Whether you are a seasoned mission traveler or are just beginning to prepare for your first mission experience, we want to help you as you and your church undertake the process of forming your missional strategy. I know this may be a brand new endeavor for many, but through much prayer and planning, we can make it a reality. This endeavor can bring an end to gospel hoarding in your church and the beginning of an exciting journey in changing the world! Our desire and purpose is this: To see every local church directly involved in sending and going.
Why Short-Term Missions?
Over the last thirty years, we have been a part of several disastrous short-term projects. Because of a lack in leadership, strategy, and preparation, we have seen more harm than good come from many mission trips. This can destroy the morale and determination of a pastor, a mission team, and an entire church. So, then, why try? Why not just let the full-time missionaries do the work? Because missionary work is crucial for the spiritual growth of the believer and the church around the globe. Consider the following reasons why, when executed properly, a short-term mission is an important part of touching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- The Great Commission commands it. Whether short-term or long-term, our Savior has commanded us to go.
Matthew 28:18–20And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen. (Matthew 28:18–20)
- A short-term mission can energize your church and can increase interest in giving more toward missions in general. When church members return home from ministry abroad, the enthusiasm they bring back can be contagious. It gives the whole church a sense of identity with the people to whom they have ministered.
- Individuals who participate in a short-term mission come home with a deeper love for Jesus Christ and a greater compassion for the world. Their experience will truly change the way they share the gospel in their home, their workplace, and their community. Our goal is to develop mature, global-minded disciples, who accurately reflect the image of Christ. Short-term missions can play a large role in that development.
- God uses many short-term mission trips to call people into full-time vocational missions. We have seen this take place in the lives of a number of families that were first exposed to foreign missions through one of our trips. As the Lord worked in their lives, they were called to serve full-time in areas including Uganda, India, Kenya, and Venezuela.
- Vocational missionaries and mission organizations are always asking for churches and volunteers to come and help. Missionaries will never be able to accomplish their mission without additional help and support.
Acts 18:9–10And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 18:9–10)
- God can use our simplest attempts at missions and evangelism to bring souls into the kingdom of God and strengthen local churches and believers.
We have done a lot of ministry in Brazil over the years. During one particular week of ministry, I was assigned an interpreter whose knowledge of English was very limited. I began to worry. If we can hardly understand each other, how will I be able to speak to other Brazilians in a way they can understand?
I would soon find out. We were scheduled to speak in a home packed full of friends and neighbors. I spoke as slowly and deliberately as possible so I would not confuse my new interpreter. However, after several attempts to translate what I was saying into Portuguese, my interpreter looked bewildered. I pressed on, trying to get across to these dear people what Jesus Christ had done for them on the cross. As far as I could tell, all they were getting was a combination of confusing words and even more confusing looks. It was at that moment that I bowed my head and prayed, “Lord, I have come all this way to tell these people of Your love for them. To tell them that their sin can be forgiven through Your Son, Jesus Christ. To give to them a message of hope and life. But I just cannot seem to get through.”
When I finished my brief prayer, I looked up and directly into the eyes of a young mother who sat across the room from me. Tears were streaming down her face. It was at that moment that I realized something very important. I felt that I had been a complete failure at communicating the love of God to these dear people. However, God was communicating His love to their hearts in ways I could not see. Before long, this young mother, her husband, and several others in that home received Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. I could almost hear Him say to me, “No, Rick, you are not getting through very well, but I am getting through just fine.” Through our simple attempts, even when we feel like we are not getting through, God is working!
- A short-term mission trip may lead to a long-term commitment to a country or people group for years to come. The mission you participate in may be the means by which God launches a mighty work that reaches an untold number of souls for Jesus Christ. It is even possible to adopt an entire people group and begin a focus to plant churches and present a gospel witness among them.
The church that I pastored many years ago has been effective in establishing a Christian witness among the Mina people group of India. The Mina consists of about four and a half million previously unreached souls. In recent years, churches have been planted, and people are beginning to put their faith in Jesus Christ. There is no limit to the impact and influence that a mission team can have on a portion of the world when they commit to a long-term investment.
- The Lord is at work among the nations. He does not need us, but He invites us to be a part of His story.
Most of us are familiar with John 3:16. However, often we tend to miss the significance of what follows. Go back and read John 3:16–17. Notice how many times the “world” is mentioned. “For God so loved the world … For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” When God repeats something that many times, it should capture our attention. The point is this: God has the world on His heart. Not just our small part of it, but the whole world is on His heart. If we are going to be faithful followers of our Savior, then we must have His concerns on our hearts as well. Do you have God’s heart for the nations?
