Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lesson 9: Short-Term Mission Trips

The missions team is responsible for guiding the local church body in making their outreach as effective as it can in the task of the Great Commission.  One project that is very popular among North American churches today is supporting and sending short-term teams.  With limited resources that are available in the church, what role does and should be in funding short-term missions projects?

By way of definition, a broad description of short-term missions is a person or group who goes to countries for from ten days to two weeks.  The activities of these short-term projects range from building churches, working in orphanages, evangelism, medical work and youth camps.  These projects certainly can help the national church in their growth and outreach.  The question before the missions committee is one of priority, not necessarily its strategic impact. 

For the most part, short-term missions are beneficial (a) to those who go on these trips and (b) to help the local national church.  As to the first part, the question should be asked is “how” does it help the short-termer? For those who go on short-term trips, do they come back more engaged in world outreach through prayer or giving?  It’s hard to quantify these results, but there should be some measure of accountability when designing a short-term trip.  I have heard the argument that many career missionaries today are a result of them taking a short-term trip to the mission field.  While I do believe this has merit, throughout the history of missions most people who gave their lives to missions did so without visiting the field first.  For every one person who commits to becoming a career missionary after a short-term trip, a hundred, or more, do not. 

It is true that short-term projects do help the national church as the western team provides funds and encouragement to the local people.  The flip side of this help, however, can lead to apathy on the part of the local Christians.  If the church in the west provides support for the local church, does that take away the incentive of the national Christian to be involved?  Why should a struggling, poor African church member support missions or their pastor if they know that the Americans are doing it?  It’s a delicate issue not easily resolved.

Caring for orphans or giving medicine to the sick might be humanitarian, but how do these well-intended programs advance the Kingdom?  If social projects are not directly tied to the outreach of the local church then does it violate the core purpose of missions?

These are philosophical issues the missions team in the local church must wrestle with.  However, the main thing a missions team must determine is, again, with the limited resources that is available for missions, what percentage of the budget should be allocated to short-term projects.  Of course my bias is that a greater portion of support should go to those who are living on the field, learning the language, struggling with culture and planting churches among the most unreached peoples of the world.

It is my belief that short-termer’s should pay for their own trips and it not be a part of the few missions dollars that is in the mission fund.  Sending out letters by short-term missionaries to fund a ten-day trip to other members in the congregation often take away from long term mission projects.  Bottom line, I do believe short-term projects can be helpful, but for the missions team, funding these activities should further down the list of priorities.