A number of strong STM advocates would argue that STM is a leading or even a primary element in the progress of the gospel in difficult environments. Those arguments may be founded on good intentions but depend heavily on definitions of “progress” or “results” that are suspiciously lacking. Building a village church meeting structure is not church planting. Putting a roof on a community pavilion is not, in itself, kingdom building. Passing out gospel literature to random masses on the streets or sidewalks or beaches of a foreign country does not automatically result in positive long-term spiritual fruit. STM is not a magic wand that suddenly increases the number of long-term career missionary candidates, plants mature local churches in foreign cultures, and inspires whole congregations to greater vision and higher achievement in world missions.
STM is a tool. It can be used well. It can be used poorly. It can be of great help to ministry on the field. It can be disastrous. There are stories of thousands of US STM participants descending on Tijuana Mexico every summer to conduct scores of vacation Bible schools in which thousands of kids from Tijuana rake in tons of gifts and crafts and “get saved every week”. Those US STM teams probably go back to their churches and report what marvelous results they had, while year after year the status and spiritual maturity of the church in Tijuana remains largely unaffected.
Such extreme misuse and abuse of STM ministries must be avoided at all cost. There is a lot of valid criticism of STM ministry as a “glorified vacation”. Poor understanding and design leads to involvement in relief and development projects which ultimately hurt the recipients more than help.
However, there is much to be gained by proper preparation and deployment of STM teams into appropriate situations. First and foremost, STM is an opportunity for intense discipleship of participants in Christian character, spiritual maturity, and a missions mindset. STM is a vehicle for stronger relationships with missionaries and ownership of field ministry. STM can provide significant manpower and skill sets to tasks otherwise impractical to the local missionary. STM is often an injection of missions interest for your church congregation, as well.
In summary, should your local church be involved in shorter missions? Yes. If your church is small you should be able to work out a way for your interested participants to join an STM team from a nearby like-minded church. Even for a small to medium-size church, there are plenty of possibilities if you research them with the missionaries and ministries with which you already have relationships. If you are part of a larger church, just remember that the goal is not quantity but quality. Keep the bar high. As William Carey once said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
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