaries overseas, we can be missionaries in whatever room we are currently in with whatever people we are currently around.

#4. Missions can help or harm the mission.

Before I write about when missions becomes toxic and unhelpful to the mission, I want to share about what happens when missions helps. Why start with the negativity, right?

As I implied at the beginning of this post, missions is one of the greatest tools we have to advance God’s rescue mission!

When missions is functioning correctly, here is what happens: we serve others and meet their physical, emotional, and psychological needs. Some of those people become dear friends to us and us to them. In that moment, we either directly invite them to be a disciple and follow Jesus or we invite them to be a part of our faith community, if you go with the latter, they likely come to the faith community to be around you and your friends more, they love it and love how much you love your community, but then something changes, they hear the gospel and want more than community, they want God! And they experience Him in a rescuing, saving way, and they become adopted into His family. And then, they start to be developed in their faith and they join the mission. And with their newly found hope and purpose, they do their part to continue multiplying.

Now isn’t that lovely? Isn’t that just such a beautiful picture to imagine? Well it happens all the time, missions often help advance the mission.

However, missions can also be harmful and toxic. If our missions work ends without ever mentioning our mission, we did not attempt to make disciples, but we became social workers.

There is nothing wrong with social workers (my wife is one), but as Christians, we are called to be gospel workers.

And then, even worse, is when we confuse missions with the mission, and don’t just fail to mention our mission, but we think our mission is missions. Let me explain it this way, it is even worse to think that we make disciples and develop disciples when we create more people that serve others, and instead of the God of the Bible being our God, helping others is our god. We replace Christianity with humanitarianism.

Missions has to lead to the mission, otherwise it has great temporary benefits, but fatal eternal consequences; in other words, we help people feel as comfortable as possible on their journey to hell.

Our missions must be attached to God’s rescue mission.

#5 We are heralds, not saviors.

Now, I want to give one final piece of advice on this topic, Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:11, “I was appointed a herald of the gospel!” or some translations say, “Preacher of the gospel.”

My local county newspaper is called the Herald Bulletin. The word herald means someone or something that brings news!

Paul wrote in His verse above, “I’m a herald of the gospel,” or explained in plain English, “I’m a messenger that brings good news!”

So, here is my final advice on the topic. We don’t save people. We can’t save people. Only Jesus can, like we read earlier, “through Jesus,” that’s His job. Our job is to be heralds, not saviors. Our job is to share the good news of the Savior. Therefore, don’t beat yourself up when you are trying your best to witness to somebody and they aren’t budging. It’s not your fault, okay? Stay faithful, keep pouring into them, keep praying for them, and in the end, remember, we are heralds and nothing more.

SUMMARY OF FINAL POINT: We can tell people how their hearts, minds, and lives can be changed, but we can’t actually change those things, only Jesus can.