The church in America is an interesting animal. Over the years, the church has done some incredibly positive work, and at the same time, if we’re honest, the church has done a lot of damage. One ongoing and problematic issue the church has is that it tends to have a pack mentality. The church tends to embrace whatever the current trend is. Whether it’s calling for the prohibition of alcohol one hundred years ago, the rabid opposition to secular music about 30 years ago, or the spike in end-time studies that seems to come around every 10 or 15 years, the church follows trends.
One of the current trends in the church (besides coffee houses and pallets EVERYWHERE) is to question the value of short-term missions. I’m not saying there isn’t a lot to question, but there is also a great deal of positive when done right. Missions have been a double-edged sword through most of the history of the church. Missions have done a tremendous amount of good, and some serious damage, but missions are an essential part of our faith. We’ve been instructed to “go into all the world.” We have a responsibility and calling to serve others. It’s important we take an honest look at missions and do it correctly, lovingly, and with a humble heart.
If one looks at marriage as an institution and judges it on the end results, it would be very simple to mount an argument for abolishing it. Marriage is messy. Marriage is difficult. A healthy marriage is complicated requiring ongoing effort. Frequently, marriages require outside counsel and guidance. Way too many marriages ultimately end badly. Way too often, there is intentional or even unintentional abuse. All that being said, very few people in the church would say the institution of marriage should come to an end. When marriage works and both parties are serving with humility, understanding, and a desire to build each other up, the institution of marriage can be a spectacular gift from God. If people enter into marriage with selfish motivations or unrealistic expectations, it makes a healthy marriage incredibly difficult if not impossible. How we prepare and enter into marriage sets the foundation for a healthy loving endeavor, and God is glorified.
Okay, now go back through that last paragraph and wherever you see the word “marriage” replace it with the phrase “short-term missions.” Short-term missions are messy, can cause deep harm, and they require a great deal of effort. All of these things are accurate. But, when it does work well short-term missions, like marriage, can be an incredible gift from God that changes the lives of those involved for the better. It is worth all the effort.
When a marriage does end in divorce, it usually comes down to one of a few issues. I recently read one theory that the majority of failed marriages are because of unmet expectations: “I thought marriage would solve my loneliness.” “I thought you would be a better homemaker.“ “I thought you would be a better provider.” “I thought it would be different.” When our high expectations bump up against reality, it can be very easy to be disappointed. When people go on short-term missions with unrealistic expectations, the same thing happens, disappointment and discouragement. The trip can be seen as a failure.
When planning or participating in a short-term mission trip, it’s so important to set realistic goals and expectations. Once the goals and expectations have been defined, it needs to be communicated to everyone involved, while realizing the importance of flexibility. It’s very rare when our expectations happened to line up with what God has planned. This conflict of expectations and reality can cause profound disappointment in any situation if we don’t have the right outlook.
We once had a home-building team come down to Baja with the goal of building a house in four days. This project was highly ambitious, but they were up to the challenge and very focused. About 30 minutes into the project the power in the town went out bringing the project to a stop (when the power goes out it’s usually for a full day). They could have been upset and judged their first day as a failure, but they had realistic and flexible expectations. They were willing to flow with whatever was thrown at them knowing very little was under their control. This team was great. They spent the day playing soccer with a few local teens and the family receiving the house. It turned out to be the best day of their trip with some real ministry going on and relationships being built. Building a relationship is much better than building a house. By not being tied to their specific expectations, they had a tremendously successful trip.
Like marriage, short-term missions is a huge blessing wrapped in a challenge. The enemy doesn’t like marriages or missions, and he will do what he can to destroy them both. By being mature and having realistic expectations in anything we approach in this life, God will guide us into blessings that are way beyond what our expectations might be.
Short-term missions, when led in a healthy way, can change lives for all those involved. You can teach your team members the importance of working in complicated situations, being flexible in whatever comes their way, and seeking God’s will in any situation. By teaching your team the importance of controlling and managing their expectations, you will set them up for success in whatever life brings them: in missions, in marriage, and in life.
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