Short-term missions done poorly and done well

While in a hotel overlooking a European city, our vision team recapped the experiences we had over the previous days as we met with various missionaries and visited several European countries.  Our goal was to find ways that we could connect our local churches from the state conventions we represented to mission partnerships in Europe.  As we listened to one another share, one state convention leader remarked, “Money alone is not the answer.  We need boots on the ground.”

He is right.  While the Cooperative Program is an enormous tool for gospel advancement, money alone is not the answer.  Yes, we need long-term missionaries.  But we also need local church short-term teams partnering with missionaries for long-term impact.  Boots on the ground involves not only our long-term missionaries, but short-term teams doing missions well.  Here are ways missions is done poorly and done well expressed with opposite key statements.

  • Go in order to see “new places” / Go in order to see God do a “new work”. If we go in order to see new places, then we go for the wrong reasons.  Comparing stamps in our passports is not our goal.  Don’t misunderstand me, seeing new places is always exciting; but our aim is not simply for the thrill of the adventure or to travel the world.  We go believing that God is at work and we desire to see Him do a “new work” in the lives of those we are serving with and among. So, go expecting God to do something new in you, your team, and those who you intend to serve.
  • Go without a plan and be rigid / Go with a plan and then go with the flow. “Winging it” is not the best approach to maximizing our impact and effectiveness.  Sometimes we spiritualize our lack of planning as trying to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.  To further complicate our unpreparedness, teams or individuals are reluctant to bend as schedules change.  Or worse, they bemoan how things are different than “back home” and how they wouldn’t “do it that way.”  On the other hand, our preparedness for what we plan to do and where we are going does not minimize the Spirit’s leading; it maximizes it.  We must prepare our teams well and then be prepared to go with the flow as circumstances change.  Being flexible with a spirit of willingness is critical for the Spirit to work in and through short-term teams.
  • Forget that a spiritual battle is underway / Recognize that a spiritual battle is before us. In the moment of experiencing new places and new people, we can easily forget that the challenges of the mission field—that often are dismissed as culture shock or personality conflicts, are directly tied to an unseen battle. Paul reminds us that we wrestle not with flesh and blood (cranky short-term team members or unfamiliar cultural customs), but against Satan and his dark forces (Eph 6:12).  Short-term teams need sensitivity to the fact that the spiritual reality that we may not perceive is much greater than the tangible reality around us.  A battle wages and we do not fight it with conventional weapons, but with the armor the Lord supplies (Eph 6:10-20).
  • Neglect to prepare your team / Be intentional about team preparation. Similar to going without a plan, teams that fail to prepare will prepare to fail.  On the other hand, teams that are intentional about their preparation will be an asset to the strategy of the field missionaries.  Basic preparation is necessary for maximizing the team’s impact with the work of the missionaries.
  • Set your own agenda / Develop a strategy with the missionaries. While many short-term teams mean well, they can often be a burden to missionaries.  The burden might stem from a lack of adaptability in their new (short-term) environment or it might involve an unwillingness to listen the counsel of the missionaries on best practices.  Often, the burden revolves around short-term teams setting their own agenda over against the desires and/or counsel of the host missionaries. Short-term teams that have the most gospel impact are those which submit to the leadership of the host missionaries in planning the purpose of the team. Think about it.  It only makes sense that those who have immersed themselves in the culture by living among the people and learning the language and way of life are the ones who know best what strategy will be most effective in advancing the gospel in a particular area.  Short-term missions done well involves teams that develop strategies with the host missionaries. This collaboration results in advancing the gospel in way that could not be done with the long-term missionaries only or at least be done at the concentrated pace that a short-term team provides.

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