“If you aren’t praying, giving, and going, you’re disobeying.” For years, missionaries and mobilizers like me sought to motivate the masses to take short-term trips with these words. Now, are short-term mission trips the best use of time, money, and energy for those who care about God’s glory among the nations?
For over 1900 years of the missionary movement, short-term trips weren’t a viable option. Reaching any of the far-flung corners of the earth required time and resources that most churches didn’t have. Missionary pioneers like Adoniram Judson, Amy Carmichael, William Carey, and Lottie Moon uprooted their lives and moved to new lands sight unseen. Shouldn’t we all just do the same?
The Benefits of Short-Term Mission Trips
You’d be foolish to run a marathon with no prior running experience. Chances are you’d seriously injure yourself, and you probably wouldn’t finish the race. The glory of crossing the finish line comes only after much suffering to endure to the end. It’s easy to glamorize the work of missions and to discount the suffering that comes with the call. A short-term trip, especially those lasting longer than a week, can provide perspective on both the joys and suffering involved in life overseas. It’s like running a 5k before training for a marathon.
It’s easy to glamorize the work of missions and to discount the suffering that comes with the call.
A short-term trip can make a real impact in some places. Those who take short-term trips with local churches and teams on the ground can further the missionary task among those in the places they serve. Whether covering a place in prayer, working on an entity for access, doing evangelism, or encouraging the workers, short-term teams without the heart language of the people they’re serving can make a valuable contribution to advancing the missionary task. Those with the trade language in the places they’re serving or teams working with translators can use their gifts and talents to support evangelism, discipleship, training, and church formation efforts.
In my twenty years overseas, short-term teams have played a huge role in our work. For a season, everyone we baptized into the burgeoning church we planted was first contacted by a short-term team. As overseas workers find strategic entry points and significant lanes for teams to run in, those coming for short periods can make long-term inroads.
The Dangers of Short-Term Mission Trips
Some would object that money spent on a short-term trip could fund national pastors or near-culture missionaries. Should churches all over the world send their money instead of their people if they’re only coming short term? What are the dangers and pitfalls of short trips?
Those coming for short periods can make long-term inroads.
A short-term trip can paint a picture of the mission field as constantly exciting and fruitful. God does often work in thrilling ways during prayer-saturated, Spirit-led short trips. He may work much more slowly during the week-to-week grind of language learning, cultural acquisition, and church planting. Those who come on shorter trips may leave with a false impression of how much easier ministry is overseas than in their home country.
Short-term trips without proper preparation can do more harm than good. Overzealous visitors may not respect security sensitivities or cultural norms on the ground. At times, their desire for converts and miraculous stories to tell may hinder the slow, arduous work of disciple-making. They can draw unwanted attention to the missionary and her work.
Why You Should Consider Starting with a Short-Term Mission Trip
If a team is trained well, humble, and willing to follow the leadership of the workers on the ground, short-term trips can reap a myriad of positive results. Trips like these function best when strong communication and partnership between the field and the sending churches lead to the right kind of preparation before the trip and follow-up after.
For those considering long-term work, short-term trips can provide a great perspective. Ask the workers and nationals on the ground lots of questions. Probe for stories of struggle as well as victory. Invite God to wreck your heart for the people you’re serving. You may just never recover.
Healthy short-term trips can throw gasoline on the fire of the passion sending churches to carry for the nations. The intense discipleship that happens during such trips will benefit those who go as much than those they come to serve.
So keep praying, giving, and going. The glory of Jesus among the nations demands it.