How to Plan Short-Term Mission Trips that Benefit Long-Term Work - Radical

How to Plan Short-Term Mission Trips that Benefit Long-Term Work

We labored for three years in a Muslim nation to establish strategic work in an area that had not seen any Christian witness. Not much happened. But in our fourth year, by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit moved. 

A group of people came to faith. They began sharing their faith with others. Suddenly, we went from wondering if we were doing any worthwhile ministry to barely keeping our noses above water. 

Those were exhilarating days, which every missionary longs for and some never see. Still, the work was tender and fledgling, and we excitedly called in prayer support.

Our excitement generated more than prayer––some desired to come and help. One large supporting church contacted me and told me about their plans to bring a short-term team to our city to work alongside us for a summer. As a result, I faced one of the most difficult decisions I ever made on the field. 

I said, “I’m sorry, We just can’t.” That year, true to their policy, they cut me off.

I mentioned to the missions director the amount of work a short-term team requires. She told me there wouldn’t be any problem. I expressed concerns about how a short-term team might harm our fragile beginnings. She played her trump card: the church’s new missions policy mandated all supported workers would need to host a short-term team and that their financial support would end unless they agreed. 

I’m not kidding––she really said that. 

I said, “I’m sorry, We just can’t.” That year, true to their policy, they cut me off. I don’t remember the exact amount of their support, but it was in the five-figure range.

Short-Term Mission Trips Exist to Support Long-Term Work

Understand that I love short-term missions. My wife and I directed short-terms for years in extreme situations—from East Africa and the highlands of Guatemala to Tunisia and Syria. 

We’ve written a book about short-term trips. We’re for them. Furthermore, short-term trips can be a fantastic help for long-term work. 

However, short-term trips are only beneficial for long-term work if they are done at the right times and in the right ways, with short-termers who are equipped for the context in which the long-term work exists.

We Need Short-Trips Mission Trips at the Right Time

There came a time when we gladly accepted short-term teams, but it was after the work was established, and a short-term team would be manageable with the ongoing work. We even sponsored John Piper for an outreach, something that could have never happened in that fourth year.

Short-term directors need to understand that a short-term team cannot come to a place and not require help. Some lose their passports, some get sick, and others require emotional and spiritual support, all of which take time away from the people on the ground.

We Need Short-Trips Mission Trips Done the Right Way

Short-term trips need to be “field-driven,” not “sending-church-driven.” In other words, these trips take their cues and direction from the missionaries on the ground, who drive the short-termers’ time in ministry for ways that serve local missionaries, not the agenda of the sending church.

We were in a North African Muslim nation. In cooperation with the local university, we placed students from the US and Canada in the homes of English majors. So, our students lived for a month with these Muslim student’s families. 

The university hoped that their students would develop English skills; we hoped that our students would have opportunities for the gospel. Far more happened—great friendships were formed. But the point is that it served local missionaries by connecting them to students and families they would have never developed on their own. It was a fruitful partnership between long-term and short-term teams. 

We Need Short-Trips Mission Trips with Right Preparation

Spend time preparing your short-termers for their short-term. Know where you are going; different situations require different kinds of preparation. Preparation for Kenya is different than for Syria. 

A short-term team cannot come to a place and not require help.

Kenya has some of the best and strongest Christians I have ever met, but living situations can be challenging. Syria, on the other hand, was a relatively easy place to live, but the opposition to evangelism and Christian faith can be fierce. Prepare accordingly

Make sure they are prepared by understanding the biblical basis for missions. As the Western church becomes fuzzier and more confused about the gospel, ensure that any short-termer has a stranglehold on the gospel—both what it is and what it isn’t.

And all short-termers need to have the attitudes of servants and learners. There is really nothing more annoying than a long-term missionary who is coached by a short-termer about the things they are doing wrong. 

There’s much more to be said, and I recommend our book, Mack and Leeann’s Guide to Short-Term Missions, published by IVP, for more help. However, adopting these basic principles outlined above will go a long way toward ensuring that short-term mission trips are beneficial to long-term work.

Mack Stiles

Mack Stiles is the director of Messenger Ministries Inc., a think tank working to develop healthy missions. He formerly served as the pastor of Erbil International Baptist Church in Erbil, Iraq. Mack has traveled and lived many places, and has been involved in university student ministry, church reform, and church planting. He has authored five books, including Evangelism: How The Whole Church Speaks of Jesus. Mack is married to Leeann, and they have three grown boys, two daughters-in-law, and two grandchildren.


That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs are receiving the least support. You can help change that!