Scripture teaches that to whom much is given much is required. Since the Great Commission is our mandate from Christ, it should be our desire to use our resources (time, money, prayer, gifts, and abilities) to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19–20). Every Christian and every local church is called to either be a goer or a sender. “How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14–15) The impact of short-term missions is endless. The impact it will have on your church and the role it will play in the missional mindset of your people should not be underestimated. God uses missions to change lives, not just the lives of those being reached, but also the lives of those being sent. Have we become gospel hoarders, or are we being good stewards of the resources God has given us? Short-term missions plays a crucial role in how we are giving the gospel to a world in need of hope.
Answering Common Objections
In the past few decades we have heard a multitude of doubts and excuses about being involved in short-term missions. Most of these objections fall under a few repeated thoughts and concerns. Perhaps you have had some concerns of your own. Take a look at these common objections and the answers found in God’s Word.
Objection 1: Missions should begin at home. We have enough work to do here.
I cannot tell you how many times well-intentioned believers have said this to me. There is no doubt that our mission does begin at home. Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” As believers who confess Jesus as Lord, our mission begins in our own Jerusalem. It begins in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, businesses, and communities. It would be a great dishonor to our Lord and disobedience to His gospel to ignore all the people around us who have not met our Lord Jesus. Every day, our church members ought to be living out the gospel in their own lives to touch the hearts of those who are closest to them. After all, I did not coin the phrase, “We want to take the gospel across the street and across the globe.”
Yes, missions does begin at home, but it cannot stay there or end there. The truth is that there is more mission involvement here in our own Jerusalem than anywhere else in the world. Consider the following statistics about the access we readily have to the gospel.
- There are currently 300,000 evangelical churches in the US led by 600,000 pastors and church staff (not including independent churches).1
- The average American family owns four Bibles.2
- The annual expenditure for Bibles in America is $425 million.3
- There are 260 theological seminaries in the US that represent over 80,000 students.4
- The American evangelical church operates on more than $15 billion each year. A mere 2% of that goes directly toward international missions.5
Yes, mission work does begin at home. We are pouring our resources into reaching our Jerusalem with the gospel, but have not ventured out to our Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth with the same involvement or urgency. If we truly grasped God’s heart for the nations, then we would not make excuses to stay here. We cannot afford to be gospel hoarders.
Objection 2: Why spend all that money to go on a trip? It would be better to send the money directly to the missionaries.
There is no doubt that short-term mission trips are expensive. There is also no doubt that missionaries and organizations need more in the way of finances. In recent years, many mission organizations have had to delay mobilizing new missionaries because of a lack of funds.
But money alone is not the answer to successful world missions and evangelism. God uses people. Recently, I had the privilege of preaching in a church located in a small village in the African bush. After the service, I was enjoying a time of fellowship with the pastor and his people. The pastor broke into a wide grin and said, “Thank you for coming. Your coming reminds me that God really does love us.” If for no other reason than to encourage this dear pastor who serves the Lord in a difficult area, I would continue to go.
Many people wanted to help Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. Hundreds of organizations and churches rallied to send resources and aid to the Haitian people. However, one of our missionaries recently voiced her concerns about this global effort. She said, “What we needed more during that time was a helping hand. We needed people.” Even still, these missionaries are asking us to bring as many teams as we can. They need the church, not just their money.
Yes, short-term trips are costly. However, an expensive trip can be evidence of a fruitful partnership. The missionaries and churches we work with are always in great need. When we take teams to assist and serve alongside them in ministry, we do not want to be a financial burden. I recently heard of a small team that went overseas to help one of our missionaries. They asked this missionary to give them room and board, provide transportation, and organize their ministry activity for the week. At the end of the week the team left and did not compensate the missionary in any way. The missionary was left in a great financial bind and struggled for the next several months to recoup lost money and resources. So please be cautious about “cheap” mission trips.
It is extremely important that we bless our missionaries and care for them. It is my desire to always leave the missionary or church we have worked with in a better financial position than it was when we arrived. Physical efforts partnered with financial help can leave a missionary and church encouraged and strengthened to press on for the gospel another day.
Objection 3: Mission work should be done by those professionally trained or most familiar with the culture they serve.
One of the greatest mission movements in history was led by a group of untrained and uneducated men. In fact, some who observed them even called them ignorant.
These men had not been educated in a Bible college or seminary. They had never been to a seminar or training session on cross-cultural evangelism. They had simply been with Jesus and captured His desire for all humanity to be saved.
Of course, we should thank God that there are wonderful schools and mission agencies preparing men and women to carry the gospel to foreign lands. Those who have been called to full-time vocational missions should receive as much specialized training as possible. The Lord is using these mission leaders to develop strategies and methods to penetrate many cultures with God’s truth. However, we should not be led to believe that only our mission specialists can be used by God to reach people of other cultures, backgrounds, and religions. Anyone who has been transformed by the cross and has experienced the love of Jesus can be an instrument to bring the Word of God to others. The Holy Spirit in us has a way of transcending every barrier and obstacle. I have even seen children become instruments in the hands of God to break through walls of religious and cultural differences.
