What to do when the mission trip high wears off
Is there anything better than a kid fresh off of a mission experience? They're so full of gratitude and introspection and deep spiritual thoughts. It's wonderful...
...until it wears off. Which it usually does. Within about a week.
The "mission trip high" is a common phenomenon that happens when kids attend a mission trip or camp, experience spiritual transformation, and then revert back to "normal" shortly after returning to real life. Though it's common (and perfectly normal), this reversion sneaks up on families. When it happens, it can be discouraging for kids, and disheartening for parents to watch.
Here's what to do when it happens, in no particular order:
What to do when the mission trip high wears off (5 things to try)
First, coming down off of a mission experience is common, so talk about it. For instance, you could start with this:
[Parent] So...um...now that you've been back from camp for a bit, I've noticed that you've kind of lost some of that...er...cheerful glow you had at first. For instance, the scary scowl you're currently sporting reminds me more of your pre-camp self. Let's talk about that...
[Teen] (Gruff, gruff, scowl...) Okay--if we must.
--meaningful conversation ensues
Second, pray for your teen.
Dear Jesus, you know I just love my teen. When they came home from their mission trip/camp, I was so encouraged to see an even greater glimpse of the person you've made them to be. But I'm not gonna lie--I'm a bit peeved now that that glimpse has...dimmed considerably. But I trust that you finish the work you start in all of us, including my teen, so I put my trust in you, and pray for the seeds you planted to continue to grow. Maybe just a little faster. Amen.
Third, remind them that following Jesus is an ongoing process; sometimes it feels easy (like on a mission trip), and other times it feels harder. This is true about ALL relationships (like, say, marriage, which was AWESOME for those first few weeks and then...well...harder after that). This easy/hard reality includes our relationship with Jesus. The important thing is to not get discouraged and give up.
Related, fourth is to talk about how following Jesus is a counter-cultural choice. It's easy at camp/on a mission trip when everyone else is on the same page, but more challenging at school when being a Jesus-follower is neither hip nor cool.
True story: when my friend was a teen, she sparked a summer romance during a mission trip with a fellow student. This romance lasted until the start of school when suddenly dating the boy began to feel like a social liability and she broke up with him. Likewise, I distinctly remember coming home from camp with a t-shirt that I proudly wore all summer and then promptly stuffed into the back of my drawer once school started, never to see the light of day again.
Keeping in mind that the pressure to fit in with peers is never as high as it is during the teen years, it's okay to gently challenge your teen if you see them shying away from their post-mission-trip faith once social pressures settle in. Wrestling with this discomfort is part of the process of owning the decision to follow Jesus even when it's not cool, and it's healthy for your teen to go through it.
Fifth, give your teens practical ways to spend time with Jesus during the weeks after a mission trip. Consider this 40-day Jesus-Centered devotion for teens, plus a Jesus-Centered Bible. Both are full of bite-size prompts, prayers, and questions to get kids thinking more deeply about Jesus.
Lastly, stay encouraged, parent. Your teen's spiritual growth isn't your job--it's the work of the Holy Spirit, and he knows what he's doing. Rest in his plans for your teen, and in his plans for you, too. Keep praying, and keep up the good work.