There has been a lot of debate and discussion in recent years regarding the benefits of short-term mission trips. Undoubtedly, there are many examples of unhealthy short-term missions practices that do need to be abandoned. Those unhealthy realities have led some pastors and church leaders to question the value of short-term missions altogether.
Are Short-Term Missions Still Valuable?
Yet, one would be wise to consider the value of short-term missions from the perspective of the sending church, the sent one, and the missionary team. As we’ll see below, some of the benefits include engagement, exposure, edification, encouragement, and evaluation.
The Sending Church
I praise God for those pastors who repeatedly remind their people of the urgency of evangelism in their local context! We need more pastors heralding this message on a weekly basis. Our responsibility to be witnesses for Christ always begins in our local context. We will not do there what we do not do here.
At the same, short-term mission provides a unique opportunity for local churches to intentionally engage lostness in a cross-cultural and often church-less context. When churches send short-term mission teams, they offer a practical outlet for people in the congregation to engage in intense evangelism and discipleship activity. The intensity of the evangelism and discipleship activity is often difficult to replicate in one’s local context. Thus, the opportunity to be freed up from normal, daily responsibilities to intentionally engage in concentrated evangelism and discipleship is one of the great benefits of short-term trips.
The Sent One
Perhaps the most notable beneficiary of short-term mission trips is the sent one. Those sent on short-term trips get to experience the value of exposure and edification.
In terms of exposure, and this may sound like a tautology, the reality is that “people don’t know what they don’t know.” In other words, it’s one thing for a pastor to preach on the Great Commission and challenge the congregation to go make disciples of all nations. However, it is an entirely different thing for those same people in the congregation to get on a plane and travel to an unreached context, encounter people who have never heard of Jesus, and then attempt to share the gospel with them. Going on a short-term trip exposes those people to the realities of lostness around the world in a way that no video, book, or pamphlet can accomplish.
Short-term trips are also beneficial for the sent one in terms of spiritual edification. The beauty of short-term trips is that God is able to accomplish in a short time what can often take several months or years to accomplish. Examples include: growing in confidence in evangelism, intense discipleship growth as a result of a focused time away from your everyday distractions, the formation or bond of a community of disciples who grow closer to the Lord and closer to one another as a result of the trip, and the overall process of personal conviction and sanctification and the fruit that results from the Lord’s work on a short-term trip. In essence, short-term missions often prepare those sent for future ministry endeavors at home and around the world.
The Missionary Team
Short-term missions teams can serve as a vital source of encouragement for the receiving missionary team. Life and ministry on the mission field can be daunting and challenging. Short-term mission teams have a unique opportunity to provide a wave of inspiration and to serve as a foundation of support and care for missionary teams. The energy and optimism that short-term teams bring to the mission field often provide a much-needed jolt to the missionary team on the ground. The ability to co-labor, do evangelism together, celebrate joys, reflect on challenges, and pray and worship together become cherished by the sent ones and the missionary team.
Short-term trips also remind the receiving missionary teams that their current work, ministry, and strategy need evaluation. In the planning stages of a short-term trip, the missionary team is often forced to evaluate its relationships, goals, and objectives. Furthermore, the regular nature of short-term trips requires missionary teams to ensure that they are focusing their energy and efforts in the most faithful and effective ways. The evaluation component that is prompted by short-term trips can help ensure that missionary teams regularly track their progress and measure applicable metrics for their ongoing work.
In all of our efforts, one must remember that the triune God is going to accomplish His purposes with or without us. The beauty of short-term trips is that God has provided an opportunity for His people to join Him in what He is doing among the nations. Short-term trips are valuable because they provide an avenue for sending churches, sent ones, and missionary teams to partner together in the advancement of the gospel to the ends of the earth.