He uses the trained and untrained, educated and uneducated, young and old, rich and poor. Scripture reminds us of God’s plan to use ordinary individuals to accomplish His purposes.
There are many full-time missionaries who would welcome volunteers to come and assist them in their ministry. Volunteers can help advance the work of a missionary many times over. For example, I heard one of our missionaries say that a mission team has done more work in a week than he could have done in several months by himself
Although formal training is not necessary for a layperson to be involved in a short-term mission trip, churches should still make an effort to prepare their volunteers for the mission. Many concise training opportunities exist to get volunteers ready for mission involvement. We take every one of our volunteers through a training manual specific to the country and culture where we will be ministering.
If we merely wait for the “professionals” to get the message to all nations, the mission will never be completed. Let us join our hearts and hands with them to accomplish this holy task.
Objection 4: There is not proper discipleship or follow-up of new believers from a short-term mission.
A part of any successful strategy in short-term missions should include ongoing discipleship. The Lord has given us His church as the primary tool to accomplish this task. When possible, every volunteer team should be building friendships and partnerships with churches, pastors, and Christian leaders in their country of focus. I have found that there are churches and missionaries in countries outside of the United States that are eager to develop a partnership with volunteer teams. In this way, when the short-term mission is over, workers on-site can conserve the fruit of the mission’s labor and continue the mission’s work. Rather than taking a “hit or miss” approach to follow-up, the established church or missionary can be ready to begin work when the team has left. The team leader should emphasize the importance of follow-up as a part of their focus and training. One of the great advantages of establishing a partnership with a particular church or organization is the ability to build on the work year after year.
Returning to the same areas was also a part of Paul’s strategy. In Acts, we find him making return visits to churches and believers to encourage them and continue to teach them. “Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing’” (Acts 15:36). We see the same principle at work in Acts 14.
Your mission team can have an eternal impact on an area by continuing to go there year after year. In this way, the kingdom of God will advance and believers will be encouraged and strengthened.
Objection 5: It is too dangerous to travel overseas.
This is a common objection that I hear all the time. “Are you sure you should be going there? Is it safe? I have heard that there is a lot of trouble over there. It is too risky!” God has called us to take the gospel to all people groups, lands, cultures, and nations. He did not exclude from the Great Commission areas that may be considered dangerous. Now having said that, I do not believe that we should purposefully take a team into an area where volunteers are likely to be injured or even killed. However, the Lord may call specific individuals to go into the risky and extremely dangerous areas. You will need to ask God for great discernment in choosing the location of the mission and the size of the team. For example, a smaller more experienced team of volunteers might be led to a country where it is illegal to preach the gospel. But a team consisting of people of various ages and genders should focus on areas where they can safely travel and minister.
So what about the risks involved in taking a team to another country? There are always risks involved when traveling anywhere. It can be as risky driving across town in Dallas as it is driving across town in Nairobi, Cape Town, San Paolo, or Mumbai. One of the advantages of working with established missionaries or churches in a particular country is that they usually know where a team can go and what areas to avoid.
Take this story, for example. On a recent trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, my team of volunteers and I needed to be at a local church across town for a service. The missionary we were helping took us on a longer route than was necessary to avoid an area that was prone to riots. In some countries, local pastors have warned me about areas to stay away from and what times not to be out. The purpose of your mission team is not to encounter as much danger as possible, but to minister to people in Jesus’ name as safely as possible.
Mission volunteers should be given clear instructions on how to avoid dangerous or undesirable situations. This can be done during orientation for the trip and emphasized during each day of the mission. Observing these simple rules will greatly reduce risks regardless of where the team is going.
- Never go out alone.
- Travel in groups.
- Do not go out after dark.
- Do not talk too loudly.
- Do not flash money or jewelry around.
- Avoid areas known for parties, drugs, prostitution, or riots.
- Do not look like a tourist.
- Never go out alone.
- Wear a scowl on your face that says, “Don’t even think about messing with me.”—Just kidding!
- Never go out alone.
Most common objections to short-term missions can be summed up in these five areas I’ve discussed. Regardless, all things considered, I believe in short-term missions. I believe it can change the way we share the gospel. I believe it can encourage and equip the national churches as well as the sending churches. I believe God uses short-term missions to reach a lost world with the news of His redeeming love.
1. Hadaway, Kirk and Penny Marler. Journal for Scientific Study of Religion 44, no. 3 (September 2005): 307-322
2. Harper San Francisco Book Catalog (May-August 2007): 15
4. The Association of Theological Schools. “2011-2012 Data Tables.” www.ats.edu. Accessed June 28, 2012.
5. The Barna Group. “Report Examines the State of Mainline Protestant Churches.” Posted December 7, 2009. The Barna Group of Ventura, California. www.barna.org. Accessed June 28, 2012.