Missions: Short-Term or Long-Term?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, April 15, 2016 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

Last week, I wrote about the need for missions, the need to go share the Gospel. Today I want to expound upon that and address how we should go. One of the more popular methods for going out and sharing the Gospel is the short-term mission trip. There are many perks to the short-term mission trip, however, there are also many concerns. I wrote last week how I grew up with my parents serving with International Family Missions. My family was there long-term, but most of the people we worked with were there short-term. So I know and understand both sides of this debate.

First, let me examine the perks of short-term missions. For those who like the comforts of American life, short-term mission trips can offer the chance to go share the Gospel, but in the back of your mind, there is always that “expected date of return.” You know when you get to go back home. You get to experience the life of others, but know you get to return to what you have grown accustomed to. Other perks include being helpful to the other people without staying so long that you are a burden to them. While you come to bless others, you often find yourself being blessed even more. And the greatest joy is getting to see people come to Christ.

However, there are some catches. While I mentioned the expected date of return, such a mentality can very easily make the mission trip becoming nothing more than a memory just a matter of days to weeks after the trip. Being there for such a short time does not leave room for discipleship and continual training. So it is easy for such trips to be more about making converts and receiving proclamations of faith when you really don’t know if such a decision actually carried anything real with it.

I have seen many great things take place with short term mission trips. I’ve seen food multiply. I’ve seen many people get authentically saved. And I’ve seen people who were not called to Juarez, Mexico long-term return home changed people. One family that came on IFM trips took the model we used in Juarez and moved to Cambodia long-term and used that model there. Another family soon stopped coming with IFM because they could do it on their own with ease. They founded the Lifelight Music Festival, one of the largest Christian music festivals in the nation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That festival is a fruit of what God did through short-term mission trips. Another family still was locked into a hyper-conservative church - suits/ties and dresses only, only an organ for music (guitar was considered blasphemous). This family came and saw other cultures and they left that church (as did others) and were free to follow God as they were led.

However, I have seen the dark side of it as well, when the concept is used wrongly. There were a number of people on the trips that treated it as a vacation. They came as tourists and instead of seeking to meet the needs of the people of Juarez, they sought to bring their American ideals and comforts as they came to visit. The people being “served” can tell very quickly if someone comes with an authentic care for them or if they are there to “do their good deed.”

Another problem is when the focus becomes on work projects. Not that helping the people with their buildings and property is bad, but I’ll never forget a comment the kids of an orphanage we visited who had many groups coming said: “The other groups build our houses and paint our fences, but you are the first ones to just come and play with us.” I am not knocking work projects entirely, but it does not take long for that to become the focus and the relational side of things are ignored. Sure many of these groups will do VBS camps and preach the Gospel, but how many of these groups would do something like visit an orphanage so the staff could have just a few hours of breathing room? Not many.

There one other major problem with short-term mission trips. Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations, not converts. The short-term trips do not take long for the people to seek as many fast decisions and proclamations of faith as possible, when in reality there is no evidence that such a person ever was born again. That is a dangerous product of American church culture: the false conversion, making a statement of faith, saying a prayer, and being declared saved, when there is no regeneration, miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. My post two weeks ago about if your salvation is real is important to understand here. In short-term trips, how can you be sure those you are witnessing to are saved? The answer to that one is to use the long-term missionaries or the church staff who can continue with follow up. So what about long-term missions? The perks are interesting. You get full commitment to the area you are ministering to, and saying goodbye is not as hard of a chore, because you know you will be back. You get to disciple and train people to become followers of Christ. You get to know their culture and know better how to reach them. You get to see the fruit of your works more often than with short-term trips.

There are challenges as well. Long-term missionaries do not get to return quickly to the perks of comfortable life. It could mean putting your life on the line. One long-term missionary I know is a church planter. During one service, a gun man came into the church, pointed the gun into his face at point-blank range, and fired. The gun did not go off. Five times he tried and it never went off. But when he ran outside and engaged with Juarez police, it worked just fine. Another worship pastor’s son faced other gunmen and took 38 bullets before going down. Several others lost their lives, but the only reason the entire team was not wiped out was because they ran out of bullets. Long-term missionaries tend to get the diseases. Some do not see fruit for decades.

Which one is best? The answer is neither. The real secret to missional work is just obedience to the Lord. Go where he sends, when he sends you, and with whom he sends you. If you go short-term, use that experience to give you a missions-minded perspective and think about how you can use that wherever you are. Your very neighborhood could be your ‘long-term’ mission field. But remember that the real reason for missions is not to “help the people” but rather to serve the King.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.