By Dan Hyun
As an advocate for justice, I acknowledge some of the concerns related to short-term missions. I have myself raised questions such as the improper use of resources and threats of perceived colonialism attached to some expressions of mission trips.
However, I’ve also seen and experienced how God uses short-term missions efforts in powerful ways. Here are a few guiding principles that have helped:
1. It’s more than a week.
Our church just returned from missions work in Peru with a new church plant. On our first Sunday back, we received news that one young man we’d shared the gospel with on the streets had come to the local church worship service and brought his father.
However long a trip is, we naturally place a lot of emphasis on the details of the trip itself. We all want to be part of a wonderful experience that honors God.
If the main emphasis, however, is only on the activities we do during a short trip, I feel we’re losing out on much of the power of what God can accomplish. If it’s just a week, I’d suggest the money and time spent is probably not worth it, and we could use it in other ways to honor God.
So, if we view the entire short-term experience as a discipleship opportunity, it’s an investment worth the local church’s energy and resources.
Understanding missions as discipleship makes the preparation and training before and after as significant as the trip itself. In our church, we spend many months immersed in regular training that includes aspects of cultural awareness and tangible ministry activity preparation.
But the most important training we do is spiritual as we dive into deep seasons of prayer, fasting, and heart preparation. Following the trip, we spend time in debrief to discern lessons and convictions that last long after the trip is over.
I don’t know many other ways to help believers grow as followers of Christ than through a purposeful missions trip. I’ve often said one mission trip can be more impactful than years spent in a traditional discipleship class.
2. It’s not about you.
One of the best ways to train mission teams is to continually remind the group the trip is not about them. If done correctly, the invitation to sacrifice is a powerful tool for engaging in missions work.
I’d give the benefit of the doubt that most churches get this. They genuinely engage in missions work for the glory of God and the benefit of others. However, we’ve all heard stories of mission teams who entered a ministry field and caused headaches for their host partners. Many times, it’s because the mission team’s preferences and desires reigned over the local partners.
Submit to them, even if it’s not the best thing for your team. Don’t let the driving thought be wanting to provide team members with a great experience. The most beneficial things a mission team might do on a trip might not make a great missions report but can be truly helpful to a local missionary.
3. God works.
Though I try not to overestimate what God can accomplish in one trip, may we also recognize God can work powerfully through our obedience.
A short-term mission trip is an excellent opportunity to walk alongside and assist missionaries in accomplishing something they’ll struggle with on their own.
For example, in our context in Baltimore, I have fond memories of our early years when church partners sent teams to run events like VBS and sports camps. There was no way for our young church plant to do these things, but these mission teams provided extra hands and feet to love our community well.
Along with work on the field, don’t discount the way God will work among the team. Most career missionaries I know can name a short-term experience where God stoked the fires of missions. God often uses our small short-terms projects to plant seeds for Kingdom work.
Dan Hyun (@villagedanhyun) is the husband to Judie, father of two precious girls, and lead pastor of The Village Church in Baltimore, Maryland.