When we think about mission trips, rules are not one of the first things that come to mind. Rules in youth ministry often are treated as a necessary evil instead of an opportunity. Believe it or not, in the case of mission trips, rules not only create physical and emotional safety, but they can add to the transforming power of mission trips. There are a few rules I have carried with me throughout my career and to every church where I have served. They are always met with some resistance, but they have served as a great tool for transformation. Too often, we youth worker types are not intentional about many things, particularly our rules and expectations of students.Rule #1: Cell Phones
I never have allowed students to bring cell phones on mission trips for any reason. We communicate this with students and parents early and often. We do allow our adults to bring them for communication and safety reasons, but also ask them not to use them in front of students unless it is an emergency or an important trip communication. Leaving cell phones home makes a huge difference on mission trips. It's one more thing that could get lost or stolen, as well as one more thing to keep track of. Additionally, cell phones are a huge distraction. Most of our rules for mission trips are focused on safety or removing distractions. Forcing our students to disconnect during the mission trip avoids a wide variety of problems and leads to a lot of transformation. Our students, as well as adults are surrounded by noise and distraction and are constantly connected. This prevents so many of us from hearing the voice of God. Removing cell phones from our trips has helped students hear the still, small voice of God with more clarity.Rule #2: Other Electronic Devices
We also have rules regarding other electronic devices. We do allow music players (iPod, etc.) on our trips unless we are going on an international trip and are concerned about Customs. (Yes, we have several students who tell us their music is on their phone, but we do not allow them to bring their phones for any reason). We only allow these music devices to be used while on the drive or flight to and from the trip destination. Once we arrive, we take them away and lock them up, thereby preventing them from getting used, lost or stolen. Although we have students who insist they need them to sleep, we ask them to suffer for Jesus. Of course we allow cameras (except those on their phones) on our mission trips, but do not allow any other electronic devices (i.e., video game players, etc.) on our trips. As with the cell phones, these devices not only are risks for theft, but they are distractions. Fortunately, we have not had any students go into shock after a week without their electronic devices.Rule #3: Pampering
This rule has created the most debate and controversy in recent years. For our mission trips, we tell all participants that it is not a time to pamper, spend time on our appearance and parade the many resources we have in front of others. We ask our students and adults to avoid really nice clothing and jewelry and tell them not to bring a bunch of makeup and other pampering products including hairdryers, curling irons, etc. More times than not, our leaders (and usually the ones in their 20s) have the hardest time with this rule.Rule #4: The Obvious Stuff
There are those rules that are (or at least should be) obvious that I also hold fast to on mission trips. In addition to honoring and respecting the rules of the organizations and people with whom you are working, the most obvious of these rules relates to romantic physical contact between students. I never have permitted this, and while I rarely have had a problem in this area (I am sure there are some I do not know about), it is a rule we must take seriously on mission trips. Allowing students to wander off alone in unsafe situations or riding atop the church van, as well as other issues are the simple and obvious things that hopefully we do not forget.The Covenant
Each year, I ask our mission team to create and sign a covenant. I ask the members to think about the things they should expect from each other, and we have a dialogue about what should go into our covenant. This agreement between all of the members of our team and God is something that enhances the trip and creates great dialogue between our students as they prepare for our mission trips. It also helps us all to focus on why we are serving while perhaps reducing the drama that is a natural part of any mission trip.
See more at MarcusJCarlson.com