Rethinking Short-Term Missions

Darren Carlson has recently three three articles on the Gospel Coalition site.  This trilogy of writing is focused on short-term mission trips.  Each article is worth careful reading and consideration by anyone interested in supporting, planning, leading, or going on a short-term trip.  Below are the links to each article as well as a short excerpt to give you a taste of the content.


Celebrating the Short-Term Missions Boom

The missionary movement, once filled mostly with trained vocational ministers, has slowly gotten younger and less trained. Now, due to students’ flexibility, most trips are geared for those between 15 and 22 years old. It seems that almost anytime I travel overseas I see a pack of students wearing the same colored shirts with a Bible verse on the back that announces their intentions. . . .

What has made all of this possible? Western affluence and airplanes. What once took missionaries months of travel time now takes a day. George Whitefield crossed the Atlantic 13 times in his life! I crossed the Atlantic 10 times last year while eating, getting some work done, and watching a movie or two. What took Whitefield months in travel time on a boat takes us eight hours. Because of aeronautical advances and the economic strength of the West, opportunities abound.

Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-Term Mission Trips

Imagine a team from France calls your church and says they want to visit. They want to put on VBS (which you have done for years), but the material is in French. They have heard about how the U.S. church has struggled and want to help you fix it. They want to send 20 people, half of them youth. Only two of them speak English. They need a place to stay for free, with cheap food and warm showers if possible. During the trip half of the group’s energy will be spent on resolving tension between team members. Two people will get sick. They’d like you to arrange some sightseeing for them on their free day. Do you want them to come?

Most trips I know focus on those who are going, not on those receiving the teams. We send youth so they can have an experience or so God can really grip their heart. You may want your adults to gain a larger heart for the nations. Even if research shows that short-term trips do not affect the lives of participants in the long-term, we still send teams.

Toward Better Short-Term Missions

When your short-term ministry team leaves a particular setting, Christians will still live and work where you visited. Your desire should be to serve at the request of and under local church leadership. Your disposition should be one of a learner, with the humility to take your cues from national leaders. You need to be careful, especially when dealing with money. But if you can build a level of trust, the most effective trips will be extensions of another church’s ministry. This might lead to bringing fewer team members but result in much more effective ministry.


Resources for Mission Trips

There are plenty of resources out there for short-term trips.  Some of them are gold while others are of a less valuable material. Below are the  resources I have used for training every our church has sent out on a short-term mission trip. I highly recommend them.

Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper

Mack & Leeann’s Guide to Short-Term Missions by J. Mack Stiles and Leeann Stiles

What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission by Kevin De Young and Greg Gilbert

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