OK, it’s a clickbait title, but a lot of people do believe that short-term missions are horrible. Many others believe short-term missions are a huge blessing. Like so many topics, the truth is somewhere in the fuzzy middle. When done correctly, short-term missions can change lives for the better, if done poorly, they can do a lot of damage. It’s good to take a balanced look at both sides and move forward wisely.
Much has been written on the topic of missions. Many people are very passionate about this topic and seem to see it as a personal cause with a fervor equal to militant vegans. Most anti-missions folks are VERY vocal about it, and they seem to be the loudest voices in many churches. They also sell a lot of books. The idea that so many people have been turned away from short-term missions due to these negative voices is heartbreaking. People are missing out on life-changing experiences and incredible opportunities to serve others. Let’s look at a few reasons why churches and individuals should be involved in short-term missions.
The teams are wanted. I’ve been in the missions field for over twenty-five years and network with ministries on several continents. Out of the dozens of ministries I work with, I can think of only one that doesn’t want more groups. Most ministries depend on the visiting groups for support, for short-term help, and to help spread the word about the work that goes on. If short-term groups are so damaging, why do people in the field want more of them? Full-time missionaries are only serving as they do because they have a heart for the people in the country to which they were called. If missionaries thought the teams did more harm than good, they would not invite and welcome them.
Short-term missions are where missionaries are born. Not everyone is called to be a missionary, but until people stick their toe into the water and try it out, they will never know. I’ve never met a full-time missionary who didn’t start in the short-term. My wife, myself, and everyone we know in missions began with that first weekend. Not everyone becomes a missionary who takes a mission trip. Not everyone becomes a pastor who walks into a church, but this is how it starts. Sometimes we need to travel to a distant mountain to have that mountain top experience. God might speak to you in line at your regular Starbucks, but it’s more likely you’ll hear His voice in a foreign land.
Short-term missions can transform communities in ways you don’t think of. Our town in Mexico is like many areas that receive a large number of teams. The regular stream of people visiting creates it’s own momentum and changes the economy for the better. All these visiting people need to eat, to get around, to buy stuff. Obviously, the home builds, the medical clinics, and other outreaches are a huge blessing, but the jobs the visitors create has transformed our area from relative poverty to middle class. Almost every town fights for tourist dollars, and missions teams like to spend money in the town where they are serving.
The church in America is losing its youth at a faster rate than any time in history, and missions can help stop this. Our faith grows in many different ways, but one of the strongest is when we encounter inspiring people. It’s often hard to find people who inspire our faith in our home town or church. There is something about spending even a short time in a foreign church to see your faith in a new light. To experience worship in Ghana, Mexico, or Peru, shows us what worship can be. To spend time with a pastor in Cuba who lives under actual persecution shows us what faith is. To work with someone living and serving with joy in the slums of Tijuana shows us what walking in Christ’s footsteps means. We are changed for the better when we encounter people living out their faith beyond anything we can imagine. Short-term missions are not JUST about sharing our faith but finding it as well.
When short-term missions are done right, they can be incredible. When it’s done poorly, real damage can be done. Like any ministry, relationship, job, hobby, etc. you need to do your research, learn from people who have gone before you, and avoid the pitfalls that are around every corner. If we avoided everything in this life that MIGHT cause damage, we would never leave the house. We all know marriages that have failed miserably and caused a lot of damage, that does not mean marriage is wrong or should always be avoided. Marriage can be a wonderful gift from God when approached correctly and, with the right attitude, mission trips are the same.
Short-term missions matter. Short-term missions can changes lives. Go on a trip, organize a trip, and encourage your church to use missions to change the lives of everyone involved.