For as long as I have been involved in missions, there has been a debate about whether short term missionary teams do more harm then good. As someone who has spent almost a decade now accommodating such teams, it is a question that I have thought over a lot! Here is a list of sample arguments that I’ve heard:
1. “For the money that it takes to send a team to the field, we could support a whole missionary family (or church plant, or feed a small village) for a month. Wouldn’t it be best just to send the money itself?”
2. “We as Americans are generally not culturally sensitive. Other cultures will see us as loud and inconsiderate, and the local ministries that host us will look bad.”
3. “It is way too stressful or tiring for the local pastors or missionaries to deal with short term teams; shouldn’t they be more invested in preaching, evangelism, and things like that?”
4. “The local culture will see us with our Nikon cameras that are worth what would be more than a year’s pay for them. They’ll feel bad about the poverty that they are in. Won’t that be doing more damage and causing awkwardness?”
5. “The people on the team are the only ones that get anything out of it- they don’t even speak the local language!”
6. And many many more!
A book could be written responding to each of these arguments. My belief and experience is that, while there can be some negative examples, short term missions trips can be a blessing from God for all involved! The key is prayerfully striving to maintain certain key principles. Here are some of the pointers that I feel can act as safeguards from losing our focus when it comes to trips:
1. Educate the team – Sometimes our focus is on getting names on those signup sheets. But after sign up, team members should be challenged as to things like their vision for the trip versus God’s vision, being a vacationary or a missionary, cultural sensitivity, etc. Getting a team itinerary together and into their hands as early as possible is a great way to begin that process, because it gives them a sense of God’s purpose for the trip.
2. It’s not about raising the financial status of the country – While Jesus would definitely call us to minister through our material goods, we have to remember that the Gospel states that Jesus wants to save them just as they are. The goal isn’t for them to look like us or have the same things that we do (those things don’t make us happy anyway!). The goal is that they would accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. After they hear that message, if they need a leak fixed in their roof, we’re on it!
3. Short term team members need discipleship – (this is especially to my fellow missionaries) guys, before you get frustrated with short term team members, remember that God sent each individual your way for a reason. Consider the fact that many of the people who come on missions trips might not even be saved! In my eyes, that means that behaving as if they were a burden is expressing discontentment with God; and complaining at their lack of spiritual maturity or cultural insensitivity is a waste of time- that’s why He brought them to you! Look at each individual on the team as an opportunity to disciple, teach, or even evangelize.
4. Focus on loving and edifying people more than projects – it’s no secret that we as Americans generally are addicted to getting things done in the allotted time. “We have such and such an amount of time to (pass out food, build a house, fill in the blank) before we have to go.” While there is nothing wrong with this, and it gives us a great feeling to see the immediate results of our projects, I believe we need to brainstorm about things that leave a lasting impact relationally with the locals for the good of the local church. Finding a local church, visiting their five core families with gifts in hand, asking them what they would like prayer for- that is an example of something that has an eternal effect on people and strengthens the backbone of the local church.
5. Focus on long term goals for the Gospel – and the local church short term trip can have long term results with prayerful and thoughtful planning. So much of international missions is consistency, and it’s a beautiful thing to see short term team members coming back year after year- working in the same direction, visiting the same people, actively showing them that they are worth visiting. This takes a lot of diligence and collaboration with local ministries- the results are incredible!￼