Missions is about making disciples of all nations, and often involves the crossing of cultures, languages, and geographical boundaries to accomplish that task. Disciples are made in the context of the local church over time. Missionaries invest their lives in places void of the gospel in order that sinners will come to faith in Jesus and grow in that faith through the ministry of the local church. There is no shortcut to disciple-making. So, if there is no shortcut, how can short-term missions be part of this overall mission of disciple-making of all nations? In other words, how can anything short-term contribute to anything that we know is a long-term process?
No doubt that short-term missions can be a hinderance to the mission when churches go with their own agendas. However, I am convinced that done rightly, short-term missions can be of help to the missionary and the work of the gospel. Let me offer some suggestions to help churches assist missionaries through short-term missions.
- Local churches partnering with missionaries long-term. Relationships take time and churches that will invest in relationships with missionaries over many years will often find that the work of the gospel is strengthened. I would suggest an initial commitment of 3-5 years for a mission partnership. This gospel relationship can include elements such as intentional prayer, financial support, tangible encouragement, and, yes, short-term teams.
- Send multiple short-term teams throughout the year (when needed). Most missionaries I know partnering with churches and short-term teams prefer smaller teams rather than larger teams. Certainly, there are exceptions to this request, but larger teams are often more difficult logistically. Instead of sending one team of 20 to a partnering missionary, a church can send two teams of 10 throughout the year. Multiple teams allow the church the opportunity to deepen the touches and relationship with the missionaries and the people they are seeking to reach.
- Be intentionally gospel-centered. While this sounds obvious at first glance, we can often do good things but neglect (unintentionally) the most important thing—the gospel. At the end of the day, our goal is to make disciples of Jesus. There is so much we can say about what a disciple of Jesus is, but we can not say less than it being one who turns from their sins and trusts in Jesus as their sacrificed, risen, sinless Savior and Lord. Churches must work carefully with their partnering missionary to share the good news of Jesus with intentionality.
- Allow the missionary to determine the needs/strategy for making disciples among the people. While local churches often mean well, we can often impose our own agendas and strategies for reaching a people that we frankly do not know much about. Missionaries invest their lives learning a new culture, language, and way of life in order to effectively make disciples where Jesus is not known. Churches will do well to trust those missionaries and assist them in the strategies that they believe will best accomplish that goal.
- Be a servant. As churches partner with missionaries for gospel impact, the goal is to serve those missionaries and the people they are seeking to reach. Taking on the posture of a servant will allow both the missionary and the church partner to work well together, as it demonstrates the church’s goal of coming to serve and not be served (Mark 10:45).
There is no guarantee that any mission gospel partnership will be free from relational challenges, but these five suggestions will go a long way to strengthening gospel partnerships meant for gospel impact. Indeed, there is no short-cut to disciple-making or mission partnerships, but the benefit of gospel impact will affect not only the missionaries and partnering churches, but also those who do not yet to follow Jesus.