By Georges Houssney
Practical Principles for Successful Short-Term Mission Trips
In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I discusses the burgeoning short-term missions movement and some of the pros and cons that go along with it. Short-term mission trips are the wave of the future. And even though many people have expressed concern over the shortcomings of the movement, trying to stop them is like swimming against the tide. Having also seen that the principle of short-term missions is biblically based and supported by the life of Jesus and his apostles, we need to encourage this movement and expand its effectiveness. Here are some principles and guidelines I would propose improve the movement’s effectiveness.
1. Each trip must be God-centered. Whether short-term or long-term, missions is not about us. Although there is fulfillment and joy in serving God, the only objective we have is to love God and serve him. A mission that is not God-centered is no mission at all.
2. Divine calling. The starting point for missions is not the need in the world but rather God’s calling on our lives. Guilt trips will produce quantity, but responding to God’s calling will result in quality as well as quantity.
3. Adequate preparation. There was a time when no missionary was sent until he or she had finished a theological degree. The urgency of finishing the task has put pressure on mission agencies to send people with little or no preparation beyond a short orientation. Pre-trip preparation should include instruction in witnessing as well as cultural and social adjustment issues (1 Peter 3:15).
4. Character. Contrary to the common practice of accepting just about anyone, standards of conduct and maturity need to be met. Missionaries represent the heavenly kingdom and must live lives worthy of the calling (Ephesians 4:1).
5. Integrity. Mary was recruited to go to Kazakstan to share the gospel. When she arrived her team leader assigned her a job of teaching English with the warning, “They do not know we are a Christian organization. Please do not jeopardize our presence in the country by your witnessing,” she was crushed. If we tell people they are going to reach the nation for Christ, then they need to engage in witnessing.
6. Mentoring. Recruits who are new to missions and to the culture need to be adequately mentored on the field. Inexperienced workers need to be paired with mature successful workers to model appropriate conduct and ministry.
7. Debriefing. Since the purpose of short-term missions is long-term missions, it is extremely valuable to take time to debrief in order to identify positive and negative factors in the short-term experience. Ideally, debriefing should be done daily on the field as well as at the end of the trip.
Into the Future
If a short-mission trip starts and ends at the airport, then it has failed to instill a missionary mindset into the participants. Missions is a lifestyle. That is why it is crucial that the agency or church involved in sending people on these trips start preparing them weeks and even months before the trip. Weekly Bible studies, orientation, training, and team prayer are necessary in preparation. At the conclusion of the trip, the church or agency must find ways to plug the short-term missionary into ongoing opportunities with ministries. This way the money and time spent is not wasted but utilized to have an ongoing and increasing impact.
Mission agencies need to rethink short-term trips and call them by their real names.
A medical trip is a medical trip. A construction project is a construction project. They can call it a cross-cultural excursion with a purpose, but they should not call it missions.
The word “missions” should be reserved for apostolic spiritual ministry.
Does that mean that we cannot do humanitarian work? Not at all, since Jesus mandates that we care for non-spiritual needs as well. However, for a mission trip to merit the word mission, it needs to include a spiritual element that is a vital, not marginal, part of the trip.
The short-term missions movement is becoming increasingly popular amongst local churches. If done in a biblical, healthy way, these trips could serve as effective ways to mobilize long-term workers and nurture a love for missions in church members. After all, Jesus’ life was a short-term missions trip! Following these principles, common mistakes can be avoided to ensure that our efforts are truly worthwhile.
- Hawthorne, Steve. Stepping Out: A Guide to Short-Term Missions, adapted with author permission (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 1987). ↩