Worth-a-while Short-Term Missions

The interns have been here for a week now, and they have done a fantastic job so far. They’ve been working like crazy – please pray they don’t break down before the end of the six weeks! Having them here has made me think more about the point of short-term mission trips. Not really sure how long is supposed to count as ‘short-term.’ I guess if it’s years in length, it’s not really accurate to call it a ‘trip’ anymore. Regardless of the time, missions-with-a-return-ticket are vital exercises for churches serious about the Great Commission.

Most foundational, short-term missions are burden-enlargers. If you find your soul largely unaffected by a world lost in darkness, the sight of the nations just may move you with compassion. If you’re recruiting for a trip, don’t just target those with a burden for missions – invite the indifferent. This is kind of annoying, because you’ll have to include things in the schedule that you may think are trivial just to add some attraction. But there’s no telling how many missionaries serving today were largely indifferent to the need before they saw it.

The second big purpose is education – learning about the field, its needs, and a strategy for impact. This means pre-trip training should include ‘learning to ask questions.’ The people that come on trips with a learning mentality will be powerful spreaders of the burden when they return. This is one of the reasons why I have a real problem with trips (English-teaching trips are a common culprit) that try to scare everyone to death. Telling them that sharing the Gospel is dangerous, teaching them to speak and write in code, keeping them out of house churches, etc. These trips usually do more harm than good. Because these people all go home and perpetuate these false ideas.

Lastly, mission trips are there to help. Some people won’t like it that this is last. Some people won’t like it that it’s called ‘help.’ But let’s be honest for a second. If you don’t speak the language of the country you’re going to, what do you think you’re really going to accomplish? If you’re doing short-term work completely disconnected from a long-term work, what do you think is going to happen after you take off?

Popular short-term missions work include teaching English, Vacation Bible Schools, youth camps, evangelistic crusades, medical clinics, and building projects. These things are all great, but none of them should be ends in themselves. Take building trips for example: you fly over to some impoverished nation to build them something. But your plane ticket costs like a year’s wage in that nation! You’re totaled before you get there! Doesn’t mean I’m against the trip at all! That’s why this is only the last purpose. If the trip also gives you a burden and an education, I’m all for it.

Here’s a definition of ‘help’: furthering a long-term missionary’s goals. Find out where the missionary is going, then find out how you can help him get there. All the trips listed above can be fantastic ‘further-ers.’ Your help may even include highly specialized skills that your team possesses. Some missions teams are just looking for a stage to put on their own show. We’ve been contacted by youth groups that want to come and do Bible schools, students that want to come teach English, etc. That’s all fine, but it’s cart before the horse.

When I was little, I wanted to help my dad draw engineering schematics. If he had let me go crazy with my crayons, though, ‘help’ would be the opposite of what I accomplished! Help is awesome – just make sure it’s really help!

What does this mean for you, O planner of trips? Organize your trip and training around these three goals. Count your trip a success when these happen. Search for a ministry that facilitates these goals.

And you, O short-termer-turned-long-termer? Realize that there’s a difference between short-term effective and long-term effective. Just because you had a good time doing something on a month-long missions trip, does not mean that that’s a reasonable model for a lifelong ministry! Teaching English as a supplement to a church-planting ministry can be an awesome help. Teaching English as an independent, long-term ministry is not a good plan.

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