Often churches send their people out on mission trips. The purpose is to serve others and reach out with the gospel—to be a light in the world. Yet there’s a secondary purpose we often miss: How can we use mission trips as an opportunity for discipling the people who are going? Ideally, mission trips accomplish both.

Missions is Discipleship

To make disciples doesn’t only mean the people you’re serving: it means those on your team as well. Mission trips can be a critical time of discipleship for them, with rich opportunities for growth and development. Missions is discipleship. It’s about making disciples and growing as disciples at the same time. There’s a dual benefit.

Missions is discipleship. It's about making disciples and growing as disciples at the same time. Share on X

We see this reality reflected in Jesus’ earthly ministry as well. He made disciples on the go. As he was working to advance the Kingdom he also used every opportunity to shape his followers along the way. Consider his questions and statements to his disciples in the midst of everyday ministry situations: “Some say this, some say that… who do YOU say that I am?” “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” (after they had just seen a real life example), and “Let the children come to me.” In fact, many of Jesus’ recorded teachings were underscoring realities the disciples were running up against. 

So your role leading a missions trip is as a discipler… not just as a tour guide who gets people there safely. Your role is not just the logistics and service, but also have a discipleship hat on so people come back as better followers of Jesus than they were before. As a mission leader, you are serving as a discipler for your team members.

Here are a few concrete ways to naturally integrate discipleship into your missions endeavors:

Things happen while you’re on mission

Mission trips put people under stress: everyone is tired and jet lagged, sometimes dealing with culture shock. More conflicts arise as people have fewer filters under stress and the team members are spending a lot of time together, often in close quarters. Team dynamics sometimes results in conflicts that are misinterpreted as spiritual warfare. On the plus side, these conflicts provide an opportunity for character growth if people are guided through dealing with them well. People need to ask forgiveness, deal with unmet expectations, flex with changing plans, learn to trust God in the midst of unexpected difficulties. All of these things are discipleship opportunities for you team. Consider how you will handle these challenges as they arise: difficulties, conflicts, unfairness, relational stress, changing plans.

Take note of in-the-moment teaching opportunities

Use the circumstances you and your team are facing as learning opportunities: “You ran into X today? What do you think is going on there?” Sometimes situations lend themselves to illustrations of spiritual truths or guideposts to what God may be up to. To do this, you’ll need to keep your eyes and heart open… listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit and look for what he may be up to.

Be intentional about reflection

Set aside time for people to reflect on their learnings. Do this both individually and as a team, as different people process in different ways. Be sure to schedule reflection time and processing time in advance. The following five questions can start you off in the right direction:

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?
  • What are you learning?
  • What needs to change?
  • What’s next?

By taking some time to focus on the discipleship of those on your team, you will not only be on mission serving others and making disciples, but you’ll be serving your team members and helping them develop in their own discipleship journey as well.


Guide for Discipling- Take the next step closer to Jesus and bring others along on the journey. Each section of this discipleship study is packed with scripture and questions designed to inspire thoughtful reflection on your relationship with God and how it spreads into daily life.  Click here for a FREE Overview.

Becoming Barnabas- A Barnabas creates a ripple effect, empowering others and spreading outward into the broader community. Becoming Barnabas focuses on practical – how – questions: How can you serve as a Barnabas – a son or daughter of encouragement? How can you disciple, develop, and support those around you? How can that relational investment lead to a powerful impact on the church and on the surrounding community?

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash